Nonprofit raising money to build new food bank in Pasco

By Veronica Sandate Craker

Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business, September 15, 2011

On an average summer day temperatures in the Tri-Cities can reach up to the upper 90s. While most people can find refuge in the air-conditioned homes or offices, the workers and volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul Society Food Bank aren’t as fortunate. The only cool air circulating in the 12,000 sq. ft. building at 115 W Lewis St. flows from two wall units and open doors.

When most people shop for food they usually find themselves inside expansive, cool grocery stores that get even colder in the frozen food section. But when those in need line up every Wednesday at the St. Vincent Food Bank to receive free food boxes, clothing and furniture they wait outside in the heat, rain, wind or snow.

Even in the harshest of conditions they make their way down an assembly line where they sign in and sign up for the items they need. Despite these trying conditions volunteers at the food bank do their work with a smile on their face.

“I’ve always had a desire to work with the needy and the hungry,” said Sina Pierret, president and food bank manager. “My career was in the healthcare industry and when I retired I immediately gravitated to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to serve the poor.”

These conditions won’t go on forever. St. Vincent de Paul plans to build a new facility at 215 S. Sixth St. in Pasco.

“We have just purchased a new site,” Pierret said. “We haven’t started construction, we are in the process of raising funds.”

In early September, the Pasco City Council unanimously approved a special permit to allow the facility to move into the commercial zoning area on Sixth Street.

“The City of Pasco wants to renovate that land and all the property has been condemned and we’ve been forced to relocate,” Pierret said. “We’re hoping that we’ll be able to raise the money and move to the new site before we have to vacate the premises.”

The nonprofit is raising money to build the new 14,000 sq. –ft. facility, which is expected to cost around $1 million Pierret said. The new building will include a loading dock and larger freezer in order to store cold foods.

“It will be totally more efficient,” said Mike Hermann, management engineer.

“Our building, how it’s broken in so many areas…, we will all be in one warehouse.” The new building will also have public restrooms. The facility at Lewis Street has one bathroom for the entire building. And there will be upgraded computers to help volunteers with their work, Pierret said.

“We’re on the old XP ones and they’re prone to breakdown,” said Linda Hermann, a St. Vincent de Paul volunteer.” It will create a more streamline system of registration.

The new software will allow for a better tracking system of participants, she added.

"With the computer and software, we'd be able to run reports to see who's coming, how often. We'd be able to generate reports that would help us be more efficient with our food distribution process," Pierret said.

Outside of the building will be room for more parking spaces and a shaded area where people can stand while waiting during food distribution days. Probably one of the most-welcomed additions to the new building will be air conditioning and heating.

"We don't have air conditioning, except some wall units and we don't have adequate heat so we sweat in the summer and freeze in the winter," Pierret said. "Our new building will have air conditioning and we'll save on heat and energy."

The plan is to have the facility built within the 18 months.

The nonprofit is taking donations, but the group also plans to apply for grants to help pay for the new building. Something that will be needed on top of the monetary donations they depend on to help the public.

"Last week we did 595 boxes and each box (had) 651bs. Of food," Pierret said. "So you can see how much food we move. Because of the financial impact we are seeing anywhere from 45 to 50 new families a week that are signing up for a box of food."

Helping more families can make things tough, especially with the cost of food rising. In March Pierret purchased seven 2,000-lb. bags of pinto beans for $680. By July the price of those bags had jumped to $900 each.

"We all know that commodities have gone up and this is just an example of that, "Pierret said.

To donate to the St. Vincent de Paul building fund, call 544-9315.