Written by The Business Journal Staff
Despite multiple quick fixes over the years to keep the 12,000 square-foot structure intact, recent storms have highlighted the dire need for a new and improved warehouse to store the nonprofit’s food donations and supplies, which make it possible for Poverello House to provide 1,600 meals a day.
With a warning from El Nino rains last winter, Poverello House leaders got the ball rolling on design plans for its future warehouse. Now on the verge of starting demolition of the old and construction of the new warehouse, the organization is seeking community support with a $2.5 million fundraising campaign, “Raise the Roof.”
As of Friday morning, more than $1.5 million of the goal had been raised, according to the Poverello House website.
“The food storage warehouse is the hub; it’s the heart of the Poverello House and it’s still beating, but without this project I think it would be on its last heartbeats,” Pedro Santana, the Poverello House director of fund development, said.
On a recent tour of the existing warehouse, Executive Director Cruz Avila showed the adverse conditions that have challenged volunteers in their mission to serve the homeless and hungry Fresno population.
“You can see all the two-by-fours and the rotting wood as you go further in,” Avila said as he walked through the decaying warehouse. “The piping and everything isn’t good. We’ve been putting sheetrock up there and making sure that it’s still staying dry, but we even ran out of drywall for that and because we’re going into the construction phase, there is no purpose in putting it all up again because of the cost. We still had to reframe several posts that are on their last legs.”
In addition to being in disrepair, the growing number of donations to Poverello House has nearly exceeded the warehouse’s capacity, and on top of that, the space has no refrigeration or freezer units to preserve certain food items, so donated produce often goes to waste during the summer months.
A new 19,000 square-foot warehouse will remedy all these concerns. The all-metal, insulated building will feature on-site commercial-grade refrigeration and freezer units; ample space for two-way industry-standard forklift traffic; new rack and shelving units; turnaround space for large tractor-trailer deliveries and donations, and an easily accessible public donation drop-off point.
“We’re upgrading the size, the amenities and how we’re stacking everything, so it is basically going to double itself even though it’s only a few thousand more square feet,” Avila said. “The stacking capabilities and the height of the new warehouse is going to make it feel double in size.”
In addition to the warehouse, the Poverello House also plans to construct a restroom and shower facility for its clients staying overnight in the Village of Hope and Community of Hope.
There are 64 sheds in and village and community that provide a temporary place to stay for 124 homeless clients.
Those clients currently use portable toilets. Avila said the new restroom facility would improve living conditions for these clients.
Across the Poverello House campus, another old building, which houses donated men’s clothing items, will be demolished along with the old warehouse. There will be an area in the new food storage warehouse where these clothing items will be stored in the future. In place of the men’s warehouse building will be a new doublewide trailer housing the organization’s Multi-agency Access Program (MAP Point).
The current MAP Point facility is a smaller trailer nestled between the current warehouse and the Village of Hope.
The MAP Point connects hundreds of those in need to other organizations each month. In November 2016 alone, Poverello House was able to connect 700 of its clients to other nonprofits — that is 700 people coming and going from the tiny MAP Point space in a 30-day period. The larger trailer will enhance the Poverello’s linkage services.
While providing meals is an essential part of what the Poverello House does, Avila said the MAP Point demonstrates that Poverello House is much more than a soup kitchen.
“What sets the Poverllo House apart from other agencies is we meet that emergency need — food,” Avila said. “We serve 1,600 meals daily, 365 days a year. The meals just start the process. People get comfortable coming here and then they go a step further, to the MAP Point, where we assess them and point them to other agencies that can help with their specific needs.”
“Not only are we feeding folks, but we are now connecting them to these other services, whether it is housing, drug treatment or its behavioral health,” Santana added. “The food is our calling card which is why it’s important to have this food warehouse. It allows us to connect to these clients who are coming in here for food.”
In addition to providing meals, shelter and a connecting point, Poverello House provides a resident rehab program, laundry facilities, clothes and access to medical and dental care.
Austin Herzog, president of the Affordable Housing Development Corp., has worked with the Poverello House during the design phase for the new warehouse, restroom facility, and MAP Point, said he was surprised to learn of all the organization’s services.
“I’ve learned the Poverello House is about much more than just feeding people,” Herzog said. “The Poverello House has taken great steps to address the homeless issue, getting people off the streets and into housing.”
In 2016, Avila said, the Poverello House was able to help 822 homeless individuals find permanent housing.
Herzog said completing the warehouse project is going to allow Poverello House to help even more people.
Unlike some projects seeking community funding, Herzog said this project is already designed and a construction schedule is set, with shovels expected to break ground on the warehouse March 1. The target completion date will be sometime in October.
“We have the seed money to get started, plans have been submitted, a contractor has been hired and there is a timeline in place,” Herzog said. “We’re going out to raise money now that this is tangible. The funds raised will help it become a reality.”
To donate to the “Raise the Roof” campaign, visit poverellohouse.org/RTR.