The Inter-Faith Council for Social Services will talk about plans for a food center Monday with neighbors of a newly identified Jones Ferry Road site.
The proposed FoodFirst center would combine the IFC’s food pantry, now located at its 110 W. Main St. offices, and the Community Kitchen at 100 W. Rosemary St. in Chapel Hill.
While they hope FoodFirst also will connect homeless individuals with available services, executive director Michael Reinke said, the FoodFirst mission will be feeding hungry people in Orange County.
The pantry distributes bags of groceries to roughly 4,000 people a year, Reinke said, while the new kitchen could serve up to 125 meals a day.
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“This is really about feeding people; it’s not about providing services to the homeless,” he said. “The vast majority of those using the community kitchen and the pantry have housing. A couple of them own their home, actually, but most of them rent.”
The IFC still must submit a formal application and face months of meetings and public hearings.
A proposal to replace the IFC’s downtown Carrboro building with the FoodFirst center generated swift opposition last fall, prompting the Board of Aldermen to ask for a renewed site search. The IFC looked at 10 potential sites since December, Reinke said, but none was available or met the requirements.
The 303 Jones Ferry Road site went on sale in March. They asked architect Jim Spencer to look at whether it can support a FoodFirst building, Reinke said, and how that might change the project’s design and cost.
The wooded lot is across the street from the Orange Water and Sewer Authority and adjacent to businesses ACR Supply and Wilkinson Supply, homes and apartment complexes. It has some pluses, including its location in an area that rates as “highly distressed” in census poverty reports, Reinke said, but there also are minuses, including a stream crossing the property and limited public transportation.
While four transit routes – the CM, CW, F and J – are within a half-mile of the Jones Ferry Road site, only the J route provides direct access. The next closest route is the CW, which intersects with Jones Ferry Road at Davie Road, roughly a third of a mile away.
The IFC’s board could learn more at its meeting Wednesday, Reinke said, and decide by June. He estimated the search has cost an extra $20,000.
“We’re happy to do it, because we want to be good citizens and good residents and neighbors in Carrboro,” he said. “At the same time, I think some people just sort of assume there’s no cost to the IFC for doing this, and that’s not the case.”
The plan has created tension between the IFC and some businesses and residents, who worry a West Main Street center might bring panhandling and other nuisance behaviors to downtown Carrboro that could hurt the local economy. The pace of the town’s process also caught them off guard, they said.
More than 60 business owners signed a petition opposing the downtown site. Many have been threatened with boycotts and did not show up for a March public hearing when the aldermen approved amending local land-use rules to allow social service agencies to provide community kitchens.
A recent flier inadvertently stoked the tensions when Sherri Ontjes, former owner of the N.C. Crafts Gallery, asked the business community to show its support for the IFC. The flier also asked about any donations made to the IFC this year and included part of her email conversation with Reinke.
Reinke mentioned distrust on both sides in the email and said the renewed search has run up the costs. Any size donation could be given, he said, as a sign of appreciation, recognition of the IFC’s additional costs and an assurance of the community’s intentions.
Ontjes said the flier was aimed at updating the business community, raising money and reflecting community support. The IFC has gotten at least five $100 donations, including from Ontjes, since it was distributed, Reinke said.