Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services finished up a $2.5 million remodel of its Arata Bros. building two weeks ago, boosting energy efficiency while celebrating the evolution of the 90-year-old structure.
The food bank had run its food programs out of the 30,000-square-foot building since 1990, said Blake Young, the nonprofit’s chief executive officer, but that changed shortly after his organization took over Senior Gleaners in December 2014. Gleaners operated a modern, 100,000-square-foot facility at 1951 Bell Ave. in north Sacramento.
“When we acquired Senior Gleaners, it really allowed us to look at putting food and operations on one campus and family services on another one,” Young said. “This really gave us an opportunity to expand family services. Having the big hub up north allowed all our programs to have more space to grow.”
The new facility is roughly 10 miles from the food bank’s main campus in Oak Park, where legions of volunteers from throughout the region regularly descended to help with food distribution. Young acknowledged that he and his staff worried that their volunteer network would balk at the change of address.
So they explained that the acquisition of Gleaners meant the organization was taking a leadership role in hunger relief. In fact, if you support or receive food from any food pantry or small food bank in Sacramento County, the odds are good that some or all of the food came from Sacramento Food Bank. This volunteer distribution network is a crucial part of serving the poor, Young said, and people have responded by scheduling volunteer hours in the new location well into June.
The appeal also has resonated with regional farmers, who have stepped up to assist the food bank in maintaining its farm-to-fork focus on wholesome, locally grown produce even as it serves a much larger population, Young said. A third of the food it distributes is fresh produce from farms and grocery stores.
“Before we acquired Gleaners, we were handing out 7 million pounds of food,” Young said. “We’ll do 20 million this year. Now, through a network (of partner agencies), we’re feeding about 150,000 people a month. They can go anywhere to get food, to churches ... health centers, health clinics, schools.”
Before we acquired Gleaners, we were handing out 7 million pounds of food. We’ll do 20 million this year. Now, through a network (of partner agencies), we’re feeding about 150,000 people a month.
Blake Young, CEO of Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services
The food bank has invested roughly $200,000 into the Bell Avenue distribution center, improving the lighting in the parking lot, repairing refrigeration units, updating the campus to comply with safety regulations and expanding its fleet of trucks to 12 from five. However, the Gleaners structure, built in 2004, didn’t require nearly as much work as the Arata Bros. building. The latter owes its name to the grocery chain that operated a retail and warehouse operation in the Third Avenue structure for decades.
Long before the acquisition of Gleaners, Young said, he had started raising funds to remodel the Arata Bros. building.
“We needed to make some investments in this building: No. 1, earthquake retrofit and structurally, the walls were peeling away from the roof,” he said. “The brick was essentially falling away. We had to spend just over a half million dollars just to tie the roof to the brick. That was a big cost we didn’t expect in the beginning. We knew we would have to do some shoring up, but not that extensive.”
Michele Friedrich, a project manager with SMUD, recalled bringing together contractors and designers with the food bank team as they began discussing what work to tackle at the Arata Bros. building. Friedrich’s expertise lies in helping businesses achieve huge energy savings through retrofits.
“SMUD paid an analyst to ... look at all these energy-efficiency opportunities, see how much energy they’ll save, what the cost is and what the payback is, so the food bank could make an informed decision on the energy efficiency, how much it would take to pay it back,” Friedrich said. “We started off two years ago, and then we had the design all finished, and then (food bank board member) Jon Hillegeist calls me up and says, ‘Well, we’ll just go the Senior Gleaners warehouse, so we’re going to change how we’re going to use that building.’ ”
Because of the acquisition, the food bank no longer needed new refrigeration units at the Arata Bros. site. Instead, Young said, he and his board opted to make the building a hub for the nonprofit’s family services operation.
A newly paved parking lot offers lots of spaces for donors who want to drop off clothing, diapers and other goods they want to donate. There’s a reception area where they can fill out paperwork on their donation.
A newly paved parking lot offers lots of spaces for donors who want to drop off clothing, diapers and other goods they want to donate.
Beyond this checkpoint, visitors, volunteers and clients will find roomy, temperature-controlled areas to sort clothing, an appointment-only boutique where job candidates can browse business attire, a large room for community meetings and plenty of classrooms. The family services division of the nonprofit offers classes in everything from career development and adult education to computer operation and English as a second language.
The renovated building no longer has the look or feel of an armory. It is glowing with natural light from new skylights that have been added throughout the building. Look down at the polished concrete floor and you will see many signs of how this facility has been transformed over the years for different uses. Look up at the ceiling and you see new insulation that, in combination with a new roof and new HVAC units, is helping the agency save roughly $15,000 a year on energy costs.
Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services qualified for $217,172 in SMUD rebates, offsetting a small part of its investment in the energy efficiency updates it made. Now, Friedrich and Young said, the utility and the nonprofit will begin monitoring the building performance and determining how to get the most out of the retrofit.
“The $217,000 is really not the story, though,” said Young, who is overseeing an operational budget of $6.8 million this year. “The story is that the investment made is going to pay dividends for us in the next 20 to 30 years.”