Food bank to expand freezer, refrigeration capacity, build garage

Barbara Miller
Observer Reporter

Greater Washington County Food Bank will be using a half-million-dollar grant of state taxpayers’ money to house its vehicles and expand its capacity to store frozen foods and perishables to better feed its clientele.

“This grant is really quite old,” said Connie Burd, who became the food bank’s executive director in April 2014. “It predates me. I picked it up, and we’re running with it now.”

The food bank moved this year from a rented warehouse in Eighty Four to the former Country Fresh Market along Route 40 in Centerville, west of Brownsville, leaving a 9,500-square-foot facility for one that measures 24,500 square feet with four additional loading docks.

The food bank serves approximately 5,400 families each month through 45 community distribution sites including pantries, senior citizen residences and after-school backpack programs.

About half of the grant money will be used to build a detached, concrete block garage to house its fleet of three large delivery trucks and a two-pallet delivery van, with construction lasting from winter to part of spring 2017. The garage will have five bays, one for each vehicle and an additional bay for repairs and storage. The food bank expects to seek bids shortly.

Food bank representatives just opened bids for the refrigeration and freezer units, a project it hopes to complete this year. In its Eighty Four location, it had 200 square feet of each. In Centerville, the food bank has retrofitted what used to be part of the meat market. The build-out will include 800 feet of cooler space and 400 feet of freezer capacity.

“Adding the square footage to the cooler and freezer will help increase the distribution of healthy, nutritious food,” Burd said. “We have dramatically increased the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that are being distributed to the pantries.”

Money for the project is coming from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, known as “R-CAP,” administered by the state Office of the Budget for, in this case, the construction of regional economic improvement projects. R-CAP projects are state-funded projects that cannot obtain primary funding under other state programs.

Although the Washington County commissioners earlier this month approved the food bank’s proposal through the Washington County Redevelopment Authority, no county taxpayer funds are required.