The Community Storehouse has returned to Martinsville.
The 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, which provides food to those in need funded in part through the operation of a thrift shop, has moved from its Ridgeway location and taken up residence in the former Leggett building at 128 East Church Street, Martinsville. Community Storehouse staff, volunteers, and eager shoppers celebrated the move with a ribbon cutting July 1.
Community Storehouse Executive Director Travis Adkins said the move was a homecoming of sorts for the 21-year-old organization.
“We started out right up the street on Cleveland Avenue in the old Pannill Knitting building,” he said. “That’s when we expanded our store and saw that we could actually reduce waste with people giving us stuff they don’t want, turning it into money” and using that money to support the organization.
“We needed a storefront, so that’s when we moved to Ridgeway,” Adkins explained. “We outgrew that, and now we’re back Uptown.”
He said the organization is leasing the 25,000 square-foot space because the size, cost, and everything else about the building “benefits the Storehouse to be able to do more for the community.”
Serving the community primarily means providing food to those who need it.
“Our mission is to feed those in need, reduce food waste, and to educate the community on the issues of hunger and nutrition,” Adkins said.
That work, of course, takes money. “The main way we go about that is our thrift store,” Adkins said. Items sold through the store provide all of the overhead for the agency, as well as the bulk of the funding for several of the organization’s food programs, he explained.
“When people donate $5 to us, we’re the rare place that can say that $5 goes right into the food we provide because our overhead is covered by people donating items they don’t want anymore.”
The day of the ribbon cutting, the ground floor of the new Storehouse space was neatly organized for shoppers, a handful of whom lined up outside the door before the noon ribbon cutting, clinging close to the walls for a bit of shade. Once inside, they immediately began to browse racks of clothing, glass cases holding jewelry, and other displays of home décor, electronics including DVDs and VHS tapes, and other accessories. One may settle into a chair by a wall of shelves and began perusing one of the many books available for sale.
Adkins said it took 2-months to finalize the move into the new location, moving the equivalent of 14 standard-sized houses worth of items with a bare-bones group of staff and volunteers.
And the work is not yet complete.
“We already have plans to expand upstairs,” he said. Part of the expansion will be to house more food, but the front part, which faces Church Street, will be devoted to consignment items and furniture, which they do not currently offer.
“Within a year’s time, we will be on both floors,” he said.
Adkins showcased one of the current spaces devoted to storing the food that is central to the Storehouse’s mission. In one corner, a glass-doored freezer held a display of frozen meats and other items.
Shelves lined the walls, stocked with things like pasta, sauces, canned vegetables, dried beans, and even boxes of cornbread mix.
In the entryway, visitors are greeted by a hydroponic tower, sponsored by Bassett Office Supply, growing lettuces and other fresh food to provide even more fresh produce to shoppers.
Adkins explained that, for a long time, the standard for food pantries was simply to hand out pre-packed boxes, but the Community Storehouse has been working toward allowing recipients to have an experience more akin to a visit to a grocery store, where shoppers pick their own food.
The shift began at the Ridgeway location, but the agency was not able to house refrigerated or frozen items there, Adkins said. But that is not the case in the new location.
“When people come to us for food, they get everything that we would pick out at the grocery store,” he said. “They come in here and they pick out all their own food, everything from frozen meats, fresh produce,” and more.
For those who are not able or do not wish to come into the Storehouse, Adkins said food boxes can be delivered through a partnership with the food delivery app DoorDash, which allows the organization to do up to 2,000 free deliveries each week.
“Seniors and people who struggle with transportation, they don’t have to come here at all if they don’t want to,” Adkins said.
However, he noted that, in many cases, the Community Storehouse is not a long-term food source for everyone.
“We’re short-term help for able-bodied people. We don’t want to enable bad habits,” he said. “But if you were in a crisis, you’re looking for a job or something like that, we would help you out for about 3-months. But somebody who is a senior or mentally or physically disabled, we pledge to help them from now until they don’t need it anymore. We’ve got some elderly clients who have been coming to us for the whole 20-years we’ve been open.”
The organization also offers a Food for Kids program through local schools in which school staff hand-pick children “who are too heavily relying on their free breakfast and lunch so that we can be a stop-gap for the weekend” by delivering backpack bags of food each Friday during the school year “which will replace what they’re not getting because they’re not in school Saturday or Sunday,” Adkins said.
The agency often helps those who earn just a little too much to be eligible for SNAP benefits or otherwise cannot receive help from the government, he said. The basic formula to determine whether someone qualifies for help from the nonprofit is based on the total income of the household versus the number of people in that household, though he notes “the human factor” also is taken into account.
Standing in one of the food storage areas in the new space, looking around at the wide selection of food as shoppers browsed through thrift items just a few yards away, Adkins took a deep breath, seeming to finally realize that the move was done, and the new facility was open and running.
“I can’t believe we pulled it off, but we did it,” he said, happily.
The Community Storehouse is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. For more information, visit hungerfreemhc.org.