Officials with a local homeless shelter hope to build upon a significant grant from the Cummins Foundation to provide more services to the homeless and hungry.
The grant, announced Tuesday, will help with the rehabilitation of two apartment buildings across from the Anchor House Family Assistance Center on South Vine Street in Seymour.
Once renovated, the apartment buildings will nearly double the current capacity of the shelter, which served 29 families, including 49 children, last year. The funds also will help with the expansion of the center’s food pantry, which served 4,700 families or 16,700 people this past year.
The $300,000 project will help address needs of the growing homeless and hungry populations in the area, Anchor House executive director Deb Bedwell said.
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“Currently, the clients of Anchor House experience long wait times on food pantry days; and throughout the year, the housing services consistently have a wait list,” she said.
In 2014, 81 families with 123 children were turned away because of a lack of space at the shelter. Since 2002, a total of 2,138 children have been turned away, she said.
The exact amount of the grant was not disclosed by Bedwell or the Cummins Foundation, but there is enough money available to purchase the buildings, which had been in foreclosure, without incurring any debt, she said.
“We’ve been debt-free, and we want to stay that way; but once we get this up and running, we’re going to have more expenses. My electric bill is $800 now,” she said.
“I’m extremely excited about it, but I’m also scared to death,” she added in reference to the increased bills once the apartments are occupied.
The Cummins Foundation grant is a key building block in the shelter’s newly launched fundraising and community engagement efforts, Bedwell said.
“Through increased community partner engagement, volunteerism and contributions, we can increase the number of clients served and improve the overall experience at Anchor House,” she said.
Former Seymour Mayor John Burkhart, a past member of the shelter’s board of directors, is joining the Anchor House staff as project manager and volunteer coordinator for the capacity expansion project.
Bedwell said Burkhart was selected for the role because he was instrumental in seeing the shelter through a rough time during its early years.
Anchor House was formed from a group of people who saw the need for the shelter in the early 1990s, Bedwell said. In August 1996, the city received a $250,000 grant to purchase the existing shelter.
One of the grant requirements was that the building on South Vine Street had to remain a shelter for the homeless for five years, or the grant money would have to be returned.
At that time, there was a struggle to find people willing to serve on the board, and the shelter went through several leaders, Burkhart added.
A new manager — Jennifer Duffy — was hired in the late 1990s, and the shelter has continued to grow from that point, Burkhart said. Duffy, who later married and moved away from Seymour, was replaced by Bedwell in late 2001.
Bedwell said Burkhart is a good person to lead the project, which includes the addition of a community room to the existing shelter to provide new outreach services to residents of the local neighborhood.
Board member Eric Skaggs of Seymour will serve as the construction manager for the project.
The plan is to renovate the apartments and have them ready for occupancy by June, Bedwell said.
The existing shelter has room for just four families, who can stay for as long as eight weeks. Those families, however, have only their own bedrooms and must share common areas.
The new apartments will provide each family with a bathroom, kitchen area and living room. One apartment unit will be converted into an office and will have rooms for computers to help families as they try to get back on their feet, Bedwell said.
Anchor House’s community food pantry will be renovated and expanded once families have moved into the new apartments. At that time, the new community room will be added.
A larger pantry will eliminate some of the time it takes for people to pick up food, Bedwell said.
The hope is to use the new community room for cooking classes and other programs to address needs in the community, she added.
A fence will surround the apartment units, parking areas and existing shelter to provide greater security for clients, Bedwell said.
Board president Ben Brown said the board had been looking at ideas for renovating the facility, and Cummins had sent in a team to see what could be done with the existing building to make it more usable.
The board, however, found out about the possibility of obtaining the two buildings.
“We asked them (Cummins) about the idea of their help (financially),” Brown said. “They said, ‘Maybe.’”
Brown said it’s just another example of the impact Cummins and other businesses and industries can have on a community.
Bedwell said Cummins
has supported the shelter
“They come from Columbus once a month to manage the food pantry,” she said.
Cummins employees from both Columbus and Seymour also volunteer at the shelter on the company’s annual Make a Difference Day.
“I had them working on eight projects at one time,” Bedwell said.
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To learn more about Anchor House, visit anchorhouseshelter.org.
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To volunteer to work on projects at Anchor House, contact John Burkhart at 812-525-7459. To make a monetary donation to support the capacity expansion work, contact Anchor House at 812-522-9308 or mail to Anchor House, Capacity Expansion, Box 765, Seymour, IN 47274.
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“Currently, the clients of Anchor House experience long wait times on food pantry days; and throughout the year, the housing services consistently have a wait list.”
Anchor House executive director Deb Bedwell