Seven years ago, the Community Kitchen moved its main operations to its current location at 1515 S. Rogers Street. This marked a huge step in the Kitchen’s history and its ability to fight hunger in our community.
Knowing that the Kitchen’s operations were busting at the seams at the old location, the board believed more space would resolve issues like standing room only for patrons at busy times, prepping food for new outreach programs to children and seniors, and maintaining a warehouse of food on-site for greater efficiency. What the board didn’t know was how much space would be ideal, and how many people would want to support the effort to create this new space.
The board requested a space feasibility study to review the Kitchen’s space at the time and make recommendations for what kind of space would be required to meet future need. Despite knowing things were a cramped at the 1,300 square-foot location, the board was surprised to hear the result of the feasibility study. The study recommended 5,400 square feet of space to conduct current operations and continue manageable, reasonable growth in the future.
5,400 square feet?!
The board and the Kitchen’s staff began to explore local spaces and make plans for a capital campaign to support the move. Would it be new construction on a vacant lot? Would it be a shared location with other services? Everyone agreed that it needed to be close to the old location, which was easily accessible to patrons from a variety of areas in town.
A few months later, operations manager at the time, Julius Lee, noticed the old Zucchini Prints shop go up for sale on the edge of the McDoel Gardens and Broadview Neighborhoods. He mentioned it to executive director Vicki Pierce as something to check out. They toured the space and asked, “How many square feet?” The agent sifted through the paperwork.
“It’s 5,400 square feet,” he replied.
I have served on the board for nearly 10 years. Vicki will tell you and I will confirm that, when the Kitchen is concerned, opportunities have a way of happening at just the time they are most needed. So, when we happened to locate a 5,400 square-foot building in the exact neighborhood we identified, we took notice, examined the options, and made the decision to purchase the property.
Over the next year, generous organizations and donors contributed more than $750,000 to renovate the newly purchased space. Scores of meetings, many hot days of construction, and hundreds of decisions later, the new home of the Community Kitchen opened to serve its first meal at 1515 S. Rogers Street, a location that decades ago warehoused bread loaves that were served on dinner tables across Monroe County.
With the new space, the Kitchen serves patrons with greater dignity (a seat for everyone!) and offers a family dining space for caregivers and children to connect over their meals. Programs like Backpack Buddies have more than doubled with increased capacity, and the Head Start meals program for preschoolers could have only been possible with the larger kitchen and storage areas. The Kitchen distributes nearly 35 percent more meals and snacks than it did in 2011—more than 300,000 meals and snacks in total. The space is more functional and better suited for unexpected emergency events with a newly installed generator, thanks to a grant from the City of Bloomington Community Development Block Grant program.
Thanks to all who have supported the effort to “build the Kitchen” and create a welcoming, efficient, and better prepared space for Community Kitchen’s services.
Kyla Cox Deckard, Board Member