A battery-powered forklift whirred across the smooth concrete floor Thursday at the Redwood Empire Food Bank's cavernous new home in a 60,400-square-foot industrial building near Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
Large sacks of potatoes, much larger cardboard boxes of cornflakes and pallets of canned spaghetti sauce had begun filling the 15-foot-tall steel shelves of the nonprofit emporium that distributes food to 78,000 needy Sonoma County residents every month.
The food bank, which feeds one out of six county residents, is the "largest humanitarian effort ever" in the county, said David Goodman, the executive director.
Thanks to the generosity of about 300 donors who put up $9.3 million, the food bank is moving this week into its new home on Brickway Boulevard, a site spacious enough to allow the organization to double its current distribution of 13 million pounds of food a year.
At noon today, the food bank will close its facility on Industrial Drive and reopen Monday in its new home, where workers were still completing renovations on Thursday.
Over the weekend, the food bank will finish a Herculean chore of transporting about 1 million pounds of food from the old facility and three other storage sites to the new location, equipped with a 5,000-square-foot refrigerator and freezer, the size of two single-family homes.
Goodman said the new site was planned to meet the food bank's needs for 30 years.
"There will always be hungry people," he said. "We deal in the business of hunger: It's real, it's here and it's now."
About 3,500 volunteers help the food bank distribute 75 percent of the food it provides to needy seniors, families and children. The organization's 166 partners, including churches, food pantries and other nonprofits throughout the county, distribute the rest of the food.
Goodman said the food bank initially planned to raise $9.3 million in an 18-month capital campaign that kicked off with a $500,000 donation, the largest single contribution.
It actually took 6 years to raise the money to buy and retrofit the building, but the project stayed on budget and covered all borrowed funds, he said.
"Tomorrow's donations go to feeding the hungry, not servicing debt," Goodman said. "That's what everybody wants when they give money."
The food bank, which also receives corporate, foundation and federal government funding, depends on about 9,000 individual donors each year to provide nearly half of its $5.6 million operating budget.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.