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Post Falls Food Bank, senior center join forces

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | August 4, 2022 1:08 AM

POST FALLS — Two nonprofits are joining forces and will soon be together under one roof.

The Post Falls Food Bank and Post Falls Senior Center have combined into one nonprofit. The food bank will move its operation from 415 E. Third Ave. into the 9,000-square-foot senior center building at 1215 E. Third Ave. where both will continue to serve the community.

"We’re excited," Post Falls Food Bank Board President Erik Brock said Wednesday. "Moving the two of them forward, there's a lot of commonalities in the needs that the two service."

The food bank has been at its present 4,000-square-foot facility for at least 15 years.

The building has been paid in full, so the food bank has not had to worry about rent or mortgage.

For the past two years, food bank leaders have sought a larger building to accommodate an expanding operation. Post Falls Food Bank Executive Director Leslie Orth said she and her team have been looking for an affordable building, particularly in west Post Falls, as the food bank has run out of space. The process has been made difficult by a white-hot housing market and supply shortages.

The food bank took over operations at the senior center about a year ago after a longtime manager retired. The senior center struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic and financial fallout from when a previous director embezzled funds for personal use. Although the center remained open, its thrift store had to be sold to recoup losses. It was also difficult to find employees.

"The board was dealing with what most businesses are,” Orth said. “They could not find staffing.”

Orth said one day she drove past the senior center and it was like a lightbulb went on in her head to combine the nonprofit neighbors.

“I looked at this facility and this was just like God tapped me, ‘Hello!’" she said.

The senior center's board also thought it was a good idea, Orth said. They were in a difficult situation.

“This was just an answer to a prayer," she said.

The senior center leases the building from the city of Post Falls, representatives of which are also on board with the merger. Termination of the senior center's lease was approved by the Post Falls City Council during its June 7 meeting. This was done for the food bank to lease the space. The senior center has an agreement with the food bank to provide the services the senior center currently provides.

The lease agreement with the food bank for the property at 1103 E. Third Ave. — land on which low-income apartments and the senior center are housed — is $10 annually, with a term of 50 years and two possible 25-year extensions. This is an extension of the current lease, but is consistent with the prior lease to the senior center.

"This is almost a lifeline to the senior center," Post Falls Mayor Ron Jacobson said. "The hope and the plan is with the food bank taking over, they can still provide the services the senior center provided and put them on stable financial footing."

He said those who have been running the senior center have done a tremendous job keeping it afloat.

"They've put forth a great effort," he said.

Changes will take place as the merger progresses. Orth said the builder, architect and engineer are in preliminary planning phases. StanCraft Construction will conduct the construction. Orth said she hopes to start knocking down walls this fall and have the food bank fully moved in by springtime.

The exterior is expected to remain the same with the exception of the addition of a loading dock to the north side. The inside, however, will be remodeled to accommodate senior meals in a cafe-type setting. The renovations will also make space for the Third Avenue Market, where food bank clients shop, along with rooms for classes, food storage and preparation, offices and other needs.

"It’s a bit of a maze in there," Orth said. "The kitchen will stay where it is, and a back exterior hallway will be added."

Some have voiced concerns about the impending transition. Glenda Gravelle has enjoyed the senior center for 19 years. She doesn't drive and lives just next door, so it's convenient for her to walk to the center to participate in the meals program and enjoy social time with friends. She fears services may change and that will drive meal program regulars away.

“As long as they don’t take our lunch away from us," she said. "As far as the food bank it will be handy for me because I can just come shop."

Eight-year patron Jerry Neff also seemed on the fence about the merge.

“It’s very interesting; we have similar causes, working with old people and taking care of people in need,” he said. “It’s OK. We don’t like big changes happening, but we’ve got it where it's going to be the lunch meals three days a week like we have now, just a smaller room."

Orth said 1,000 square feet of the building will be reserved for the seniors, and opportunities for the whole community will be made possible by this move.

“We’re going to be doing a whole lot of stuff that covers every age group,” she said. "We’re going to have case management and a variety of meetings and nutrition classes, cooking, gardening classes for seniors.”

Jacobson said he knows the food bank does not intend to take away senior center programming.

"They will do anything they can to take care of the seniors," he said.

Brana Vlasic, food bank executive assistant and home-delivered meals manager, said putting everything under one umbrella makes sense because so many of the people the food bank serves already are seniors.

"Over time, they're starting to feel more comfortable with it," Vlasic said. "Nobody likes change, especially the senior population has a hard time with change, but hopefully we can make them proud. If they are trusting us with this merge, hopefully we can make it something that benefits them and makes it fun for them."

Brock said some services might not exist right now or have changed a little bit, but the best interests of the seniors and community as a whole are being kept in mind as the transition transpires.

"We’re excited for the changes to take place in there," he said.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Assistant chef Johanna Byers serves up tomato soup Wednesday at the Post Post Falls Senior Center.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

The Post Falls Food Bank has merged with the Post Falls Senior Center and will soon move its operations into the senior center building.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

The Post Falls Senior Center at 1215 E. Third Ave. will soon house the senior center and the Post Falls Food Bank. The two nonprofits have merged and will unveil a new name as the transition progresses.

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