The Santa Rosa food bank being ousted from its longtime home has been unable to find another rent-free location and has resigned itself to paying for a space.
"Free rent seems to be out of the question. Very, very low rent seems to be out of the question," said Dennis Hansen, FISH's deputy director. "And the only thing that leaves us with is rent that we can hopefully afford."
FISH of Santa Rosa has been scouring the city for another rent-free location since Santa Rosa officials informed the nonprofit in March it must vacate the former city firehouse on Benton Street it has called home for 17 years.
The city says it's giving FISH the boot because it doesn't make financial sense to spend $350,000 in upgrades the building needs over the next five years. These include efforts to comply with federal Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
FISH, which stands for Friends in Service Here, was hoping another organization might step forward to offer it a similar deal for 2,500 square feet of free space near transit, but that never came to pass, Hansen said.
A plan to build on the site of a local church recently fell through, Hansen said.
A landlord with a building near Coddingtown mall has offered to reduce the rent by a third. The space is about two blocks from the mall, close to public transportation and not far from the Redwood Empire Food Bank, from which the group gets some of its food, Hansen said.
He estimates it will cost FISH about $20,000 a year in rent and utilities to operate in the new space. He declined to identify the location since a lease had yet to be signed.
Now, the group is ramping up its fundraising to see if it can afford the new digs. Hansen said he has applied to the Community Foundation for a grant, asked the city to help out and has sent appeal letters to local churches, Hansen said.
"The new reality is that FISH of Santa Rosa will have to pay rent and utility overhead in order to continue to operate into the future," Hansen wrote in his letter. "We will need continuing sustainable community support to do this."
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, 40 percent of whom are children.
City officials have said they would be flexible about FISH's departure to ensure the service to the needy continues uninterrupted. The city has indicated a desire to eventually sell its surplus property.
The board of directors of FISH met Saturday to discuss pursuing a lease at the Coddingtown location, but no decisions have been made, Hansen said.
While the $20,000 cost of the new location would be challenging for an organization used to free rent, Hansen said he's optimistic the support the community has shown over the years will continue.
"When all is said and done, it's not a huge amount of money we would have to raise to go forward," Hansen said.
(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or email@example.com.)
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