Middletown's largest food pantry says it needs more storage space to house the donations it uses to feed more than 300 families each week.
"The facility we're in is simply no longer suitable for our needs because we don't have enough refrigerator and storage space," said Pastor Zelda Carter, who runs the The Agape Store House Community Basket out of a 2,000-square-foot warehouse unit at 128 Patriot Drive. "We've had to turn down donations from two supermarkets because we just don't have the room to store it all."
Carter is hoping to relocate the four-year-old food pantry to a 4,000-square-foot warehouse space immediately adjacent to its existing location.
But first, she must win Middletown Town Council's approval of a new conditional use permit that would allow the food pantry to operate in warehouse facility zoned for manufacturing and industrial use.
Middletown's Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously last week to recommend that town council approve her request.
Town Council is slated to make a final determination at its Feb. 3 meeting.
A conditional-use permit was approved for the food pantry's current location prior to its opening in 2010 as The Basket, then under the auspices of Chris and Bonnie Peebles, the former pastors of The Bridge Church.
At its start, the food pantry served 25 families a week, but has since grown to provide enough food to feed about 3,000 people a month through its distribution days on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
All food distributed by the food pantry is donated by area grocery stores, including Walmart, Acme, Food Lion and Super G. However, many of those donated items need to be frozen to prevent spoilage, which requires a significant amount of freezer space, said Carter, whose Christ Servants Mission Power 4-U Community Center took over the food pantry before the Peebles moved to Ohio last year.
"The number of people we serve continues to grow every month, with 50 new intakes in the last quarter of 2013," Carter said. "But the real issue is that, we just don't have the space for our refrigeration units and all of our volunteers. Right now, we're standing on top of one another."
However, Middletown resident Patricia McKeown noted that the food pantry's success has resulted in long lines of cars parking along Patriot Drive during its distribution days.
"Perhaps we need to look for something larger because this is growing exponentially," she told the town's planning and zoning commission.
Irv Brockson, the founder of Middletown's Big Ball Marathon and a longtime supporter of the food pantry, said the organization hopes to eventually open a standalone community center in Middletown.
"Down the road, if it happens, we'll have the food pantry there, washers and dryers and showers where homeless people can come in and get cleaned up," he said. "But for right now, we're out there where we're not bothering anybody and we've learned to handle the traffic so it's not interfering with the other businesses. We're doing the best we can with the budget we have."