AUGUSTA — The severe late October wind and rain that knocked out power to nearly 500,000 Mainers also has delayed the opening of the Augusta Food Bank’s new building.

Executive Director Alan Smith said the plan was to open the new site Nov. 1, but he said the agency is waiting for Central Maine Power Co. to approve a new utility pole.

“We have no phone lines and no data lines, and we’re slowly starting to move stuff into the building,” Smith said. “Things are in a holding pattern, and for CMP, it’s all paperwork associated with adding a new junction on the pole.”

Gail Rice, a CMP spokeswoman, said people who handle pole attachments for utilities, including phone, cable and internet, have been busy the past few weeks coordinating repairs related to the Oct. 30 storm that left some Mainers without power for more than a week.

“They are just starting to catch up to the regular business now,” Rice said.

The 4,200-square-foot building includes a two-story warehouse, a small office space, a roof designed to hold a solar panel and a front section where clients can obtain food. Lajoie Brothers Inc. completed work on the building, at 161 Mount Vernon Ave., “pretty much on schedule,” Smith said.

Smith said he is confident in saying that the facility will open its doors to clients Dec. 4, but he knows that weather might be a factor in that. Without the late October storm, he thinks, the food bank would be open now.

The food bank currently operates out of the parish hall at St. Mark’s Church on Summer Street, as it has for more than 35 years. It’s moving to a larger space to accommodate the record-breaking number of families — around 410 a month — who now use the food bank. Smith said he doesn’t expect to add many new clients, but the new location may bring different people into the facility.

“I think the client base will change, because we have clients who can only go so far,” Smith said. “There’s a population around here who can walk who wouldn’t have been able to get all the way to Summer Street.”

The new building was built on a 1.3-acre lot donated by Augusta resident and businessman Norman Pomerleau. The nonprofit organization raised $675,000 in a capital campaign to pay for construction, and it has raised an additional $25,000 to pay for new fixtures and furnishings.

Pantry manager Susan Williams and warehouse manager Andy Waller talk about where to put tables Tuesday as they plan how to organize the new site of Augusta Food Bank on Mount Vernon Avenue in Augusta.

“We’ve been using St. Mark’s stuff, and none of us have a desk or filing cabinets,” Smith said. “We’re going to be as frugal as we can, but for the most part, it’ll all be newer stuff.”

The new building is divided into two parts: the large warehouse space where pallets of food can be stored and donations can be dropped at a loading dock; and the front portion of the building, which will include the client registration area, a waiting room and a large room where clients can pick up meat, dairy, bread and produce.

Pantry manager Susan Williams and warehouse manager Andy Waller said the new facility will make things much easier for the operation of the food bank, but it will also be a better experience for clients.

“That efficiency for the customer is just as important as the efficiency for us,” Williams said. “Their time in here will be so much less, and the service will be better. Plus a new building is much more aesthetically pleasing.”

Spahn said he spends much of his day now moving products between the food bank and its current warehouse. The new building will allow him to spend most of his time working on site to ensure the smooth operation of the facility.

“It’s a constant cycle, so to have it all in one place, it’s going to be so much easier,” he said.

At St. Mark’s, Smith said because the room they use is a multipurpose room used by the church, the food bank volunteers and staff spend more than two hours a day setting up and cleaning up. By having its own dedicated building, the agency will be much more efficient and its ability to provide a smooth client experience will increase.

“They’ll be no more waiting outside. People will make appointments, so there won’t be 25 people standing out in the rain,” Smith said. “Everybody is very excited, because we’ll be scheduling them every day, which will work out great for everybody.”

Smith said the new Augusta Food Bank is comparable to food banks in other cities across the state. Food bank officials visited the food bank in Brunswick and took note of how it operated, the layout of the facility and the way it managed its clients and products.

“We really worked with (Brunswick workers) to understand and glean from them, and we anticipate everything is going to go smoothly,” Smith said.

This Tuesday photo shows the new site of the Augusta Food Bank in Augusta.

There’s no precise count of how many people have used the food bank so far this year, but the organization’s past data shows that number of people served generally has been climbing, increasing by a third from the 9,302 people that were served in 2012, to the 12,604 who were served last year. The total number of meals provided by the organization has climbed at a similar rate, from 195,405 in 2012 to 267,066 last year. That means an average of 756 meals were handed out each day last year.

The number refugees and immigrants coming to Augusta has increased, Smith said, and they often have big families. There’s one family from Afghanistan that has 12 people who each get a week’s worth of food. The new building has space to store a lot more food than the current church space has, which means, if necessary, the food bank can serve more clients.

Smith said he’s sorry that the food bank hasn’t opened yet, but he said he is comfortable telling people to expect the new building to be in service during the first week of December.

“(The storm) was just unfortunate timing,” Smith said. “We’re just waiting to get some utilities up and running.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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