It's so much more than a warehouse.
The Paul Hulsey Community Food and Nutrition Center includes a community garden, public gathering space and exercise room, volunteer center, nutrition training center, staff wing and large warehouse space.
And the increased scale of its operation will allow the Lowcountry Food Bank to reach many more people in need, Executive Director Jermaine Husser said.
"This is not just a facility to end hunger," Husser said. "This is a center for empowerment."
The new home of the food bank was named for a local attorney whose $1 million gift was the largest the nonprofit received in its nearly finished $5 million capital campaign.
When the food-distribution operation got its start in 1983, it used an 8,000-square-foot building in Ladson. It moved into a 37,000-square-foot building on the former Charleston Naval Base in 1998, and upgraded a third time last year, thanks to the success of its "Growing Forward" capital campaign. Now it occupies 60,000 square feet in the former Cameron
& Barkley Co. Lighting Center on Azalea Drive.
With just $400,000 left to raise in the campaign, the food bank on Wednesday officially announced the opening of its new warehouse in North Charleston.
Hulsey, who attended the opening ceremony along with other supporters and dignitaries, gave a short, emotional speech in which he referred to hardships he experienced as a child. He said he hoped his gift would inspire others to do the same.
"Success carries with it the opportunity and responsibility to help the less fortunate," he said, referring to the occasion as the "happiest day of my life."
Anita Zucker, chief executive officer and chairwoman of The InterTech Group Inc., a North Charleston-based manufacturing conglomerate, provided $500,000 in support of the food bank's nutrition programs. Staff and volunteers working in the Zucker Family Production Kitchen will prepare meals for area schoolchildren who qualify for free or reduced lunches.
The city of North Charleston committed $500,000 to the food bank, to be paid in $100,000 increments over five years.
The organization also received a $250,000 competitive state grant, $20,000 from Charleston County and $15,000 from the town of Mount Pleasant, according to Husser.
When the food bank applied for a $300,000 Kresge Foundation grant, the philanthropic organization was impressed enough with the food bank's operation to commit to $450,000, said Shawn Jenkins, president and CEO of BenefitFocus and chairman of the Growing Forward Capital Campaign. The third and final phase of the campaign that began 2 1/2 years ago will end as soon as the food bank raises its final $400,000.
The food bank has seen a 35 percent increase in food distribution since the same period last year, Husser said. It works with more than 300 nonprofit and faith-based groups throughout 10 coastal counties, providing food to about 31,000 people each week.
Since November, the facility has distributed at least one million pounds of food each month, up from an average of about 700,000 pounds a month, he said.
Husser said the only item the food bank purchased (besides the $3.7 million building) was a table in the community room. Everything else — furniture, flower arrangements, video production — was donated.
Hulsey said he got involved with the food bank several years ago and was thrilled with the opportunity to step up his support. "Jermaine came to me with a dream that he had," Hulsey said. "Little did he know that he was helping me fulfill mine."
Zucker said health and education are important areas of focus, and the food bank's mission "really works with the things that my family supports."
Children cannot thrive when they are hungry, she said. "If you're not nourished, you can't get educated."
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said the food bank demands support.
"While we had to cut a lot of things out of the budget, we did not cut this," he said, referring to the fiscal trimming prompted by the recession. "So many people depend on this."
Also on hand for the official opening of the center were Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Mount Pleasant Mayor Pro Tem Kruger Smith and the Rev. Nelson B. Rivers of Charity Baptist Church, who recited a blessing of the building.
Earl Wilson prepares to weigh a cart of bread at the food center on Azalea Drive in North Charleston.×
Becky Gwin of the Metropolitan Community Church picks out food Tuesday at the new Paul Hulsey Community Food and Nutrition Center. The food she collected will be distributed from the church on Dorchester Road in North Charleston.×