The Food Bank of Delaware will take a major step next week toward providing a fuller plate of services to hungry families in Kent and Sussex counties.

The Food Bank of Delaware will take a major step next week toward providing a fuller plate of services to hungry families in Kent and Sussex counties.

The Food Bank is scheduled to break ground Monday on a $2.6-million expansion project that will double the size of its 8,000-square-foot facility off of Airport Road in Milford.

“We’re very excited to get this project started, and hopefully, we’ll have the expanded facility up and running by this time next year,” Food Bank spokeswoman Kim Kostes said.

Monday’s groundbreaking will include remarks by U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and former U.S. Rep. Mike Castle, who is chairing the Food Bank’s fundraising campaign for the project.

To date, the Food Bank has raised about $1.6 million of the project’s estimated cost through various public grants and private donations.

Food Bank officials have said the rising demand for services in Kent and Sussex counties was the driving force behind the decision to proceed with the expansion project before the capital campaign was complete. A recent Gallup Poll indicates that Delaware ranks third in the country for percentage of residents who struggle to afford food.

“Hopefully, the groundbreaking ceremony on Monday will help to create some buzz and inspire additional donations so we can get the remaining funding we need for the building,” Kostes said this week.

The Food Bank’s board of directors also has indicated that it would be willing to seek a loan or draw on the agency’s endowment fund to cover the remaining $1 million needed to complete the project, she said.

Currently, the Food Bank’s 12-year-old Milford location mostly serves as a distribution and pick-up center for dozens of food pantries and charitable organizations in Kent and Sussex counties. About 6,000 volunteers per year also prepare food boxes for the Food Bank’s mobile pantry program and meals for several nutrition programs for at-risk children.

The expansion project will allow the Food Bank to double the number of people who can volunteer at the Milford location each year.

It also is planned to include the addition of an industrial-sized kitchen that will allow the Food Bank to provide hot meals children in need and increase the number of meals delivered by about 25 percent, resulting in 272,500 additional meals per year.

The Food Bank also is planning to add classroom space that will allow the non-profit to offer a 14-week culinary school similar to the one that has been available at its Newark facility since 2002. The school will provide entry-level job skills and two-week internships to as many as 45 students.

“Students from our culinary school in Newark will be preparing lunch at Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony so people get a taste of what’s to come,” Kostes said.

Delaware Architects of Milford designed the expansion, while Richard Y. Johnson & Son of Lincoln have been hired as the general contractor.

Kostes said the Food Bank’s Milford facility will continue to operate as usual during the year-long construction project.