Ron and Jan Coen have a lot of history in the Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH Food Bank building.
Both are longtime volunteers and board members who have been involved with FISH since it opened in 1976. FISH has been located at its current location, next to the Eagles Club Building on Burnham Drive, since 2000.
But the Coens’ association with the building itself goes back even further.
The building (or part of it, since it’s actually four separate buildings cobbled together) used to be a movie theater.
“When we were going together, that’s where we used to go see movies. This is where we decided to get married,” Jan Coen said.
Yet they will be more than happy to leave the building behind.
FISH is building a new, nearly 11,000-square-foot structure across a parking lot from its current location. The building is expected to be ready for occupancy in June.
Community members can get their first look at it during a Facebook Live tour at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 2.
Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH board chairman Ron Coen discusses the cramped existing building recently. A new facility for the food bank is under construction and expected to open in June. Vince Dice
Saturday’s event is the kickoff for the community fundraising phase of the campaign for the new building. FISH Food Bank has already raised $7.7 million toward its $8 million goal.
The $7.7 million already raised came from government grants, large donors, in-kind donations and other sources. Now it’s time for the general public to kick in.
Hitting that $8 million goal would leave Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH with a paid-for building sitting on land on which it obtained a 99-year, $1 annual lease.
“Our hope is to be able to move into that new building entirely debt-free,” said Ron Coen, chairman of the FISH board. “I think that’s going to happen.”
Jan Coen refers to the existing FISH building as a “rabbit warren.” It’s an apt description.
Volunteers squeeze past one another in narrow hallways. Several desks are wedged inside the nonprofit’s cramped office. Power runs through five separate electrical panels, some with wiring and fuses from a bygone era. Buckets scattered throughout the building collect water dripping through a leaking roof.
Shelves filled with food line the cramped shopping area at the old Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH Food Bank building. Vince Dice
That’s inconvenient for the staff and volunteers. But what really bothers them is the impact on clients.
Because of Covid-related social distancing guidelines and the lack of ventilation, clients are not able to enter the 4,000-square-foot building to shop. Clients hand over their shopping list, then stand in a roof-less outdoor area while volunteers go inside to fulfill it.
For folks experiencing hard times, the situation does not provide the level of service and dignity that FISH Food Bank volunteers would prefer.
The structure now under construction near the old will fix all that.
“In the new building, it will be just like they’re going to Safeway or any other grocery,” Ron Coen said.
The largest portion of the building will be devoted to storage and warehouse space. Plans also call for ample display and distribution space for food and non-food items; space for kids to play while parents shop; a modern walk-in cooler and freezer; and sufficient office space for volunteers.
Plans show the layout of the new Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH Food Bank building, with ample space for storing and displaying goods. Vince Dice
Ron Coen noted that operating costs for the new building will not be significantly higher than the old, despite being nearly three times larger. This is due to design efficiencies and incorporation of modern technology.
The new building will open during a time of increased demand for the services FISH Food Bank provides.
The food bank has experienced a 6.4 percent rise in clients, which volunteers believe is due in part to rising inflation. The food bank served 1,044 families in January alone.
A rendering of what the new Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH Food Bank will look like when it is completed, which is expected by summer. Courtesy GHP FISH Food Bank
“What do you do when the rent goes up? What do you not pay for?” Ron Coen said. “Food is one of the first things.”
The Covid-19 pandemic was another challenge, forcing the food bank to make changes in its own operation while also creating additional demand from people who lost jobs due to the lockdown on business activity.
“We want to have a building so that when the next emergency comes along, we are prepared for it,” Ron Coen said.
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The new building for Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH Food Bank takes shape a few hundred feet away from the old building. Kathy Cummings
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