Kristin Lavergne, IFC community services director, said the new building will simplify the pick-up process for its members, who live or work in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
“Our plan is that once the building is built, all the services would be in the same building, which just makes it easier, primarily for our members who may be needing services,” Lavergne said. “They don’t have to go to two different services. They could come in to take groceries and also have a hot meal.”
She said the colocation also allows them to share staff who were previously working in separate locations and to gather food donations. Both the community kitchen and pantry will be larger, and the pantry will also be operated on a “member-choice” basis.
“For the community kitchen, we’ll be able to serve more people so that people would not have to wait to be seated,” Jenks said. “This is especially important when people come into the kitchen on their lunch breaks and need to get in and out very quickly.”
She said members of the pantry can choose the goods themselves, rather than having volunteers or staff shopping for them. According to FoodFirst’s website, expanded cold storage will also increase the groceries IFC provides to each family by an average of 25 percent.
Susan Romaine, one of the three founders and directors for PORCH, a local grassroots hunger-relief organization, said the changes create more flexibility in utilizing food.
“One thing I love about having the pantry and the kitchen together is that as food comes in, FoodFirst will be more in a position to determine where that food is most needed,” Romaine said. “Should it go into the pantry, or does it need to go into the kitchen immediately to help with the preparation of meals?"
Romaine also recognized the project’s focus on preventing food waste.
“I believe that they want to be a distribution hub, where excess food from nonprofits such as PORCH, we can share those with IFC, and they can help distribute those," she said. "I think they’re going to help us be more efficient in terms of getting the food donations into the hands of the people who will be most likely to use different kinds of food.”
Ashton Tippins, executive director for TABLE, a nonprofit that works to provide food aid to children in Orange County communities, said they are supportive of the FoodFirst project because it helps provide access to food in a dignified way.
Tippins referred to the example that undocumented individuals may find signing up for food assistance “a scary thing to do.” She said food services should take the needs of different populations into consideration, and to do that, organizations should listen to the community.
“I know that everybody in TABLE is kind and cares for people and wants to take care of individuals, but I think we also can’t be the ones that necessarily make the decision for what 'dignified' looks like for different people,” she said. “So I think partnering with individuals is the key so that they have a say, so that they are influencers in what it looks like, so we can learn from them as well.”
The FoodFirst project will have its grand opening in summer 2020.
By then, IFC will move out of the Historic Town Hall. Jacquelyn Gist, a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, said even though the locations of FoodFirst and the old town hall are now settled, the decision process was not easy.
"It's one of the most difficult decisions that this Board has faced in all the time that I've been here," she said.
In 2015, IFC submitted a request to revise an ordinance to allow for social service providers like IFC to include “dining” as a permissible use in some zoning districts. They needed the ordinance to change so they could move their community kitchen from Chapel Hill to their Carrboro building.
The board first held a public hearing for people to comment on this issue in March 2016.
Aaron Nelson, president and CEO of the Chamber for a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro, said in the hearing the Chamber didn't think the amendment was appropriate for the central business district.
“We must also make plans ... to listen to what the business community is saying, and plan to maintain a safe and attractive downtown,” Nelson said in 2016.
Braxton Foushee, a former member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, said it aligns with Carrboro's values to place food services in an accessible location.
“The Carrboro way ... is for us to serve the less fortunate than we are: the homeless, the men with illness and the food insufficiency,” Foushee said at the same meeting. “I would like for this venue to be in a location that is accessible to all.”
Romaine said the new FoodFirst location is easy to reach by foot, bicycle and transit and is near affordable rental housing.
“I think it is going to be a real anchor in the community,” she said. “Because it would be so accessible to so many people who are in need of supplemental food, which is just one more reason that I’m so excited about the plan.”