MANCHESTER — The Community Food Cupboard is proposing building an addition to the town office building, one that would double the space where it presently serves area residents every week, at its own cost.
That proposal is on the agenda for Tuesday night’s Manchester Selectboard meeting (7 p.m., Kilburn Meeting Room and on Zoom). The nonprofit is hoping for quick approval so it can raise funds and get shovels in the ground as soon as April.
The proposal comes after months of discussion on whether the non-profit agency could expand its footprint at the town offices, or find a suitable location elsewhere in town.
Demand for its services grew substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic and has remained strong as inflation and the end of pandemic-era services have increased food insecurity statewide.
The Food Cupboard’s 600 square feet in the town offices, not counting the outside storage it has used, “are not enough for 15,000 pounds of food and a couple hundred different people a week,” said Program Director Martha Carey.
The organization considered moving or taking over more space in the town office building, had the town moved its operations to Depot Street. But the town decided against moving its offices. That, and the lack of a suitable new location, led to the decision to stay put and expand.
“Our spot is so great there. If we can make it more functional, it would be fabulous,” Food Cupboard board president Cara Boshart said.
“[Carey] loved our current location … we’re by the bus station and by the mobile home park, and all the locations we found didn’t have parking lots nearly big enough. … So if we can expand where we are seemed it would make the most sense.”
The addition would be built in the courtyard-like space where the Food Cupboard is currently operating. The 700-square-foot addition would be built facing the parking lot, with an overhead garage door making deliveries easier. The space would entirely be used for storage and distribution, Carey said.
Boshart said the project cost is estimated at between $150,000 and $200,000, which the organization will raise itself. In return, it’s looking for approval from the board and a commitment to a long-term lease, given its willingness to invest funds in the site.
Fundraising will start after the project is approved, Boshart said.
Since the pandemic, the Food Cupboard staff and volunteers have been conducting business outdoors. The addition, Carey said, would allow patrons to shop for their needs, as was the case before the pandemic.
“We’re hoping to create an addition that would give us a little more than double the space we have now, so we can invite people inside again into our space,.” Carey said. “Right now we are very grateful to the town for letting us use space in the Kilburn Room.”
The overhead door would come in handy because deliveries, when they come, tend to be in bulk, Carey said.
“It’s difficult to get deliveries inside the building as it is now. We have to walk each in one at a time,” Carey said. “Our deliveries can be 10,000 pounds.”
Part of the need to act quickly? “We cannot build fast enough for the need that’s coming down the pike,” Boshart said.
She cited a memo from the Vermont Foodbank laying out a number of COVID pandemic-era programs that are ending in the next few months:
• The SNAP/3SquaresVT Emergency Allotments program will be ending, with the last mid-month allotment payment arriving in March.
• The Vermont Everyone Eats program, in which area restaurants receive funds to supply meals, will end on March 31.
• The Vermont Department for Children and Families Seasonal Policy for Emergency Shelter, which allows people experiencing homelessness to seek temporary housing in hotels and motels during harsh weather conditions, is expected to end on March 15.
According to the memo, “the SNAP/3SquaresVT Emergency Allotment cuts alone represent 6.5 million dollars a month to 70,000 people in Vermont.”
The remainder of the Selectboard agenda for Tuesday night includes bond authorization documents for borrowing $1.1 million for the Main Street sewer extension. That project is due to be advertised later this month, interim town manager Leslie Perra said.
The board will also hear a presentation from the organizers of the “Girls on the Run” program, an athletic and education program that operates annually at Manchester Elementary Middle School.