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A couple days after The Press Democrat reported that the Redwood Empire Food Bank is purchasing a larger warehouse for $5 million, I opened my email to find a subject line reading, "Extravagant Expansion." The message came from a generous donor who questioned how much of his donation is actually going to food bank programs for hungry people and how much is going to buy a new building.

The simple answer is this. No donations in support of our programs to feed people are being used to purchase a new warehouse.

I have been anticipating this feedback for the 4? years the Redwood Empire Food Bank has been quietly raising money — our Blueprint for Ending Hunger Capital Campaign — to meet the growing need for food assistance in our community. I am acutely aware that a lot of people can be fed for the cost of purchasing a building. I replied immediately with a goal of sharing the sound decision process that went into this necessary and historic endeavor. I would like to share that with you.

The Redwood Empire Food Bank long ago grew out of our Industrial Drive facility in Santa Rosa. We are now leasing three additional warehouse spaces, which cost us in excess of $100,000 a year. I would imagine that paying the rent isn't how any of our donors want their hunger relief dollars to be spent. We pride ourselves on being cost efficient, with $4 of food reaching people for every $1 spent. Every time we have to lease additional warehouse space, that ratio goes down.

The funds used for our Blueprint to End Hunger Capital Campaign (beginning this month with the acquisition of the new facility on Brickway Boulevard at the Sonoma County Airport Industrial Park) do not come from any annual operating support for feeding today's hungry people. Instead, our capital support has come from individuals who are interested in supporting these types of projects now and into the future. In fact, many donors support both our current day-to-day programs to feed hungry people as well as the capital campaign.

There are many empty buildings in Sonoma County due to the economic downturn, but we found the only one that can serve as a hub for 149 nonprofit or faith-based organizations that work with the Redwood Empire Food Bank to collectively distribute 13 million pounds, at a value of $20 million, of food annually, reaching 78,000 people every month.

The fact is we don't just need a warehouse. Helping so many people struggling to put food on their tables requires racking, coolers and freezers, loading docks, volunteer workspace, and the list goes on. Quite simply, it would be bad business to make such sizable financial improvements to someone else's warehouse.

To lease a warehouse comparable to the property we are now buying for $5 million would cost $18.6 million over 25 years. That additional cost to lease is money that would otherwise be available to provide 41 million meals to people in need. That is unacceptable.

Further, while we would earn zero equity in a leased warehouse, we estimate conservatively that the value of our Brickway Boulevard property would grow to $8 million in 25 years.

We do not waste money at the food bank. In fact, with an administrative overhead of just 3.4 percent, there is no doubting that we take our stewardship of community support very seriously.

The building that will serve as a food relief distribution center serving Sonoma County and the North Coast is being purchased with funds from donors who understand that we must invest in a capital program to meet current and future needs.

And we're not done. We still need $2.5 million to modify our new building by next summer. We need the support and donations of everyone.

Our food bank operation touches every city, town and neighborhood in the county. It's everybody's and every community's food bank.

If there are people living near you, no matter where you live, who depend on food from a local pantry or church, a homeless shelter, a senior center or a youth program, then their ability to feed themselves and their kids is directly related to our ability to collect, sort and distribute food.

Please join this important project. Go to www.refb.org to see how you can help.

<i>David Goodman is executive director of the Redwood Empire Food Bank in Santa Rosa.</i>

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