GREENFIELD — Dozens of guests attended the dedication of the new Hancock County Food Pantry on Friday, Dec. 1.
Board members, contractors and volunteers spent the past four months transforming the 7,200-square-foot building at 2040 W. Main St. — the former K&R Tool Shed rental shop — into a gleaming new pantry.
“It’s absolutely perfect,” said board member Liz Rusche, who couldn’t wait to show off the new facility.
After a four-year search for a new building, board president Howard Green said it’s exactly what the organization was looking for.
“I think it’s a facility that will benefit us now and into the future. We were blessed to be able to get it and remodel it while staying on budget and on time,” he said.
Board members first toured the building in April and paid $550,000 cash for it in July.
Working with a contractor, they estimated the necessary renovations would cost close to a half million dollars and moved forward in phases as funding came in.
“It’s been a whirlwind of accomplishments by everyone involved,” Green said. “We were able to get things done on time and yet manage our finances so that we didn’t have to borrow money.”
Rusche also commended the community for stepping up with donations to cover the cost of remodeling, which came in at $485,000.
“We could not have done this without the support of our community,” she said.
Representatives from Gleaners Food Bank and Greenfield City Council were among the many guests who came Friday to tour the new pantry, which will start serving clients on Monday.
Established in 1993, the food pantry has been a critical resource for many over the past 30 years.
Since 2009, the nonprofit has operated out of a 4,000-square foot space at 741 S. State St., just south of downtown Greenfield.
During that time the client base has doubled — from roughly 400 to more than 800 clients each month.
Board members knew the pantry had to grow to meet the growing demand.
“We were looking for at least a 7,000-square-foot building that was centrally located, and we’re a block away from the very center of the county,” said Rusche.
When they bought it the 38-year-old building “needed some love,” she said.
Working with Mills General Contractors, Inc., the pantry board made a number of improvements including the addition of a new HVAC system, updated ADA-compliant restrooms and a new roof and garage doors.
The facility also got electrical upgrades, new painting and lighting throughout and a new parking lot out front.
Rusche said among the most exciting updates were the addition of a walk-in freezer and refrigeration units that can hold more food than ever before.
“This right here is the crown jewel of the facility,” she said, as she opened the freezer door.
“Believe it or not, we’ll fill and empty this every two to three months,” she said.
Another highlight of the pantry is the canopy that was added on to the east end of the building where clients pick up food.
The canopy features lighting and WiFi for the pantry’s tracking software and an overhead heater to keep volunteers warm throughout the winter.
“Right now our volunteers serve outside with no cover, and we don’t take breaks when it’s storming, snowing or 10 degrees below zero,” said Rusche.
“This canopy was added on to protect our volunteers. It was super important for us when we moved to ensure the safety of our clients, our volunteers and our food,” she said.
Beneath the canopy is where clients will receive their food after waiting in a queue that winds through the rear parking lot.
For decades, the food pantry served clients in person, allowing them to walk through the pantry to select boxes and cans of foods along with a personal shopper.
Since COVID, the process has changed to a drive-through delivery system.
“After COVID settled settled down we surveyed our clients and asked which method they prefer, and more than half of them preferred the drive-through process, so we kept it,” Rusche said.
“It’s enabled us to serve many more clients because we can move them in and out rather quickly,” she said.
The main portion of the facility is a warehouse-type space nicknamed the Food Court, where shelf-stable foods are stored.
The goal is to eventually fill the space with pallet racks stacked two or three high to maximize the space, said Rusche, adding that a group from Leadership Hancock County has committed to making that goal a reality by next spring.
With the food pantry location transitioning this weekend, Rusche said volunteers have been busy getting the new pantry ready to serve clients on Monday.
“We are a well-oiled machine, with well over 150 volunteers who come into the building every week,” she said.
Volunteers work in various departments, with some loading canned food into boxes and others adding in perishables, while another crew handles dispersing the food to clients.
At the open house, guests saw a pallet of red bags filled with all the food for a holiday meal, including a spiral ham, green beans, mashed potatoes and a sugar cream pie.
Four-year volunteer Dottie Copeland said she was thrilled for guests to finally be able to see the newly transformed food pantry.
“Coming here is the highlight of my week. I love working here and being able to help out people in need,” she said. Copeland gave special kudos to Rusche, who scours social media and store circulars for the best deals she can find to keep the pantry stocked with the essentials.
“She can find a deal that will blow your mind,” she said.
Guests at Friday’s open house saw the fruits of her labors, like a pallet full of rolls Rusche acquired from a restaurant and a pallet full of butter tubs she found on an especially good sale.
“Normally two months worth of butter would cost me $1,700, but I saved $1,500 dollars by buying this in bulk,” said Rusche.
“I couldn’t have done that before we moved here because we didn’t have any place to store it, but now we’re able to take advantage of really great deals. We’re truly blessed.”
While the renovations have been paid for, Green said ongoing support was needed to keep the new pantry stocked with food. The community is invited to help in the following ways:
—Send checks payable to Hancock County Food Pantry to P.O. Box 244, Greenfield, IN 46140.
—Donate a one-time or recurring gift online at hancockcountyfoodpantry.com (online donations incur a 3% transaction fee to the pantry).
—Donate shares of stock through the pantry’s Edward Jones account. For details, contact [email protected].
—Suggest any other foundations or organizations to approach for funding.
For more information, follow the Hancock County Food Pantry on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.