The Statesboro Food Bank’s director and volunteers continue their search for a new location for the food storage and distribution center, after indications that the charity will need to move out of the old Julia P. Bryant School complex by the end of 2021.
As reported in March, the Bulloch County Board of Education entered a contract to sell two-thirds of the 15-acre campus at Donnie Simmons Way and Stockyard Road to Bill Gross of W.H. Gross Construction Company, based in Kingston. As fleshed out in a city zoning action last week, Gross plans to turn three of the former school buildings, including the two occupied in part by the food bank, into apartment buildings for senior citizens and to build three more apartment buildings on the property as Phase I of a senior living development.
The whole thing is contingent on his company being awarded state and federal tax credits to fund the construction, and he does not expect to receive word on that until October or November. Meanwhile, the Bulloch County Board of Education remains the food bank’s landlord. The rent charged is nominal, initially $1 a year.
“We will only ask the Food Bank to move to their new location just prior to closing on the facilities,” Troy Brown, Bulloch County Schools assistant superintendent of business services, said Friday in an email reply to the newspaper.
Under the school system’s contract with Gross’ project-specific company, Stockyard Housing LP, the buyer and seller must close on the deal no later than Dec. 30, 2022. But school system officials expect that the closing will occur by Dec. 31, 2021, Brown stated.
The food bank had received no more definite timeline for having to move out than a suggestion that it might be in December or January, said Food Bank Inc. Operations Director Jodi Brannon. Even seven months won’t be long as the organization explores possibilities and then prepares to move with the help of volunteers, she said Friday.
“Maybe we have to think about going into somewhere temporary and then looking for something more permanent later, just depending on the timeline,” Brannon said.
The Food Bank Inc. currently occupies part of one classroom wing and uses the walk-in freezer in the kitchen of the former school cafeteria. Previously, the cafeteria itself was used for free, hot lunches served twice a week to people in need by a separate charitable program called Rebecca’s Café.
Although they are separate efforts, Rebecca’s Café has long been associated with Statesboro Food Bank because it provides much of the food served in the hot lunch program. In turn, Rebecca’s Café has been a good outlet for the overabundance of perishable items, such as salads, the food bank sometimes receives when its personnel pick up donations from supermarkets and restaurants, Brannon said.
Rebecca’s Café separate
But Rebecca’s Café has remained closed through the pandemic. Meanwhile, leaks in the roof of the old JPB School cafeteria have grown worse, Brannon said.
“Whilst we’re looking for a location, would it be nice if we had something that would also accommodate Rebecca’s? Yeah, but they’re kind of on their own because we’re having a hard enough time trying to find something that will house 10,000 square feet of food,” she said.
The Rebecca’s Café chairperson she identified was not reached for comment Monday. The café program has involved several churches and a civic group that took turns preparing and serving the meals.
Brannon estimates that the food bank alone will need 9,000 or 10,000 square feet just for freezers, refrigerators and pantry stocks.
The food bank previously also used part of a third building in the complex with freezers and refrigerators for an outreach program, but that also closed during the pandemic. So the organization may be able to downsize some but will at least need sufficient food storage space for its regular distributions, she said.
Prior to the pandemic, Food Bank Inc. leaders were thinking about finding a location and putting up a steel building of their own as a permanent home for the program. But that was before pandemic-related disruptions in building materials and a boom in land prices, Brannon said.
In March she noted that the organization had developed more of a contingency fund during the last year that could help with a move now.
After her father, Joe Bill Brannon, died in June 2020 after more than 25 years as a Statesboro Food Bank volunteer, much of that time as its full-time acting director, many people made memorial donations. Others have given more generously because of the pandemic, Jodi Brannon said.
‘No stone unturned’
But as of Friday, she and the board were still looking for a site after many suggestions by supporters in the community.
“We are leaving no stone unturned,” Brannon said. “There are some of them that I actually know won’t work for whatever reason, such as not being big enough. But I’ve tried to take all of the community’s suggestions (into consideration). We’ve had so many people that have been worried about our situation suggest things that I’ve tried to check them all out and see.”
She has checked off a majority of the suggestions as unworkable or unavailable but said this is also helpful because it narrows the possibilities. As of Friday, Brannon was especially interested in one vacant building and hoped to talk further to an executive of the company that owns it, either to find a solution or rule out yet another idea, she said.
Statesboro Food Bank has operated in the old Julia P. Bryant Elementary School for more than seven years now, since early 2014. Before that, the charitable organization used space at the old Sallie Zetterower Elementary School campus – where Statesboro Family YMCA is now located – for three years, also at a rent originally stated as $1 a year.