Pasco's St. Vincent de Paul Society soon will be exchanging an inadequate, aging facility for one that will better serve clients and volunteers.
About 60 people on Tuesday helped to celebrate the groundbreaking of the new 16,000-square-foot home for the nonprofit that volunteers say will help increase the society's effectiveness in providing services, which include a food bank as well as emergency assistance for medical, housing, utilities and transportation, and clothing and household items.
Construction is expected to start this week on the $1.5 million building that will house the nonprofit's services for needy Franklin County families. A front-end loader was the background as the site was blessed and the first shovels of dirt raised.
Planning for the new facility at 215 S. Sixth Ave. began in earnest when the society discovered the city of Pasco's plans to change the Lewis Street underpass into an overpass would require the food bank at First Avenue and Lewis Street to move.
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"In reality this is a blessing in disguise," said Bob Wlaznak, the society's past president.
The benefits of the new facility outweigh the challenges posed by move, he said.
"This is a good feeling," Wlaznak said as he surveyed the 1.7 acres of gravel and weeds the society bought from BNSF Railway Co. for its new home.
Sina Pierret, the nonprofit's president and food bank manager, said there will be heating and air conditioning. And clients will be able to line up inside the building and under an awning outside, instead of being at the mercy of the elements, she said.
The new facility will have four entrances and exits, with two each from Fifth and Sixth avenues. In addition to better traffic flow, Pierret said the facility will have 90 parking spaces for clients.
"It's going to allow us to expand our services in the future," she said.
A larger freezer and cooler in the new building will allow the society to accept large donations of perishable food.
The food bank is giving away about 700 boxes of food to families each week, Pierret said. Those boxes weigh about 55 to 65 pounds.
Last year, the society helped nearly 17,000 people. The society provided more than $3 million worth of food assistance.
"We are the safety net for many of these people," Pierret said.
Recently, Pierret said the society was able to provided a motel room for a Pasco High School senior and her mother while the family waited for an appointment with Community Action Connections for housing aid. The two were homeless, living in a vehicle.
Now, that family has housing, and the mother is getting retraining help, she said.
Maureen Vincent, the society's vice president, said she is looking forward to having offices to meet privately with clients. That's something that just isn't possible in the current food bank.
Vincent said that will help the nonprofit find out about needs people may not want to voice while standing in the food line.
The society also does in-home visits to help determine needs. Vincent recalls one family she visited where the adults were farm workers, and had difficulty paying their electricity bill during the winter, when they were out of work. So they would buy less food.
She said she was able to tell them about how they could ask Franklin PUD to average their bill.
"It's not just about being fed," Vincent said. "It's also about coming up. It's about the knowledge we have to share."
After buying the society's food bank, the city has leased the food bank back to the society until next April, Pierret said. The society hopes to have the new location ready to serve clients by the beginning of 2014.
Now, the society is seeking pledges and donations for the remainder needed. The society had $750,000 from savings and the land sale to the city, said Pat Roach, Pasco attorney and co-chairman of the fundraising committee.
And $200,000 of the remaining $750,000 needed has already been donated, he said. He thanked the Horrigan Foundation, a major donor.
Community First Bank has provided a bridge loan for the project, Roach said.
To help, send donations to St. Vincent de Paul Society, P.O. Box 4273, Pasco, 99302, and indicate that they are for the capital campaign or call the food bank at 509-544-9315 or Vincent at 509-366-4786.