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NH food bank, warehouse project gets a boost

MANCHESTER - Construction of a new center to help the state's only food bank keep up with record demand is in line to get $1.25 million in federal funding, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen announced yesterday.

The New Hampshire Food Bank project involves the purchase of the building at 700 East Industrial Park Drive in Manchester and its conversion into a major food collection, warehouse and delivery hub. Construction began in December 2009. The total cost, including building purchase, will be close to $7 million.

The federal funding Shaheen introduced was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The full Senate will now consider it as part of a major Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development appropriations bill.

Shaheen, D-N.H., said the economic climate has left too many New Hampshire families struggling. "No one in this country should have to go hungry," she said. "The New Hampshire Food Bank exemplifies the generosity of New Hampshire by helping to provide for our neediest neighbors during their times of need, and I am pleased they will now be able to expand their capacity to serve our communities."

The Food Bank, a non-profit program of New Hampshire Catholic Charities, is now at 62 West Brook St. in the city. Its current address features about 18,000 square feet, while the new location offers about 55,600 square feet.

The extra warehouse space will help the Food Bank, with and through its member pantries and shelters around the state, address a need that has doubled over four years. The Food Bank served 67,000 people in 2006, an estimate that ballooned to 127,000 last year, according to a national hunger study.

Tom Blonski, president and chief executive officer of New Hampshire Catholic Charities, said the Food Bank's new home will help feed the state's hungry while addressing the root causes of poverty.

"As the state's only food bank, we will be here to provide for the immediate need," Blonski said. "The evolution of the Food Bank will be to provide more client programs and direct services, such as workforce training programs, that help people become self-sufficient -- teaching people to fish, rather than simply giving them a fish to feed them for a day."

Melanie Gosselin, executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank, said the new headquarters would help expand outreach, programs that include nutrition education, financial literacy, culinary job training, and advocacy.

"There's certainly a higher demand due to the economy," Gosselin said. "We really want to get people back on their feet, not just feed them."

Other project funding will come from Catholic Charities internal financing and a capital campaign, which is in its early stages of planning, said Paul McAvoy, director of communications and stewardship for New Hampshire Catholic Charities.

The New Hampshire Food Bank supplies more than 5 million pounds of food to more than 400 pantries, kitchens, shelters and member agencies statewide each year. It also operates a mobile food pantry. With that much coming in and out of the facility, workplace efficiency is a must, McAvoy said. To that end, he said, they hired an expert in food bank design to improve workflow, from the office to the back of the house.

The new and improved facility will have a freezer and refrigeration unit large enough for a forklift to drive into it.

Instead of finding new ways to deal with tight quarters, the New Hampshire Food Bank will be able to stretch out, both in its workspace and in its mission.