By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
New Statesboro Food Bank takes shape, unlikely to open before fall
Executive director: about $600,000 fundraising still needed
Food Bank
The main building of the new Food Bank off Northside Drive West at the intersection of Miller St. and West Parrish St. is shown still under construction. - photo by JIM HEALY/staff

Statesboro Food Bank’s $2.1 million permanent home between Northside Drive West and West Parrish Street has taken shape as far as having a concrete floor and steel roof and walls forming the shell. But with interior construction expected to take until June and then a move-in, the facility won’t open until September at earliest, says Food Bank Inc. Executive Director Sheila Stewart-Leach.

“We’ll move in on a weekend so that the meal-box program, which is our primary program, will continue running seamlessly, and then the new programs that we’re bringing online will start as those areas get completed and we’re able to get them staffed,” she said.

For now, the Food Bank continues to distribute seven-day meal boxes to an increased number of people in need from its temporary, leased location at 1545 Morgan Way.

The permanent building will be much larger, measuring 12,000 square feet. That will include a 6,500-square-foot food storage pantry, plus a dining hall to seat up to 80 people at a time, with a commercial kitchen; a large classroom with a retractable middle wall so that it can be used as two classrooms, one equipped for cooking demonstrations; and offices and a “crisis management” suite.


Crisis response

Serving as a sort of crisis response “base camp” this suite will be equipped with two shower rooms, a washing machine and drier and cots for volunteers or Food Bank personnel potentially working overnight to receive food shipments and organize distributions in response to a community food crisis, such as the aftermath of a storm. It will also have two walk-in freezers connected to a generator to keep them working during a power failure, and the building will be “hardwired for communications,” Stewart-Leach said.

Metal framing inside the building already shows where the walls of all of these rooms will go. Some stubbed-out plumbing and temporary wiring were also visible Friday.


Delayed start

Stewart-Leach said David Pearce, whose Pearce Building Systems is general contractor on the project, “hesitantly” suggested June as the probable completion date for construction. Wesley Parker of Parker Engineering has served as consulting engineer and Frank D’Arcangelo of DPR Architecture as consulting architect.

Before a groundbreaking ceremony was held at the site in June 2023, Stewart-Leach had suggested a timeline to City Council that would have the new facility opening about now. But obtaining the necessary permits – such as state land disturbance and stormwater control permits – took longer that expected.

Food Bank
Sheila Stewart-Leach, executive director of Statesboro Food Bank Inc., stands inside the cavernous pantry space of the Food Bank's permanent home, now a shell with interior construction and equipment installation still to go. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

“The engineering and permitting processes took about twice as long as we thought. …,” she said. “It took almost six months.”

The concrete was poured in early January and the construction has progressed rapidly since then, she said.

In addition to dry storage, plans call for the pantry to be equipped with 22 upright, commercial-type freezers and refrigerators – 11 of each, in back-to-back pairs.

“Those will house things like eggs and milk and, you know, frozen meats, frozen vegetables, things that we give in meal boxes every day,” Stewart-Leach explained.


Temporary location

Meanwhile, the pantry at the Food Bank’s temporary location on Morgan Way is maybe one-fourth as large, by her estimate.

“When I started doing this, my question quickly became, what is our need and what is our capacity to serve that need, what is ultimately our capacity,” said Stewart-Leach.

The Food Bank’s departure from the old Julia P. Bryant School on Donnie Simmons Way had been expected for more than a year, since the Bulloch County Board of Education contracted to sell a portion of the old school campus to a developer who is building a senior-living community.

In September when the Food Bank arrived at the building on Morgan Way, it was providing about 30,000 meals a month in take home “meal boxes” for households in need.

“In January of this year we provided 196,000 meals. …,” Stewart-Leach said, and noted numbers showing growth each month since the move. “We’ve already bought 13 of those 22 freezers and refrigerators, and for the most part they state maxed out. …

“So the goal is to anticipate how much growth we’ll have with our move (to the permanent facility) because we’ll be more visible, and hopefully we’ll be even more accessible, but until we do it we don’t know,” she added.


Staffing changes

Hired in January 2023, Stewart-Leach works part-time as the executive director, and the Food Bank also has two relatively new full-time employees, Jasmine Haynes as public relations and marketing director and Sandra Rozier in the role of pantry manager.

Jodi Brannon, the previous manager, resigned last fall. The pantry portion of the new, permanent facility will be named the Brannon Pantry in memory of her father, the late Joe Bill Brannon, who served more than 25 years as a leading Statesboro Food Bank volunteer and for much of that time as its informal full-time director, and in honor of their family.


Joined Second Harvest

Stewart-Leach and the Statesboro-based, nonprofit Food Bank Inc. board have established a new working relationship with Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia, the Savannah-based regional food bank. This allows the Statesboro Food Bank to make regular purchases of discounted foods, including those supplied by the U.S.  Department of Agriculture.

The Statesboro Food Bank also continues to receive food donations from several local supermarkets and from drives by churches, schools, workplaces and civic organizations, as well as bread from a couple of restaurants.

An annual application process and weekly appointments are required for families to receive meal boxes. The scheduling form has been expanded to allow for more appointments, and the hours of the Monday, Wednesday and Friday food pick-ups have been extended a little, now starting at 11 a.m. with a latest appointment time of 3 p.m. but remaining open until 4 p.m. for late arrivals, so that 60 families can be served on each of those days, Stewart-Leach said.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are now “emergency and shut-in days.” Board members make deliveries to “shut-ins” who cannot travel to the Food Bank, and if someone’s state-administered SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits are not approved in time, the staff arranges for them to pick up a meal box on one of those days.

The Food Bank’s phone line now has an answering machine, which it previously did not have.

“Now people can call at midnight and say, ‘Our family is in crisis, please tell us how we can access food,’ and they will get a call back the next morning,” she said.


Building fund ‘gap’

But one thing that local nonprofit Food Bank Inc. does not have at this time is money to cover the full cost of the new, permanent facility.

After the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners and Statesboro City Council together committed $500,000 each, a total of $1 million, from American Rescue Plan Act funding, to the project, Food Bank Inc. spent $240,000 to buy the 3.75-acre site.

About $180,000 of in-kind donations of materials and discounted services were promised, leaving a need of about $800,000, she said last summer. Though fundraising efforts, the Food Bank has received “right at $200,000” in pledges and commitments, Stewart-Leach said Friday.

But some of the pledged amounts remain scheduled to come in over the next year, and when they do, that would still leave a gap of about $600,000 to complete and equip the building.

So now, the Statesboro Food Bank may turn to a bank for a construction loan while continuing fundraising efforts, said its executive director, a self-described “chronic optimist” who would prefer to move into a debt-free building.

“We’re going to be starting to do some hard-hat tours, and we’re kicking off a Close the Gap Drive,” said Stewart-Leach.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter