HHOC move expected by July 1; fund campaign continues

Dave Marner
Managing Editor

If all goes well, the Helping Hands Outreach Center will be in its new facility on Kosark Road by July.

This past Thursday volunteers continued their mission to assist southern Gasconade County residents with food needs from the cramped, two-bay former ambulance shed building owned by the city on South Second Street. Narrow walkways and limited table space had volunteers like Roger Jett, Sharon Bacon and Judy Hall sidestepping each other as they filled cardboard boxes with regular and emergency food stocks.

Bacon was filling an box with items from a shelf near the back of the building marked “emergency food.” Those needing items from this shelf might be homeless or they simply ran out of food.

“We have two or three a week in a bad week,” said Hall. “End of the month is more likely,” she added, noting it was May 30.

Andrew Michel calls out the number of frozen meats go in a certain box depending on the number in a household receiving services that week. “Three. No deer,” he said indicating a recipient had requested they not received a tube of frozen ground venison. Many do, however, ask for deer meat, he added. Venison is provided by Share The Harvest and distributed locally through the St. Louis Area Food Bank.

Between the office and kitchen space in the building and the garage bays which once houses ambulances, HHOC has 15 coolers or freezer units on site. Two more are at New Hope United Methodist Church.

When HHOC moves to its new location, many of the units will no longer be needed since a walk-in cooler and a walk-in freezer are being constructed in the remodeled facility.

Helping Hands Outreach Center incorporated in 2002 and moved into the old ambulance shed more than 14 years ago in 2004.

“I’m excited about the space,” said Carolyn Hefley, executive director of the  pantry which also serves as distributor for government commodities. “We couldn’t have asked for a better building than that.”

She said they are looking for additional heavy-duty shelving units to outfit the new facility.

Their lack of storage space was evident last week as an unusually large 16,000-pound shipment of items arrived from the St. Louis Area Food Bank the week before. Many of the non-perishable items remain stacked on pallets near the two overhead garage doors. Among the shipment were cases of rice, dried peas, beans, and lentils. The shipment also included a large quantity of frozen meats such as pork lion roasts. All, said Hefley, an unexpected yet appreciated benefit of the China tariffs.  

“We are adding a 10-foot by 10-foot walk-in cooler and a 10-foot by 10-foot walk-in freezer to give us more flexibility,” said Gerald Ebker who has been helping with the capital fund-raising campaign for the new building. “Today when we get a large shipment of certain items, we have to borrow space from the community park, school, or church facilities. This new capability will not only allow us to handle surges, but will provide the space when some of our current coolers and freezers reach end of life.”

The walk-in cooler and freezer units are being constructed out of salvaged components from the recently closed Rock Island Marketplace.

To accommodate the new freezers, all new electrical wiring was installed during the renovation project.

Ebker said a campaign to raise fund was successful in their effort to pay off the $36,000 purchase price for the building.

A group of local HHOC project supporters originally estimated $25,000 in renovation costs.

“When we started, our objective was $36,000 for building purchase, $25,000 for renovation, and $70,000 for one year’s operational expenses totaling $131,000,”  said Ebker in an email about the funding campaign. “Where we are now is $36,000 for building, $96,000 for renovation, and $70,000 for one year’s expenses totaling $202,000.” 

Their original estimate on renovation was to provide minimal changes necessary to occupy the building. Those plans changed, however, as they realized the electrical system was “patched together over 50 years,” Ebker noted.

Insulation was also added to the middle portion of the building which will be used as office space and the north end which will house food sorting and storage operations. New walls were constructed in the office space and where the backpack program will be housed in back. A storage room at the middle school is where the backpack food stocks are now stored and assembled. 

New lighting and metal wall and ceiling panels were also installed in that end of the building to cover the insulation.

“We have upgraded the insulation to make our buildings energy efficient,” Ebker said. “This will not only improve our heating and cooling costs but will make the buildings less accessible by unwanted birds and pests. This is important for a food storage facility.”

The campaign as of June has received donations and pledges totaling $136,800, according to Ebker. Another $28,000 is being sought through various grant applications and other fund-raising activities such as a raffle. Included in the total amount collect was a $5,000 grant from the Three Rivers Electric Cooperative’s Helping Hands Foundation which funded construction of a handicap accessible bathroom.

“We have reasonable expectations that we will receive another $28,000 from pending grant applications and other activities,” said Ebker about raising $164,800 of the revised estimated of needing $202,000. “I would expect that a fund-raising effort of $164,800 is one of the best in Owensville history. Looking at it another way, we have taken care of our building purchase and renovations, and about half of our annual expenses.”

Donations are still being accepted and may be directed to the Helping Hands Outreach Center of Gasconade County, 604 South Second Street, Owensville, Mo. 65066. All donations are tax deductible. HHOC is a 501C3 organization so all gifts are tax deductible. Ask your tax accountant about the Missouri Food Pantry Tax Credits and the use of Qualified Charitable Distributions if you are willing and able to make a sustaining operations or large capital projects donation.