Food bank will have room to grow

Margaret Grant, director of procurement for the Lowcountry Food Bank gives a tour of the charity's recently purchased facility Wednesday on Azalea Drive in North Charleston.

The Lowcountry Food Bank made a deposit on its future Wednesday.

On the loading dock of a former lighting components warehouse, the agency announced it will move by September from its 37,000-square-foot cramped quarters on the old Navy base to a 62,000-square-foot facility on Azalea Drive in North Charleston.

"This is going to be very unique for this community," Lowcountry Food Bank Executive Director Jermaine Husser said against a background of old pallets, hanging wires and walls to be knocked out over the next few months.

The food bank bought the property in December for $3.7 million and is in the process of raising $5 million to help pay for the building and retrofitting it.

Since November 2006, it has raised $2.6 million and hopes to raise the rest of the money during the next two years, said Shawn Jenkins, chairman of the Growing Forward fundraising campaign for the food bank. He's also the president and CEO of BenefitFocus.

"We were fortunate to find this fantastic facility," he said.

The center, which must be refurbished with new appliances and volunteer-friendly work space, will be more than a food distribution facility.

It will offer yoga and pilates, have a garden to grow fresh vegetables and provide nutrition information.

"Our mission is to end hunger," Husser said.

Money raised will be used not only for the new facility but also to expand services and programs such as the Kids Cafe, an after-school program that provides low-income students with hot, healthy meals and academic assistance.

Since 1998, the food bank has distributed its supplies to 10 coastal counties from its facility off Cosgrove Avenue.

Last year, it served 154,000 people and distributed 9.3 million pounds of food. The organization estimates another 100,000 people need but don't use its services. The number is expected to rise as the soaring cost of necessities such as food and fuel eat up families' incomes.

The agency's goal is to deliver 36 million pounds of food within 10 years and the new facility will provide the needed space and loading docks to store, prepare and distribute supplies, Husser said.

"This is the place people will come for hope, healing and help," he said.

Under its lease agreement with the Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority, the food bank was allowed to stay at the property rent-free as long as they paid for renovations.

The agreement continued through the Noisette Co.'s purchase of the property until 2005 when the company asked the food bank to find a new home so they could bulldoze the building to make way for new development.

"To be honest, it was scary," said Husser when he first found out his agency had to move.

Husser, who has worked at the food bank for the past 11 years, had just become executive director when the agency was told to raise $5 million to acquire a new building.

Husser said it was untimely and kind of a burden, but it helped to spread the food bank's mission and gain new friends.

"Over time, we saw it as an opportunity," Husser said.

North Charleston committed $500,000 over five years to help the food bank find a new home. Other local governments contributed as well, Husser said.

"There is hunger in our own community," Mayor Keith Summey said. "When one of us suffers from hunger and health issues, all of us suffer."

Husser said the agency won't stop until hunger is wiped out.

"We are looking forward to the day when we no longer have to fight hunger and can teach people proper nutrition," Jenkins said.