While volunteers at the Food Bank of Delaware's Milford branch previously worked in the non-air-conditioned aisles of the facility's warehouse, a year-long expansion project will soon be complete, providing them the space needed to help feed residents of Kent and Sussex counties.
The $2.6 million project has allowed the organization to double its space with an additional 8,000 square feet to house designated volunteer space, a culinary kitchen, classrooms, a bistro, meeting space for public groups and additional office space.
"The larger added benefit is to be able to continue to reach out," said Milford Branch Director Chad Robinson. "We are and want to continue to be a vital part of the area."
The project, which started in September 2012, is slated to be complete this September with the first culinary class up and running by Sept. 9 and a ribbon-cutting ceremony planned for Sept. 20.
Depending on how inspections and final details advance in the final months of the project, Robinson said he expects to finish under budget and ahead of schedule. Robinson estimated that the project will come in under budget by more than $100,000, some of which will be used to outfit the space and the rest will go back to the community by providing food to those in need.
"We're happy about what we've accomplished," Robinson said. "The community has supported that, and that's really exciting for us."
With only two Food Bank locations in Delaware − the Milford branch and the Newark branch − Robinson knew the expansion project was vital to maintain and increase volunteers and programs for Kent and Sussex counties.
The Food Bank of Delaware served 242,000 people yearly according to its last hunger study report, with 500 hunger relief partners and numerous programs for children, adults and educational programs to help people eat healthier.
"We want to provide people the skills and resources to get them out of that situation they're in," Robinson said.
"In a perfect world we wouldn't have to exist," Robinson said. "Since we're not there yet we want to give people the opportunity to come and see the beautiful space that will allow us to continue to work and hopefully end hunger in the state.
"This is an exciting opportunity to bring the culinary school down state. It gives folks the opportunity to take those classes [locally]."
The Milford branch did its best to use local contractors during construction, Robinson said, in order to make an effort to keep costs in check and be mindful of donors' wishes.
"It's certainly been an effort of many," he said. "The work that we do wouldn't be possible without the generous contributions we've received."
In addition to designated space for volunteer work and a culinary school with a professional kitchen, the expansion project also includes space for a bistro and meeting areas for community organizations to use while classes are not in session.
Page 2 of 2 - Robinson hopes by providing a space for local businesses and other groups to use, there will be an opportunity for culinary students to practice serving meals as well as an opportunity to hopefully recruit additional volunteers.
"We see this expansion as an opportunity to grow the program and serve more people in Kent and Sussex counties," Robinson said. "We want to be more than just can in, can out."