Three programs that feed people in need – the Food Bank Inc., Rebecca’s Café and the Food Bank’s Morning Outreach – plan to move to a shared location on Statesboro’s west side in the early months of 2014.
“I would like to see everything go to one place so everybody would know, you know, that if you’re hungry you can get a meal here,” said Joe Bill Brannon, the volunteer operations manager for the Statesboro Food Bank.
The move also allows room for expansion. Eventually, Rebecca’s Café, which currently serves a free, fresh-cooked lunch each Tuesday, could expand to five days a week, organizers say.
The Food Bank’s lease for the lunchroom and adjoining offices at the former Sallie Zetterower Elementary School campus on Gentilly Road ends Dec. 31. By a unanimous decision Dec. 5, the Bulloch County Board of Education replaced it with a lease for a much larger portion of the former Julia P. Bryant Elementary School on Donnie Simmons Way, effective Jan. 1 but with a 60-day grace period for the Food Bank to move.
Otherwise, terms of the lease remain the same, with a nominal $1 annual rent, according to school system Chief Financial Officer Troy Brown.
“This just even more solidifies the board’s commitment to the community as the Food Bank continues to serve the community, and this will expand their opportunities to be able to serve more Bulloch County residents,” Brown said.
Earlier this fall, the board put the old Sallie Z. building and its eight-acre campus up for sale. It has been listed with a local real estate agency for a little more than $1.6 million. So the Food Bank and other programs are being moved out to make the space readily available.
More space at Julia P.
Brannon said he is especially grateful for the amount of space at the new location and the fact that it will give the Food Bank and its affiliated programs the use of a kitchen.
At the former Julia P. campus, the Food Bank will also have the use of the lunchroom, plus the front, or “A,” wing with its eight full-size classrooms and four smaller rooms, and the “C” wing with its six classrooms and office suite.
At the old Sallie Z., the Food Bank had the cafeteria, but did not use it for cooking. Instead, the space is filled with shelves, coolers and freezers packed with food. Otherwise, the organization has used only two rooms next to the cafeteria as office and meeting space.
By using former classrooms at the former Julia P. campus for storage, the Food Bank will keep the dining area and kitchen free for their intended purposes, Brannon explained. The lunchroom, he said, can also be used for public nutrition classes provided by Georgia Southern University students.
The “A” wing will house the main Food Bank program. Operating five days a week, it issues mostly canned and boxed, long-shelf-life food items to people whose incomes are low enough to qualify for vouchers through agencies such as the Department of Family and Children Services. The Food Bank buys much of the food at deeply discounted prices from America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia, a part of the nationwide Feeding America network supported by supermarket chains and other donors. Some items also come from U.S. Department of Agriculture programs.
Families typically receive a box with enough food to last seven days, but it is often supplemented with locally donated items to provide about a 10-day supply, Brannon said.
In 2012, Statesboro’s Food Bank distributed food to 2,267 families, according to a report cited by Treasurer Alton Odom. That was up from 217 families in 1988, the first year on record. But the peak so far was 2,891 families in 2011.
Meanwhile, the old Julia P. “C” wing will be the new home of the Morning Outreach. This currently operates Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from Brannon’s former trophy shop on East Olliff Street. The outreach supplies perishable foods, such as fruit and vegetables, donated by Walmart, Bi-Lo and other local supermarkets, plus, on Mondays, ready-to-heat items donated by restaurants, to people whose incomes might be too high to qualify for the USDA and Second Harvest foods.
This program provides supplemental food to 200-250 families each month, with a waiting list that only repeats after several months.
Rebecca’s Café, the Tuesday free lunch program at the Statesboro-Bulloch Parks and Recreation Department’s community center in Luetta Moore Park, will move to the former Julia P. as part of the Food Bank. The Food Bank Inc. and Feeding Statesboro, the nonprofit corporation which operates Rebecca’s Café, agreed in November to merge.
This will place Rebecca’s Café under the Food Bank’s 501(c)(3) status for contributions. Feeding Statesboro incorporated four years ago but never applied for tax deduction status, said Jim Bastarache, one of Rebecca’s Café’s organizers. Previously, donors qualified for deductions by making donations through churches that support Rebecca’s Café.
Six churches currently take turns cooking and serving food for Rebecca’s Café, assisted by several individual volunteers who help regularly. Recently, the program has served 130-150 people weekly.
Another advantage, according to organizational leaders, is that the large, central kitchen will allow Rebecca’s Café to use more USDA and Feeding America food. The current approach, in which food was cooked at churches and sometimes in homes, made this difficult because of the regulations, Brannon said.
Rebecca’s Café allows everyone to eat who shows up and signs in. No income information or identification is requested. The program’s leaders have no plans to adopt restrictions at the new location.
“No, because we’ll still utilize the right types of food that will allow us to do that,” Bastarache said.
Without eligibility restrictions, Rebecca’s Café and the Morning Outreach help more people who have very limited means but are not literally going hungry, Brannon and Bastarache assert. Bastarache uses the hypothetical example of a mother who has lunch at Rebecca’s Café with her two preschool children each Tuesday while their father is at work.
“That’s three meals mom doesn’t have to do at home,” he said. “Maybe if we did it for a week, that’s a pair of sneakers for a kid or something else they didn’t have the money for. That’s kind of how I look at it.”
So he and Rebecca’s Café President Pattie Beblowski say Statesboro can benefit from an expanded lunch program, and their goal is five days a week. They plan to try this gradually, starting with one additional day. It will require more volunteers and planning.
“As we expand and need more groups to take a meal during the week, we’ll reach out to other organizations and churches,” Beblowski said.
Meanwhile, Brannon is recruiting volunteers to move equipment and food supplies. Many will probably be Georgia Southern University students, so their return in mid-January will help, he said.
“We hope we won’t even have to miss one day of service,” Brannon said.