The Bread for Life Food Pantry in Gloucester is making a big change.
The charitable organization, which has been serving the county since 2009, will be moving out of its cramped quarters in a former garage adjacent to St. Therese Roman Catholic Church on Main Street and into new quarters in the former Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses on Route 14.
Bread for Life executive director Monique Raposa said the nonprofit organization purchased the former church building for $250,000 and was able to put down a significant deposit because of all the grants for food assistance that had been provided during the past year.
She explained that the pantry typically has to dip into the general fund, which is used for such things as maintenance, capital expenses, and special projects, in order to supplement the food budget. But grant funds covered the cost of food over the past year, allowing the general fund to build up. That, along with a “generous estate settlement,” helped fund the down payment on the building. Raposa said the organization plans to hold a fundraiser to raise the money to pay off the mortgage.
The building where Bread for Life has served the public for over a decade is only 950 square feet, said Raposa. Refrigerators, freezers, coolers and shelves line the walls, with a walk-in freezer commanding a large portion of the center of the building. When deliveries are made, those offloading the truck have to squeeze around and between the workers sorting the food.
There is no HVAC in the building, so everyone has to stay bundled up in the winter, and there are no bathrooms, so the volunteers have to go elsewhere.
The food distribution room is a narrow space with just enough room for volunteers to put the food out on display and for those in need of food assistance to file through, five at a time, and get what they need. Up until the pandemic hit, the pantry was providing food to 400 families a week, said Raposa. That dropped to 150 families a week over the past year, but she said when all the government assistance people have been receiving comes to an end, the numbers will likely rise again.
Raposa said Bread for Life is grateful to St. Therese and the Richmond Diocese for housing the food distribution all these years, ever since it was begun there by Father James Cowles and Deanna Cobb of St. Therese, with the continued leadership of Bob and Susan Quinzel until 2018, when Raposa was hired.
The new building has more than 3,000 square feet of environmentally controlled space, with a 2,000-square-foot room that’s big enough for receiving and sorting the food, setting it up for display, and distributing it.
Up to 30 food recipients at a time will be able to line up inside, out of the weather, said Raposa’s husband Jim, and there are large bathrooms to accommodate everyone. There will even be a janitor’s closet so that volunteers can clean containers indoors instead of hosing them off outside, winter and summer.
On top of that, a front portico will enable people to pull their vehicles up to the door, push grocery carts out to their cars, and load their groceries out of the weather. Monique Raposa said it will also be better for the many elderly people who receive assistance, and who currently have to walk a long distance from the St. Therese parking lot to the garage.
Being in the new space will enable the pantry eventually to purchase a large walk-in refrigerator that will provide long-time cold storage, said Raposa. This will enable the organization to accept foods that it currently can’t keep from week to week, such as butter, milk and fresh fruits.
Jim Raposa said the hope is to eventually have a paved parking lot, driveway and sidewalk to make things easier on the clients the pantry serves. But a sidewalk alonewill cost in the neighborhood of $15,000, he said.
Raposa said the only downside of the new building is that “we’re leaving some very good support from St. Therese.” But she said that Gloucester’s churches have all been very supportive of the mission of Bread for Life, with some keeping baskets designated just for the pantry to pass around. In addition, all the pantries and charitable food organizations in the county support each other, as well, she said.
The Raposas didn’t have a timeline for when the move will occur. The organization is still in the planning stages for the new building, and some renovation will be required.
For more information about Bread for Life or to make a donation, visit breadforlifefoodpantry.com.