BLOOMINGTON — The transformation of 705 N. Roosevelt Ave. from a junior high school building into McLean County's busiest food pantry and a clothing pantry is nearly complete.
The $350,000 renovation of the former Holy Trinity Junior High School building, built in the 1960s, into the St. Vincent de Paul Food and Clothing Pantry essentially is done, said Jim Tuite, a food pantry volunteer and president of the St. Vincent de Paul Holy Trinity Conference.
"We're hopeful that we can open March 18," Tuite said after he and food pantry volunteer Dorothy Deany, the conference vice president, toured the space this week. Building inspections and volunteer training must be completed first.
The completion of construction was marked Thursday with a blessing of the space by Father Jeffrey Stirniman, Holy Trinity Parish administrator, and tours for St. Vincent de Paul volunteers.
"It's very exciting," Deany said. "We are so glad that people (clients) will be able to be inside and they will have more produce to choose from."
"We're interested in serving people better," Tuite said. "That's what this is all about."
St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, which has operated out of various locations for more than 60 years, is at the south end of the Holy Trinity Parish Center, 711 N. Main St., Bloomington.
But the food pantry, the busiest in McLean County, has outgrown that space.
In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the food pantry served 13,272 households and 50,749 family members, providing 1,056,811 pounds of food valued at $1,938,952, Deany said.
"Even through the bad weather we had in January and February, we still served 1,000 people each month," Deany said.
Meanwhile, the clothing pantry, in the basement of Holy Trinity Church across the street from the parish center, also has outgrown its space.
Holy Trinity Parish agreed to lease the 3.2 acres that includes the former junior high building to the St. Vincent de Paul conference for $1 a year for five years, with the option to renew the lease for another five years, Stirniman said.
"I'm very excited because St. Vincent de Paul, that does great work, is expanding their ministry," Stirniman said. "The sheer volume of people who come there is breathtaking."
Renovation of the building has included widening doors, opening walls, building ramps, updating the electrical system, repairing and modifying the plumbing and heating, installing energy-efficient lighting and restoring floors.
The former gymnasium will become the new food distribution center and dried foods storage area. Clients will be able to wait in the building hallway rather than outside.
One former classroom on the east side of the building has been converted into a freezer that is eight times larger than the food pantry's existing freezer, Tuite said. Another former classroom has been converted into a cooler that is four times larger than the existing cooler.
More cooler and freezer space means that the food pantry will be able to store more fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and other dairy products and eggs, Tuite and Deany said.
"That's much more healthful for people than processed foods," Tuite said.
A third room on the east side will be for storage of paper products and personal hygiene items.
On the west side of the building, one former classroom will be for display of men's and children's clothing, another for display of women's clothing and a third for clothing sorting and storage.
Food pantry hours will remain 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Mondays. The clothing pantry, currently open only on Monday mornings, will expand its hours to match that of the food pantry.
The community has donated $315,000 of the $350,000 needed to pay for the building renovation and $4,000 will be needed each month to maintain the operation, Tuite and Deany said.
"This is a very generous community ... but we still have a little hill to go up," Tuite said.
"We're right in the center of the city," Tuite said. "We can be a hub for people throughout the community."