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The Hunger Coalition is working with Ketchum-based Hollis Rumpeltes Architects to overhaul the 13,000-square-foot home of Clearwater Power Equipment into the Bloom Community Food Center.

The Hunger Coalition, a Bellevue-based nonprofit organization and food pantry, has announced a major expansion to triple the size of its current space—and, hopefully, double its reach—by 2021.

Kristin McMahon, the organization’s communications and development supervisor, said the group plans to close on a 13,000-square-foot property set on four acres in the northern tip of the Bellevue Triangle on Nov. 15. If all goes according to plan, The Hunger Coalition could move operations into the Bloom Community Food Center in early 2021.

Before that, it will need to raise the money. A $10 million capital campaign slated to start next spring would cover retrofitting the property, which belongs to Clearwater Power Equipment, and expand other programs. (McMahon did not disclose the property’s price prior to the official closing.)

The new facility, across the street from the current one, would feature a commercial kitchen, a community dining area and year-round greenhouses and gardens to grow healthy food.

“We want to facilitate fresh ways of addressing hunger in Blaine County,” McMahon said. “The goal is to encourage human connection through meals, cooking, education—to find a happier, healthier way of addressing this thing than handing someone a bunch of canned goods in a box.”

It would still keep its emergency food pantry in place, but The Hunger Coalition is also “exploring options” for a membership-based market for groceries, priced on a sliding scale according to income. That’s about breaking the stigma commonly fastened to food assistance.

“People want to invest in their food,” she said, whether that’s volunteering time, or spending money. The store would furnish greater variety of access “to answer the diverse needs of Blaine County,” McMahon said.

Ideally, the market—like the classes and the gardens—would also blend income brackets, tightening the bonds that bind Blaine County residents.

“The more we can strengthen those ties to one another,” McMahon said, “the better off we’ll all be.”

Last year, The Hunger Coalition fed nearly 4,000 people—slightly fewer than one in five residents. But some statistics say the need is even greater. Blaine County is the eighth most expensive county in the nation to buy food, according to hunger-relief group Feeding America. And, based on data from the United Way, the organization estimates that 38 percent of the local population—about 8,000 people—is one crisis away from needing help to put a meal on the table.

To combat it, The Hunger Coalition is taking cues from a northern neighbor, The Community Food Centres of Canada. Eleven of them dot the country, working with 120 communities. Their mission extends well beyond what’s commonly thought of as a food pantry, and, according to its own analysis, so do its results: 56 percent of participants noticed improved mental health; 77 percent made healthy changes in their diet; and, 95 percent “feel they belong to a community.”

That’s what Executive Director Jeannie Liston hopes to emulate for Blaine County.

“The Hunger Coalition is on a mission to solve a global problem at the local level and may someday provide a national model for a healthier approach to food security,” she said. “There will be opportunities for everyone to get involved, so please contact us for details on this exciting project.”

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

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