Bellingham Food Bank starts $2.3 million expansion

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 17, 2014 

0716 FOOD BANK PAD

Rick Nicolaas of Ram Construction, left, uses an excavator to pile up the remains of a house torn down next to the Bellingham Food Bank while Jim Schleimer of Pearson Construction wets down debris Tuesday morning, July 15, 2014, in Bellingham. The Food Bank building is expanding into the lot and the project should be finished next spring.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - A $2.3 million expansion will allow the Bellingham Food Bank to nearly double in size for its increasing role as an emergency food hub for Whatcom and San Juan counties.

Construction began Tuesday, July 15, when an adjacent home bought by the nonprofit in November 2010 was demolished to make way for a bigger food bank at 1824 Ellis St.

Pearson Construction is building the project. It is expected to be completed in 10 months and double the food bank's space to 20,000 square feet.

The bulk of what's being added will be used for warehousing, cold storage and dry storage for the other food banks and meal programs that are partners of the Bellingham Food Bank, according to its executive director, Mike Cohen.

The expansion will help meet a growing need at a time that large nonprofit hunger relief organizations like Food Lifeline, in Shoreline, and Northwest Harvest, in Seattle, continue to increase their ability to get food to the hungry before it goes to waste.

"We see hunger as a problem of logistics," said Linda Nageotte, president and CEO of Food Lifeline, which moved about 39 million pounds of food across Western Washington last year.

About 40 percent of food produced each year in the U.S. goes to waste, Nageotte added.

The organizations, in turn, have been urging regional hubs like the Bellingham Food Bank to expand in order to collect and distribute more food.

"They think they're going to be able to increase the availability of free and really inexpensive food," Cohen said.

Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest bring food in semi-trucks to the Bellingham Food Bank, where it's stored and then redistributed to Bellingham families as well as other food banks and meal programs.

"We are covering a lot of ground. Good partners like Bellingham Food Bank who are adding capacity, adding the ability to handle more food, help us tremendously," said Deborah Squires, a director for Northwest Harvest.

The nonprofit distributes 30 million pounds of food annually - two-thirds of that is fruits and vegetables - throughout the state.

The Bellingham Food Bank works regularly with 13 food banks in Whatcom and San Juan counties, as well as a dozen meal programs.

Project Hope in Lynden is one of those food banks.

"It will help us by allowing larger warehousing of food in bulk there at the Bellingham Food Bank. We don't have the kind of space capability that they do," said Jim Grennell, director for Project Hope. "We would be able to save money by purchasing in larger quantities."

Bellingham Food Bank's expansion also reflects the demand in the hunger landscape and the need for regional hubs to become better at collecting and redistributing food.

For example, visits to the Bellingham Food Bank from hungry Bellingham families have grown by more than 80 percent since 2007, according to Cohen.

The amount of food shipped to other food banks and meal programs in Whatcom and San Juan counties has jumped by 225 percent in that same time.

Last year, the Bellingham Food Bank gave more than 3 million pounds of food to hungry Bellingham families compared to 2 million pounds of food to its partners.

To Cohen, the expansion reflects a piece of good news.

"There's more food when there's more need," he said.

The expansion comes relatively soon after the Bellingham Food Bank completed its current building in 2008.

Money for the project so far comes from $800,000 set aside by Bellingham Food Bank; $935,000 in block grants funneled through Whatcom County and the city of Bellingham; $495,000 from the Norcliffe Foundation and Murdock Charitable Trust; a $50,000 matching grant from Chuckanut Health Foundation; nearly $15,000 from Sunrise Rotary Club; and $25,000 from Bellingham Bay Rotary Club.

Cohen said the food bank is in the final phase of a campaign to raise money for the project.

"I'm feeling very optimistic that we'll meet our goals," he said.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com .

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