Off of Milton Way, down the road and across the railroad tracks, sits a green barn house-looking structure. A large sign reads “Columbia Pacific Food Bank,” designating the site where the food bank has been conducting operations for more than 20 years.

The building will soon no longer be in use. The Columbia Pacific Food Bank is set to move into a bigger, better facility sometime next year.

At their regular session meeting on July 17, the St. Helens City Council approved an agreement with Lower Columbia Engineering, LLC for the design and engineering of the new Columbia Pacific Food Bank building, to be located at 1421 Columbia Blvd, the site of the former Columbia Electric Feed & Seed building.

The funds for the redesign of the new location were made possible by a $1.5 million Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), a grant that the food bank worked with the city to apply for in July of 2018 and were notified in September of 2018 that it had been approved.

Wheeler said the CDBG will fund the redesign of the new location, and other aspects of the project will be funded by other means, including a capital fund campaign Wheeler hopes to roll out in the fall in order to raise funds for more equipment inside the facility.

The new building, purchased in June of last year, will be more than quintuple the size of the current location, something that Executive Director Casey Wheeler said is very much needed.

The current location, which takes up 2,200 square feet of space, serves the dual purpose of both food bank and food pantry, meaning that it stores food for partner agencies, as well as provides boxes of food for individuals and families in need.

One of the problems associated with the building’s small size is that there is a lack of space for volunteers to assist with the repacking of food, Wheeler said.

“We can’t get bulk items and repack because we don’t have the room to do it,” Wheeler said. “With this new facility we’ll be able to do that on an ongoing basis, so we’ll have a lot more community involvement.”

Wheeler said the food bank’s Board of Directors has been talking about moving into a bigger facility since Wheeler became the director five years ago.

In addition to providing more space for packing and distributing food, there will also be more room in the new facility to offer other services like cooking classes.

“We’ll be able to do some things we weren’t able to do,” Wheeler said.

Although Lower Columbia Engineering was approved to design the new facility in July, they have been working with the food bank for a while, according to Mandi Jenks, Project Manager for Lower Columbia Engineering.

Before the food bank could even purchase the building last year, they had to go through a survey process in order to see if the building could potentially be used as a food bank site.

“We just had to make sure it was a safe space for the food bank, that the building was sound enough and reasonable enough that it would serve as an improvement, and everyone was really enthused about it,” Jenks said. “So, everything moved forward into the phase we’re at now.”

Last week, the firm had its first building design meeting, in which they figured out the programming requirements of the project. In the coming six months, Jenks said the team will focus on code compliancy, safety, the technical aspect of the redesign and all the permits that are required to go forward with the project. Jenks said construction will likely begin sometime next year.   

While the design is not finalized, Jenks said the new facility will have more of a grocery store feel than the office-like operation of the current food bank, where a volunteer disappears into the crowded storage room and presents a client with a box of food they requested. There will be a produce counter where people will be able to get their fresh fruits and vegetables for the day without having to check in at the counter. Furthermore, the new location will be able to host different informational classes such as how to cook a value meal, according to Jenks. The new facility will also have more room for storage and office space.

“The new location is very accessible, very light and inviting on a prominent corner,” Jenks said.

“We’re really excited to do it because it is such an important part of community and community improvement.”

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