The nonprofit Hunger Coalition has begun moving into a new 13,000-square-foot location in Bellevue after a $6 million renovation. The new building will replace the food pantry’s current 5,000-square-foot facility, which has provided curbside emergency food pick-ups since the start of the pandemic.
The expansion comes at a key time for the organization, which has seen record demand over the past year.
Last May, The Hunger Coalition was serving triple the number of emergency food-reliant clients it did before the pandemic. That number dropped to double the usual number by December.
Hunger Coalition Communications and Development Supervisor Kristin McMahon said Thursday that the organization continues to serve about 350 families— around 1,000 people—each week.
“We have heard a lot of positive feedback about our curbside pick-ups,” McMahon said. “People feel safer this way and we will continue it as long as it makes sense. But we are also eager to open up again our in-person community building, to strengthen our bonds with one another.”
McMahon said she has been “tremendously grateful” for a 100% increase in donations last year in the face of the pandemic, enough funding to keep the entire full-time staff of 14, including administration, warehousing, programming and farming personnel.
“Our number of donors and donations doubled in 2020 over 2019, including 1,200 new donors,” McMahon said, enough to keep pace with a two- to three-fold increase in need and set aside a COVID relief fund that will help the organization continue to meet the demand for months to come.
During the worst of the pandemic The Hunger Coalition benefitted from storage space and staffing supplied by Mountain Rides, Higher Ground and United Way. Those organizations helped The Hunger Coalition make sure food was delivered to seniors and other clients vulnerable to the coronavirus.
A plan to house a new grocery store-styled shopping option for Hunger Coalition clients in the new building was canceled when a discount Grocery Outlet store announced plans to open in Hailey. Grocery Outlet is scheduled to open in May.
The elimination of the grocery store from its plans has simplified its operations, McMahon said, but The Hunger Coalition will continue to store and transport much more food than before the pandemic.
The available space will now be used as a “meeting and collaboration space” for nonprofits, McMahon said, including the South Central Community Action Partnership, which helps clients with energy bills, and La Posada, a nonprofit that provides bilingual help with taxes and accounting services.
Additional “nonprofit partners” that could also use the space in months and years to come are St. Luke’s Center for Community Health, The Advocates and The Alliance, she told the Express.
“Our case managers already help our clients by providing access for them to these other nonprofits,” McMahon said. “While food is essential, there is much more going on in people’s lives. Part of The Hunger Coalition’s mission is to address the root causes of hunger.”
The new facility also comes with heated greenhouses that will allow The Hunger Coalition to expand its local food production gardens.
The Hope Garden, in downtown Hailey, and the Bloom Garden in Quigley Canyon—set to expand this summer from one to five acres—are already a significant source of produce, and provide hands-on gardening options.
“We have grown more than a ton of food from these gardens in some years,” McMahon said.
Fore more information go to thehungercoalition.org/.