The food bank, the central supplier for more than 700 food pantries and nonprofit organizations that help the needy, is set to give out a record 33 million pounds of food this year, up from 23 million at the beginning of the recession. Calls to its emergency hunger hotline are up 22 percent this year over last, officials said.
And it is not enough. Area residents continue to struggle, with some neighborhoods in the District facing double-digit unemployment, poverty on the rise and the cost of living high.
“We are still not able to meet the growing demand,” said Lynn Brantley, the food bank’s president and chief executive. “The middle class is under stress, and many people who have never needed emergency food services find themselves at food pantries” seeking help.
More than 680,000 residents in the area are at risk or experiencing hunger, including 200,000 children, according to census data. The food bank can only help three-quarters of the people who need assistance, Brantley said.
The 123,000-square-foot facility at 4900 Puerto Rico Ave. NE is designed to help bridge that gap. The facility over time will double the current food bank’s capacity, with more refrigerated and freezer space for meat, produce and dairy products; a roomy teaching kitchen for nutrition classes; and space for volunteers to pack more “weekend bags” of food for children to take home from school.
It will also provide office space for the 100 employees squeezed into its current space on Taylor Street NE. Space has grown so tight there that employees are used to having four meetings at once in the conference room, employees said.
The Rev. Eugene Brake, a Catholic priest who was one of the food bank’s founders, said the new center is a far cry from the leaky warehouse off Bladensburg Road where the original food bank was founded in 1980 in response to federal cuts in food-stamp programs.
“We had dented cans salvaged from food stores, whatever we could get,” Brake said. “It’s been an evolution.”
The operation has grown from a small outfit helping a few people a year to serving more than 480,000 through partner agencies in the District, Northern Virginia and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Much of the funding for the building — more than $15 million — came from the District’s Office of Housing and Community Development. Donald E. Graham, chairman of the board and chief executive of The Washington Post Co., co-chaired the capital campaign with hotel executive J.W. Marriott Jr. and the late sports team owner Abe Pollin.
In 2010, billionaire philanthropist William E. Conway Jr., the founder and managing director of the private equity firm Carlyle Group, donated $5 million through his family foundation that paved the way for construction to begin last year.