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Three years in the making, food bank warehouse could open soon

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Dreams do come true, Lester Cypher firmly believes, but they don’t always follow his timetable.

The CEO of the Volunteer Way, Cypher said his crystal ball was slightly off about when the food bank’s new warehouse could be ready, he said with a big chuckle Thursday.

When site preparation started in February 2011, Cypher thought the facility at 8061 Congress St. could open by October 2011. When that did not come to pass, fall 2012 surely would be do-able, he fervently prayed.

But the project continued to move in fits and starts because of funding, redesigning, permitting or other obstacles.

Cypher soon quit predicting target dates.

Nearly three years later, moving day could actually come to pass within the next month or two, Cypher thinks.

“We are close,” Cypher said, gazing out from the balcony storage area as workers scurried below in the final stages of construction. “I thought I would never see it, to be honest with you.”

Eagerness of the nonprofit’s leaders could be forgiven as they labored in the cramped warehouse at 7820 Congress St. Cypher and his food bank staff could see the promised land of the new site.

The nonprofit organization puts free food on the tables of some 20,000 needy families a month.

The food bank had to turn away hundreds of people in recent years as supplies ran out, Cypher said. The overcrowded main warehouse with about 4,800 square feet simply had no more room to stockpile food.

The new facility offers 10,000 square feet by comparison, Cypher noted. The food bank already is storing the remaining, nonperishable foods collected during the May 10 Stamp Out Hunger food drive by the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Just as importantly, Cypher said, Volunteer Way has begun planting its own orchard on the site’s several acres. Peach and apple trees are in the ground now. Tangerines, kumquats and oranges also will become part of the bounty.

“What I’d like to see is a garden of Eden,” Cypher said. The food bank can harvest its own fruit and vegetables in the near future, he beamed.

Hydroponic gardens are expanding as well to house some 20,000 plants. Cypher checked the progress of several varieties of peppers. Crews also are putting up overhead structures that will shade the hydroponic garden. That will enable Volunteer Way to grow tomatoes in the summer instead of the vegetables shriveling in the direct sunlight.

Lemons, blackberries, blueberries and garlic plants linethe parking lot and loading dock.

The food bank staff and volunteers no longer will have to suffer from weather conditions when unloading shipments like they do at the old warehouse.

Workers soon will install air conditioning units for the new warehouse and its office space. The walk-in refrigerator and freezer units are in place.

Most of the electrical and duct work is done at the new facility. The security system is in place.

After the move, Cypher then wants to plant about 100 banana trees and work toward other refinements.

Volunteer Way will convert part of the space at 7820 Congress St. into a recreation room and other uses for patrons.

After years of agonizing delays, the project is now “going full steam ahead,” Cypher said about final stages. “Praise God.”

corth@suncoastnews.com

(727) 815-1068

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