Food bank renovations end in July

Improved facility cost $2.25 million

Renovations at the San Benito County Community Food Bank in July 2017.

The San Benito Community Food Bank is currently undergoing renovations that will revolutionize food service in the county.

The local nonprofit rented their current location at 1133 San Felipe Road for a decade, but purchased the building last year.

“Through a variety of funding sources, including the Community Development Block Grant, a lot of [Community Foundation for San Benito County] support, some federal support that [former] Congressman Sam Farr engineered, we were able to secure most of the funds we needed for this project,” said Engagement Director Mark Paxton.

The combined cost of purchasing the building and renovations hit $2.25 million, Paxton said. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of July.

“We’ll be moving in through August and then we’re going to invite the community to a celebration,” he said.

While the building’s metal exterior has yet to be touched up, pergolas will be set up over the doorways. Open space in front of the building will be planted with fruit trees and fresh herbs.

Interior renovations are well underway. The food bank is getting as close as they can to LEED platinum status, but aren’t documenting it because it’s time consuming and costly. Regardless, the nonprofit wants to do the right thing for the environment, Paxton said.

In addition to interior design renovations, the nonprofit is out to change how food bank customers get their food.

“Historically, we operated like how almost every other food bank operates,” Paxton said. “We do distribution in different ways throughout the week, but on Fridays and Saturdays we have what we call Pantry Days. People can come here and choose what they want.”

There will also be no standing in line.

“It’s very time consuming to be in need, because you go to the employment office and stand in line. You come to the food bank and you stand in line. We’ve had lines. We hate lines,” he said.

When the new food bank opens, customers will have an experience similar to shopping at a market. Different aisles will carry various produce and foodstuffs.

“It’s shopping,” Paxton said. “If there’s a crowd around the cantaloupe, then I can go over here to the spinach. It makes more sense.”

The nonprofit looked to places like Whole Foods, Safeway and other markets for their inspiration.

“That’s revolutionary in the food bank world,” Paxton said.

One unique thing about the food bank is that they have an 80/20 split of fresh vegetables to traditional pantry goods. Usually, it’s the other way around, he said.

“In a community with high rates of diabetes and obesity, we feel like we’re effecting some change.”

The San Benito Community Food Bank skew “very heavily” to young families and retired people, he said.

“I have difficulty with the question, ‘What’s your typical customer? because I see people I’ve known all my life, retired teachers and professionals,” he said. “Anyone who’s making 80 percent of median income in the county qualifies. So for a family of four, you can make over $60,000 a year and qualify. So who comes here? Everybody comes here.”

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