WAKEFIELD FOOD PANTRY MEMBERS review the plans for the new Wakefield Food Pantry building on the site approved by selectmen next to the highway garage on Route 153. Pictured are (l-r): Pam Knight, Janet Miller, Howie Knight, Dave Schweitzer and Arthur Capello. (Thomas Beeler photo) (click for larger version)
January 26, 2012WAKEFIELD — Thanks to a two-for-one matching grant and support from the Wakefield Board of Selectmen, the Wakefield Food Pantry is prepared to move ahead with construction of its own building on town land next to the highway department on Route 153.
Before the pantry directors can proceed, however, they need voters' approval of Article 23 at town elections on Tuesday, March 13.
That article authorizes the town to lease up to one acre of town land for 99 years for $1 in order to allow the food pantry to construct a building and make related site improvements. Both Wakefield selectmen and the Budget Committee approved the article unanimously.
Food Pantry President Janet Miller points out that approval of the article and construction of the new building will not cost the taxpayers a cent, and since the building will be on town land it will not take any private property off the tax rolls. Town Building Inspector Arthur Capello, who is helping plan the project and will serve as its Clerk of the Works, says the project will actually bring money to the town: "In addition to the $1 lease, the town will also receive the money from the timber harvest needed to clear the lot for the building."
The Wakefield Food Pantry already saves the taxpayers money by helping families in need with food that otherwise the town itself would be asked to contribute to purchase.
In recent years as the economy has worsened, the need for the pantry has grown. In 2004 the pantry served 19 families a week. Lately the number has been 65-70 families a week. The number of individuals served has more than doubled in the same time period, from 3,087 in 2004 to 6,665 in 2011, as have the number of meals served, from 27,318 in 2004 to 59,985 in 2011. The cost of food has risen even more sharply, from $12,566 in 2004 to $45,500 last year (up 262 percent).
Another striking statistic is the increase in the number of people served who are over 60 years old. In 2004 there were 176 recipients in that age category. By 2011 thatnumber had grown to 1,335.
The need for a building
The issue of a separate building arose more than a year ago when both the pantry and the Wakefield Parks and Recreation Department, which share space at the former police station at 132 Meadow Street, each found that they needed more room. Parks and Recreation Director Wayne Robinson explored two options to move his department into other quarters – purchasing a vacant building down the street and building a new building at the ball fields – but neither idea received enough support.
In the meantime the food pantry linked up with a foundation willing to help the pantry build its own building by agreeing to give a double match to every dollar contributed. The pantry Building Committee, headed by Dave Schweitzer, determined that, it they could lease the land from the town, a suitable 42 by 48-foot steel building could be erected for $150,000, including contingencies and site work. That would reduce the amount of money to be raised to $50,000, with the remaining $100,000 contributed by the foundation as part of its matching grant.
So far a total of $8,100 has been raised, even before formal fundraising has begun. That leaves just $41,900 to go.
By vacating 132 Meadow Street, the pantry will give Parks and Recreation room to expand. At the same time the new building will give the pantry the room needed to buy in bulk and reduce its cost of food further. It will also be completely handicap-accessible.
The Food Pantry Building Committee, now headed by Denny Miller, includes members Alton Leeming, Wayne Robinson, Janet Miller and Arthur Capello. That committee has already done preliminary estimates on the building itself, working with Morton Buildings, and has received donated assistance from Bryan Berlind of Land Tech in preparing a site plan and from Nate Fogg to design a septic system and, working with Road Agent Dan Davis, to dig test pits. The committee is also lined up volunteers to help with the final building design and foundation work and hopes to be able to reduce the final cost below $150,000 with donated labor and, perhaps, building materials.
A Fundraising Committee has also been formed consisting of Howie Knight, Mary Richards and Dave Schweitzer. Anyone interested in making a tax-deductible contribution to the new building can send a check to Capital Building Fund, Wakefield Food Pantry, P.O. Box 426, Sanbornville, NH 03872.
Carol Lundren is applying for a USDA Rural Development grant to pay for 15 percent of the $26,000 in equipment needed in the new facility. The committee is also looking for other sources of funding.
Between now and town elections on March 13 the 52 food pantry volunteers will be working to get out the vote to support Article 23. Janet Miller will make a presentation on the building project at the Wakefield Deliberative Session on Saturday, Feb. 4, at the Opera House.
There will also be a presentation on and discussion of the site plan before the planning board on Feb. 16. Though no formal site plan is needed, the pantry is looking for any advice town planners can offer.
As the plans for the building take shape and the fundraising campaign begins in earnest, further information will be provided to Wakefield voters both in town and through this newspaper. Stay tuned.