For the past 2½ years, volunteer Coleen Gerth has helped people running short on food to shop in a tiny room at Anchor House Family Assistance Center’s food pantry.
The size of the pantry at the center at 250 S. Vine St. in Seymour meant people often had to wait in line as much as 2½ hours.
That will change this morning at 10 a.m. when the newly expanded pantry opens to the public for the first time.
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The $150,000 expansion project, which increased the pantry’s size by 300 percent, looks good, Gerth said Friday as she took a break from stocking shelves.
“I’m anxious to get in and work,” Gerth said. “I didn’t know how little the old pantry was until they took everything out of it.”
In the past, Gerth and other volunteers would help the two or three people allowed in the pantry at one time pick out and carry their items.
There are six shopping carts that can be put to use now, but volunteers such as Gerth still will be on hand to help and stock shelves, manager Julie Otte said.
Otte said the expanded shelter allows staff to display more food and not have to store as much in the backroom. There’s also a waiting area with more seating if the pantry is too full, she added
Workers from Skaggs Builders in Seymour completed the project and were just great to work with, said longtime Anchor House executive director Deb Bedwell.
The work was financed with a construction loan of $150,000, and there is a capital fundraising campaign in place to repay the loan and raise an additional $50,000 to help with other expenses. The fundraising effort is already better than halfway finished, Bedwell said.
As part of the project, workers opened up what once was residential living space.
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 funded mainly through a grant from the Cummins Foundation.
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 it will drastically cut people’s waiting times, Bedwell said.
Sometimes, on pantry days, there were 25 to 30 people waiting to get in, she said.
The expansion also might 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. At this time, the pantry is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays and from noon to 5 p.m. Thursdays.
Clients will come through a door on the southeast side of the building and 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 intake 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 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.”
She said all of the recent projects at the center would not have been possible without the help of many volunteers.
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Anchor House Family Assistance Center and food pantry
Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Mondays and noon to 5 p.m. Thursdays.
Where: 250 S. Vine St., Seymour
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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.