GENOA – Longtime volunteer Heather Edwards began to cry as she looked out at the crowd of 80 people crammed into 415 W. Main St. on Monday, in what is to become the new Genoa Area Community Food Hub.
Edwards is the DeKalb County Community Gardens’ associate director, and vocational director of the Walnut Grove Vocational Farm in Kirkland. She’s also a longtime volunteer at the Genoa-Kingston Food Pantry, which will be merging with the DCCG to become the food hub. Slated for a July opening, the hub will be a central location for area residents and people in need to commune, have a meal and learn about food production. The hub’s building was paid for and donated by a local resident who wishes to remain anonymous, said Dan Kenney, executive director and founder for the gardens.
It’s all part of a community and countywide effort that came together in just a few short months.
“This is unbelievable, and very humbling to be a part of,” said Edwards, of Kingston. “I was so shocked at how fast everything came together. Obviously, I have a religious background, and definitely God was involved in this.”
The Genoa-Kingston food pantry has outgrown its space in the basement of Faith United Methodist Church, 325 S. Stott St. in Genoa. The basement is only accessible via multiple flights of stairs, which makes it hard for wheelchair users or physically disabled visitors to get to the pantry.
Kenney said the donor closed on the building the first week of April, and construction crews began its overhaul only a week later.
“This [project] is really allowing us to address the roots of poverty,” said Jackie DiNatale, board president for the community gardens.
The 2,000-square-foot Hub, a single-floor building, was once home to the Genoa post office in the 1960s, Kenney said. The food hub will have a food pantry, commercial kitchen for organizations to use and public meeting space, plus refrigerators and freezers for pantry-shoppers to get perishables such as eggs, milk and frozen meat – commodities that most food pantries can’t offer, Edwards said.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say how proud I am to have this facility in Genoa,” Genoa Mayor Mark Vicary said. “We are often overshadowed by larger communities, but there’s so much good work going on in town.”
The food hub will be managed by a part-time coordinator who will be hired through DCCG. Volunteers will make up the rest of the staff, much like the Genoa-Kingston food pantry. The DCCG’s Walnut Grove Vocational Farm in Kirkland, which employs adults with developmental disabilities, will provide produce to the Hub.
“[The food hub] helps provide additional food-related education opportunities for people of all ages,” Kenney said. “It also provides a way to expand markets for local growers, or produce and other food-related enterprises, and an opportunity for low-income and unemployed individuals to learn skills that they can take elsewhere.”
In addition to an expanded pantry, the food hub will have tables and counters in its commercial kitchen designed for cooking demonstrations, classes and other projects for visitors to learn about cooking, canning and preserving. Kenney said there will be a section of the hub designed for local merchants to sell their goods, such as homemade jams and locally grown produce.
Edwards said the new hub also will give the food pantry expanded hours and the chance to serve more people.
The Genoa-Kingston pantry is currently only open once a month, from 9 to 11 a.m. The new location and management by DCCG will allow it to be open once a week, which means it will grow from serving around 40 people per month.