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Santa Rosa F.I.S.H. food pantry to seek new home

Jeanne-Marie Jones, the Executive Director of F.I.S.H, bags up donated groceries for Sonoma resident Andrea Caudill, Friday Dec. 7, 2012. The nonprofit F.I.S.H. has operated rent-free out of a former city firehouse at the corner of Benton and North streets for 17 years in Santa Rosa but now must find a new home.

(Kent Porter / Press Democrat)
Published: Friday, December 7, 2012 at 6:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 7, 2012 at 6:55 p.m.

A Santa Rosa food pantry whose lease in a city-owned building is up at the end of the year has accepted that it needs to find a new home.

F.I.S.H. — Friends in Service Here — had hoped it could find a way to remain in the aging Benton Street building it has enjoyed rent-free since 1995.

The City Council in June gave the nonprofit an extra six months to do just that. But despite its best efforts, the board of directors recently voted to resume relocation efforts.

“We need to find a new building. That's the bottom line,” said Dennis Hansen, the group's deputy director.

The city estimates it would cost $150,000 to bring the former fire station up to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, plus another $200,000 in deferred maintenance over the next five years.

The city concluded it wouldn't be money well spent, and so opted instead to evict F.I.S.H. and sell the building. The move would relieve the city of the need to make the repairs by the end of 2013, the deadline by which the city must complete $2 million in accessibility upgrades to various facilities under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Following news of the group's impending ouster, numerous volunteers stepped forward to offer assistance and advice to help it remain in the building.

Some suggested getting a waiver from the ADA rules, but that proved impossible, Hansen said.

Volunteers also offered to help do the accessibility upgrades. But this proved complicated because of the removal of asbestos and the need to relocate the pantry, perhaps as long as six months, while the work was completed, Hansen said.

Raising the money to buy the building also didn't seem a viable option because then the group would own a building that needed major work, including a new roof, Hansen said.

“We don't need the headache,” Hansen said, noting that most board members are in their 60s and 70s.

Instead the board opted to resume fundraising efforts and the search for a new location. The group will be on a month-to-month lease as of Jan. 1. Hansen said he's hoping to raise sufficient funds to cover the cost of the organization's rent for a year, get settled in a new home, and then focus on a capital campaign to allow the group to purchase its own building.

The all-volunteer operation, which was founded in 1973, handed out more than 580,000 pounds of food to nearly 64,000 people in 16,000 households last year.

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