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"A castle of hope for our community”: New Statesboro Food Bank will feed families while nourishing local pride, and it’s coming along!

The Statesboro Food Bank's new building aims to be a community center with classrooms, gardens, a dining hall, and a 6,500 square-foot food pantry. The vision is coming to life on West Parrish, but local support is still needed.

Walking into the new Statesboro Food Bank building on West Parrish Street in Statesboro, one thing is immediately clear: it’s a building brimming with life. Visions of cooking classes, educational programs, community gardens and landscaping filled with edible plants spring into view through a tapestry of metal beams, pipes, and electrical wiring.

As Sheila Stewart-Leach, the Food Bank Executive Director, walks through the construction site, her excitement is palpable:

Sheila Stewart-Leach in the doorway of one of the future classrooms.

“We’re planning for possibilities,” she shares as she points to each carefully mapped-out space in the 12,000 square-foot metal building where she hopes to move as early as summer 2024.

A vision brought to life

The entrance opens into an inviting lobby for meeting with clients, and doorways for two community classrooms are visible on the left. Leach, who is a professor of interior design at Georgia Southern University, says her interior design students helped create some of the preliminary sketches and concepts.

The classrooms are large. One of them includes a demonstration kitchen, and they can be divided with a partition or combined for maximum utility.

Leach says they plan to offer open cooking classes for their clients as well as community members, and she hopes the new building will bring a variety of groups to the space to learn and share.

“I’d love for garden clubs or volunteers to come and help us grow herbs and low-care seasonal vegetables like kale and cabbage,” she adds. Her vision is for not just a new building, but the creation of a community center filled with herbs, pear trees, pecan trees, and native species where community members can get involved.

Beyond the lobby and classrooms, the construction site opens into an enormous, 6,500 square-foot food storage area that will be named the Brannon Pantry in honor of Joe Bill Brannon, whose 25-year legacy serving the community through the Statesboro Food Bank lives on. It includes space for dozens of refrigerators and deep freezers, a washer and dryer, and even a drive-up window for convenient meal box deliveries.

Sheila Stewart-Leach with David Pearce, of Pearce Building Systems, the project's builder.

On the left, the dining hall, which will seat 80, will be air conditioned and include a commercial kitchen. Leach says they plan to offer breakfast—egg sandwiches and orange juice—and lunch, with a soup bar for times when the kitchen is closed, seven days a week, 365 days per year.

In anticipation of serving the community during emergency conditions, like hurricanes, the new building is being equipped with hard-wired communication lines, extra hot water heaters, bathrooms with showers, cots, and planned space for backup supplies.

Demand quadruples, and volume expected to increase again

“Since our September move to Morgan Way, the Food Bank has provided 732,000 meals through the meal box program,” Leach shared.

The Food Bank's primary programs are providing meals, education, and family meal boxes, “and we need volunteers like crazy,” Leach said. Volunteers are welcome to come to the Food Bank’s temporary location at 1545 Morgan Way in Statesboro on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9-3. They help sort cans, put items on shelves, and organize donations.

When they moved into their current location, Leach says that there was an immediate jump in demand for food. She attributes the increase to difficult economic times and higher grocery store prices. She says their families are working to make ends meet, but they need help.

“When we moved in September, we were providing 30,000 meals per month. In January, we provided 196,000 meals,” she shared. And she expects that number to continue rising.

Construction is well under way, anticipated opening this fall

“We serve an average of 60 families per day,” Leach said. The families are required to complete an intake form, meet income guidelines, and schedule an appointment, then a volunteer “shops” for them from the food pantry area and they return to pick up their meals. They also make deliveries to homebound residents.

“Food goes out as fast as it comes in,” Leach says and adds, “I’m not sure the larger community understands the need that is here.”

The Food Bank partners with Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia and other area food pantries, too, and will continue to work collaboratively to meet local needs.

Giving Opportunities: Make a lasting impact

“What we really need are funds,” Leach shares, “There are many naming opportunities and ways for community members or businesses to make a difference right now while construction is under way.”

While much of the building's funding has been provided through City and County relief funds, fundraising for contributions from individuals and businesses is Leach's primary objective at this time. They have a $600,000 gap between what has been pledged and the remaining costs. 

There are also needs for specific equipment: “I’d love for nine individuals to step up and help us buy nine more refrigerators!” Leach said the refrigerator/freezer units are $2,500 each and would help offer more families things like milk, eggs, vegetables, and meat—critical nutritional needs for children and the elderly.

Get Involved

For more information about their growth or details about partnership and volunteer opportunities, reach out through their website or follow them on Facebook.