In the next three to four weeks, Anchor House Family Assistance Center in Seymour plans to open its doors and welcome clients to a whole new food pantry experience.
The building at 250 S. Vine St., which used to house homeless families and serve as a community food pantry, is undergoing a complete remodel to better serve the hungry.
Workers from Skaggs Builders in Seymour have torn out interior walls to open up what once was residential living space. Plenty of shelving and storage are being added to increase the pantry’s supply and capabilities.
“It’s a 300 percent increase in space from what we have now,” said longtime Anchor House executive director Deb Bedwell.
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Anchor House residents moved into the remodeled apartments just north of the old building last fall, making the shelter and pantry completely separate from each other for the first time.
The two apartment buildings, which were nearly uninhabitable, now house seven families. That project was completed last fall and was funded mainly through a grant from the Cummins Foundation.
The total cost to purchase, renovate and furnish the apartments was estimated at around $500,000.
Bedwell said they are using leftover funds, around $30,000, as well as additional outside support and are applying for a construction loan to complete the pantry expansion.
With the additional square footage and new entrance, intake and waiting room, the pantry will be less crowded and chaotic, more organized and efficient and drastically cut people’s waiting times, Bedwell said.
Currently, people are waiting for more than 2½ hours or more on some days to get their food, she said.
“We can only get two or three families in at a time right now,” Bedwell said. “But in this space, we may be able to do six or even more than that, so there won’t be this huge, long wait.”
Sometimes, there are 25 to 30 people waiting to get in on pantry days, she said.
The expansion also may allow the pantry to be open for more than two days a week and give clients more food than the current three-meal-a-day, three-day supply, she said.
“We’re hoping to go to a four-day supply or even a five-day supply,” she said. “But we are taking baby steps. We’ve got to see what this is like once we get everything in here and running to see what other improvements we could make.”
Clients will come through a door on the southeast side of the building and will pull off a ticket to give them a number designating where they are in line. There will be bench seating for people to comfortably wait their turn to shop, and all areas will be wheelchair accessible.
Instead of doing in-take paperwork for just one person at a time, volunteers and staff will be able to handle three or four people at once, speeding up the process, Bedwell said.
After getting signed in and waiting their turn, clients will then get a cart to begin shopping, choosing products they want until they reach their point limit. Each item has a designated point value.
There will be a new “meat department” with several freezers where clients will pick out which frozen meat products they want, along with areas for fresh fruits and vegetables donated by Walmart and local farmers. There also will be a table for other giveaway items that have been donated, including personal hygiene items, laundry detergent and other cleaning products.
Once done shopping, clients will bag their groceries at a checkout station donated by Walmart and will then exit the building.
Clients are given the opportunity to shop and choose their own items instead of being given pre-selected items they might not like.
“If your family doesn’t like something or won’t eat it, you still have a hungry family,” Bedwell said.
By making the changes, Bedwell said the whole experience of visiting the food pantry will be different for clients and volunteers.
“We want this to be a positive experience for the clients,” she said.
Besides the pantry, there also is going to be a community room and office space for Anchor House employees and a remodeled warehouse for storing supplies.
“Our space just kept getting smaller and smaller because we kept using it for so many things,” she said.
The new community room will be used for financial literacy, nutrition and parenting classes for clients, board meetings, events for residents, including holiday parties, and other activities.
“We’re hoping to pull the neighborhood in, too,” Bedwell said. “We’ve already had a neighborhood meeting and a couple of city council members attended to talk about the drug issue in our neighborhood and what Anchor House has done to help clean it up. We want to continue in that mode.”
The project wouldn’t be as far along as it is without the help of tireless and dedicated volunteers willing to donate money and/or their time to do manual labor.
A group of eight volunteers from Fear Fair, a haunted attraction in Seymour, spent time Sunday helping clear out the facility’s old warehouse area, sorting through items, pitching what wasn’t needed and storing other items in a trailer donated by Walmart.
Tracy Day-Vaughn works as the social services administrator at Anchor House and also is a volunteer at Fear Fair.
“We are always looking for community service things to get ourselves out there. Plus, it’s our goal to help the community,” Day-Vaughn said.
Last season, Fear Fair experienced some rainout days and wasn’t able to bring in as much money as past years to donate, so instead, cast and crew members are rolling up their sleeves to help in other ways, Day-Vaughn said.
“So many people think we are just a haunted house and we make money, but we are more than that,” she said. “We help support things in the community.”
Over the years, profits from Fear Fair have been used to purchase playground equipment for local schools and automated external defibrillators for emergency responders, including local police and volunteer fire departments.
This isn’t the first time Fear Fair has been involved with Anchor House, said Fear Fair director Brett Hays.
“When they did their kitchen remodel a few years ago, we helped with that,” he said.
Hays also sits on the Anchor House board of directors.
“Exciting things are happening at Anchor House, and we are glad Fear Fair can be a part of it,” he said. “They are going to be able to expand their offerings a whole lot more into doing more education for people other than just residents. Anchor House is moving from just a residential facility to doing more community outreach, and that’s important.”
Since Fear Fair volunteers typically spend Sundays at the haunt working, it wasn’t difficult to get them to work over at Anchor House, Hays added.
Bedwell said she is grateful for anyone willing to help.
“The support we get is amazing,” she said. “It can get so overwhelming for us. We are blessed they are here with plenty of muscle and willingness to help on a beautiful Sunday by volunteering. A lot of our work is physical, and when it’s done, you have the great sense of ‘Gosh, look what we accomplished.’”
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For information on how to donate to Anchor House, call 812-522-9308.
You also can visit the shelter’s website at anchorhouseshelter.org or find it on Facebook by searching Anchor House.