Mary Philbin, hammer in hand, was standing inside a large, steel walk-in freezer, assembling a long, metal storage shelf.
"This will probably help them a lot," she said, her voice echoing through the open door and into the large empty kitchen. "Now they can buy food in bulk and store it in here."
Philbin, a volunteer at Alexandria's Carpenter's Shelter, was one of several people finishing up the last-minute details in the shelter's new location at Route 1 and Madison Street.
Opened on Duke Street in 1988 as a temporary facility, the shelter has become the largest in Northern Virginia, with 12 staff members and more than 1,000 volunteers.
The shelter's staff began to look for a new home this spring after two years of free use of the Duke Street site, which had been slated to be demolished for a development. A new site was found in June, and builders, staff members and volunteers have been hustling to get the place set up in time for the cold winter months.
Philbin, who is a baker, donated and helped install the commercial freezer that she hopes will make it easier for the staff to cook meals in the shelter instead of having to rely solely on the hot meals brought in by churches and synagogues every day.
The freezer is but one of the new additions to the shelter that residents will see when the doors open officially on Monday.
Like the old location, the shelter's new site also is in a warehouse, but thanks to a newly installed drop ceiling, several windows, new walls and the brightly colored paint applied to them by volunteers, the new place doesn't have that dark, dank, empty feel of a warehouse.
"The space here is used so much better," said Gary Reynolds, director of the shelter. "You name it and we didn't have it at the old location. No air conditioning, no central heat, no light."
"This is much nicer and brighter," Philbin agreed.
The new shelter is divided into cubicles for families, single women and single men. There are rooms for 16 families, up from 12 at the old location. The number of rooms for women has been decreased, but six more rooms have been added for men. "We never were at full occupancy for women at the old location and almost always at full occupancy for men," Reynolds said.
A large community area will be partitioned off to form a library, a TV room, a laundry room and dining area. A children's playroom and a separate classroom are new to the building. Also new are counseling rooms, a medical examination room with a bathtub and sink, a quarantine room for sick residents, and administrative offices.
An Alexandria hotel donated comfortable chairs, couches and tables. New copiers and a new computer for the administrative offices also were donated.
"The only thing we're lacking right now," Reynolds said, "is floor covering. We're hoping someone will come through with some carpeting and flooring."
The Alexandria Building Industry Association, a trade group representing builders, contractors, developers and suppliers, has donated nearly $200,000 worth of labor and materials for the major renovation and interior construction of the building.
"We see this as a public service," said Louis Genuario Sr., president of the association. "We live and work here. We wanted to do something for the community."
Added association Vice President Paul Abramson, "If Gary had had to solicit bids from individual contractors, the cost would have been much higher. I'm glad we could do it."
"They put in the central heat and air ducts, the sprinkler system, the plumbing and the new kitchen for us," Reynolds said. "We couldn't have done it without them. We're grateful."