Auburn Food Bank still short on money for new home

Its anticipated 6,600-square-foot future home and the city of Auburn’s associated overnight shelter were happy topics at the Auburn Food Bank and in the corridors of City Hall, well before the COVID pandemic hit in 2020.

Indeed, that same air of excitement was there last January when the food bank’s contractor began work.

But since about mid-year, concern has replaced a lot of the excitement, as the building that should be housing the new digs by now — the onetime Sports Page Tavern at 2802 Auburn Way North — remains silent, dark, and unfinished.

“We are short of funds, and we have to pay the contractor before we can get in,” explained Auburn Food Bank Director Debbie Christian. “We need about $800,000 more.”

Among the items that unexpectedly added to the cost was a fire system for the overnight shelter and earthwork, the latter constituting almost $100,000 by itself.

“Other businesses probably wouldn’t have to have the fire hydrant, but with people sleeping there overnight, they have to be protected,” Christian said.

With the passing of each day, time is running out, as the Auburn Food Bank (AFB) Board told the King County Housing Authority some time ago it would soon vacate its long-standing home in the Burndale Homes complex. While the housing authority has not applied any pressure, the day will definitely come when it needs the space back. The rent is month to month.

“No, they are not pressuring us, but they are still here to let us know they need the building,” Christian said.

If the situation is not righted, the AFB could one day be out of a home with nowhere set to go.

Christian concedes that the AFB knew last January it did not have all the money in hand that it would need to finish the job. Banking on past successes, however, the AFB anticipated the funds would come in by the end of the year. Unfortunately, in this economy, owing to the lingering effects of COVID and the sharp increase in prices, that didn’t happen. Indeed, the usual donations fell off.

“Everyone just tightened up,” Christian said.

Although the AFB applied for a small bank loan, it soon learned that the remodeling of an existing building didn’t include enough collateral, which the bank required to secure that loan. Today the agency is working with another local bank.

“Again,” Christian said, “it’s just getting promises from individuals that they would be willing to support the food bank for the next three years to help sustain that bank loan.

“We’ve had keys to the property for three years,” Christian said. “We are paying rent on a place we cannot even use. At some point we’ll have to say we need to go from here now.”

The food bank has been at 920 8th Place Northeast in the Burndale Housing Complex in north Auburn for decades, but it’s relocating because it’s in a small space without room to grow.

Indeed, the food bank has been maxed out of capacity for many years, Christian said, and the move will give it about five times as much space, with the capacity to receive larger donations of food and added room to serve more people.

The projected cost of work from the contractor was $1.6 million, but as the food bank is short on the money,, it’s been busy on the fundraising side.

Plans show the total improved area in that part of the complex will constitute 14,631 square feet, divided between 6,899 square feet for the food bank at the south end (where the tavern was) and the newly combined resource center and night shelter, with 3,741 square feet and 3,991 square feet, respectively, on the other side of the food bank’s north wall, but accessible to it. The night shelter will accommodate 45 cots.The crisis has led to sharp questioning of the AFB’s decision making.

“I get that. But (those people) are not in our shoes, and they don’t understand the decisions that were made. It’s kind of what non-profits have to do. You don’t always have that luxury of knowing what your income stream is going to look like,” Christian said.

“Do I have moments of panic about it. Yes. Do I think about it a lot? Yes, Am I losing sleep over it? Probably. Am I praying a lot? Yes, non-stop. Am I begging, yes. And begging isn’t one of my fortes. I am a person who kind of feels I can take care of everything myself and things will come my way when I need them. So what do you say when you’re in a spot where you, I, say ‘I can’t do it alone.’”

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