Pasco food bank eyes new home

By Kristi Pihl, Herald staff writer

Tri-City Herald, June 10, 2011

The St. Vincent de Paul Society Food Bank hopes it has found a new home in downtown Pasco.

The nonprofit is negotiating to buy about 1.7 acres of BNSF Railway Co. land along Fifth Avenue, north of A Street, and has applied for the special permit that would allow it to operate the food bank there.

"Nothing is in concrete right now," said Sina Pierret, the society's president and food bank manager.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society has been looking for land for more than a year, Pierret said.

A new location is needed because its current property is among those the city of Pasco intends to buy for a new Lewis Street overpass.

The city plans to buy the properties between Second and Tacoma avenues and Clark and Lewis streets for the $31 million project.

So far, Pierret said the city and nonprofit haven't reached an agreement on the nonprofit's current property at 115 W. Lewis St. Anything the nonprofit receives from the sale of the property will go to buy the new site.

Pierret said the volunteers won't kick off a capital campaign to raise money for what could be a $1.5 million project until after the city gives its blessing and the property is purchased.

Linda Hermann, the society's secretary, said she also is working on grant applications to help pay for the new site.

The food bank distributes food to needy families in Franklin County on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., helping an average of 700 families each week.

The society also provides assistance with utilities and transportation, and some clothing and household items.

Even with the weather getting warmer, Pierret said the agency still is seeing a large demand for food assistance. It's only expected to get worse, with resources for food banks becoming ever tighter.

"We've been very blessed that we never seem to run out," Pierret said.

Pierret said the community consistently provides support to help feed those who ask for it.

On average, about 168,000 pounds of food are given to families each month, Hermann said.

The society has been seeing families return who hadn't used the food bank for up to 10 years, she said. There also are families in which the adults have minimum wage jobs and can't make ends meet or are disabled or unemployed.

The proposed location is west of Western Materials and north of A Street. Pierret said the vacant property is separated from existing homes on A Street by a gravel road.

The planned new building would give the nonprofit about 3,000 more square feet and up to 90 parking spaces, Hermann said.

The nonprofit has a preliminary design for a 15,000-square-foot building from Pasco architect Devi Tate.

It would make the operation more efficient, Pierret said, with more cooler and freezer space will be larger with more shelf space, which the nonprofit doesn't have now.

There would be offices where volunteers can meet privately with clients, she said.

"This is long overdue and we are just very excited about it," Pierret said.

The building also would be taller, so volunteers can stack pallets of food higher.

That would allow the food bank to accept large donations, such as those made by area farmers, she said.

The building also would have space for about 55 people to wait inside rather than having to stand out in snow or rain, Hermann said, and also will have an awning-top shelter those who can't fit into the waiting area.

Pierret said the location meets the nonprofit's need to stay near its current location and close to bus lines.

St. Vincent de Paul Society hopes to obtain the property by Aug. 1, Pierret said.

The city planning commission is expected to consider the special permit application at its July 21 meeting, Pierret said.

Community service facilities like the food bank are required to get a special city permit, no matter what zone they want to locate in, said David McDonald, Pasco city planner. The BNSF Railway property is zoned industrial.

The soonest a special permit could be approved by the city council is Sept. 6, he said. The planning commission will decide what to recommend to city council during its Aug. 18 meeting, and then its recommendation will be forwarded to the council.

Hermann said she's optimistic.

"I really think it's going to work," she said.