A community center supersizes its food pantry to feed hundreds more people in Eastern Pennsylvania. Northeast Community Center serves a low-income housing development and the surrounding community in Bethlehem, about 90 minutes north of Philadelphia. Executive Director Paula Johnson sought to triple the size of the center’s food pantry, while expanding the variety of foods available – and changing how clients access them.
WHY IT MATTERS
Northeast Community Center provides support and services to the residents of the Marvine-Pembroke Housing Development. The center’s outreach includes an after-school homework club, a summer camp, and a senior citizens program. And the food pantry. It was a small space, and at 80 square feet, not equipped to best serve the needs of those who need food assistance.
The original pantry could feed about 250 families a month. A number Johnson knew she had to find a way to increase. “It was extremely small. And the need for a larger space and the need for more and more food for the community just kept growing.”
The desire to nearly triple the pantry space, and the number of people who could benefit from it, prompted Johnson to apply for a grant from Lowe’s Hometowns Program – a five-year, $100 million commitment to improvement projects across the country.
It was a dream she honestly didn’t expect to come true for her small non-profit organization.
And when it did, Johnson got the news while she was on vacation. She immediately called her co-workers, both of them. “We just cried. We cried on the phone because we knew that this would be so monumental for the community.”
Monumental for the community, and the center. The plan was to turn three small spaces into one large one. It took time, and effort. And a general contractor, courtesy of the Lowe’s grant.
The project spanned months. There would be asbestos to remove, walls to knock down, and a ceiling to raise. New HVAC units, electrical wiring, and lights were installed. And the contractor built a new entrance to the pantry. In the end, those three rooms were transformed into one large, efficient space.
But there was still more work for Lowe’s volunteer team members to do. Nearly two dozen Lowe’s workers helped paint the pantry in November, with about two dozen others arriving a few days later to move and stock the shelves.
A rewarding experience for team leader and store manager Tom Cauley. He calls it “an honor” to be part of the process. “It’s very meaningful to be able to impact the community, to impact our neighbors and our friends and people we interact with every day. It’s just something that makes you feel good as a person, but it makes you feel good to give back to your community.”
The food pantry is “a blessing” for client Harry Torres. “It means a lot because the pantry helps me out when I need it . And all the people that are here are very friendly as if they were my family.”
And now, Torres and all of the pantry’s clients will be able to “shop” for their food. The new space allows the Northeast Community Center to offer what’s called a “choice model” to the community. It means people will be able to pick and choose their food, as if they were in a grocery store – giving them more variety, and more control over their diets.
And the expansion means more people will be able to benefit from the food pantry.
Giving Executive Director Johnson more opportunities to grow what she calls one of the favorite parts of her job – forming relationships in the community she serves.
“Just knowing that this renovation can help us provide food, and having those really close relationships with people because I’ve been here for so long, I just know that those two things are going to meet and we’ll be able to continue meeting the needs, which is our mission here at Northeast Community Center.”
Paula Johnson, Executive Director, Northeast Community Center
Republished from the Lowe’s Corporate News webpage