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By Tom Spalding, Boulevard Place Food Pantry volunteer

The Boulevard Place Food Pantry’s expansion reached the three-month mark earlier this month, with visible work on the outside and the inside. Workers are doing a tremendous job adding a new wing to the rear of the existing building, while safely and securely taking out old walls. Amazingly, none of the construction is interfering with operations. Volunteers occasionally hear a drill or hammer, but they are shielded by temporary protective barriers and there’s no interruption in packaging and delivering our to-go food kits for clients.

The concrete block walls are in place for the new rear wing, and this soon-to-be new 1,500-foot section, currently roofless, was erected mainly during the hot summer months. Next steps include concrete flooring in the expansion area with an eye toward completion in early 2021.

Clearly, space is a little more cramped for now, but renovation is certainly worth the inconvenience. Even more, the demand illustrates the value, particularly during the past seven months as we have dealt with the impact of COVID-19 to our local economy. Our community is struggling to make ends meet.

We served 1,123 client households in September—an all-time high, breaking the August 2020 record of 1,077 client households. And this month is not showing a slow-down, with 300+ served in the first week alone. This included serving 40 senior citizens who reside at Emma O. Johnson, an assisted living facility.

Because of the pantry’s space limitations (as COVID made working side-by-side impractical), Boulevard Place was forced to convert from a self-select grocery to a drive-through starting around April. We are now open three days per week: Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. We have cars lined up along West 42nd Street waiting for pre-bagged to-go-food and fresh dairy and from-the-farm donated fresh produce.

“The demand to provide nutritious food to clients is great, and that demand has continued to grow during the pandemic,” says Boulevard Pantry Director Cindy Brown.

A simultaneous renovation and expansion during the pandemic were not exactly what volunteers had envisioned heading into 2020, but all are endeavoring to meet the needs of the community until construction is completed in 2021. Pardon our dust!