St Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent de Paul, a food pantry and thrift store operated by St. Patricks and St. Joan of Arc Catholic churches operating on their last day April 17, 2019. The South Union Street building is being sold to Kokomo Schools to house the chillers for Central Middle School. Volunteer Willa Clark folds a coat in the almost empty store room. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune

The St. Vincent de Paul Society’s store, which provided the largest food pantry in the downtown area, is looking for a new home after the Kokomo School Corporation last month purchased the building which the nonprofit was renting.

The thrift store and pantry was founded in the city in 2005 by parishioners from St. Joan of Arc and St. Patrick Catholic churches. Since then, it has operated inside the building at 208 S. Union St. offering a range of outreaches, including helping low-income residents pay rent, utilities and other expenses.

The store also housed the city’s second largest food pantry, and was the only one located downtown that had regular business hours throughout the week.

But on Friday, the outreach closed its doors and now must move out of the building by April 29.

The move comes after the Kokomo School Corporation purchased the building from the Wyman Group last month for $200,000, according to Howard County’s online property records site Beacon.

St Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent de Paul, a food pantry and thrift store operated by St. Patricks and St. Joan of Arc Catholic churches operating on their last day April 17, 2019. The South Union Street building is being sold to Kokomo Schools to house the chillers for Central Middle School. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune

The district now plans to move two industrial-sized air-conditioning chiller units into the building, which is located almost directly beside Central Middle School and just across the street from the site of the new $26-million hotel and conference center.

KSC’s Director of Communications Dave Barnes said the project includes installing one new unit, as well as moving the school’s current chiller that sits directly beside Wildcat Creek, which is part of a floodplain area.

Marcia Eckstein, the volunteer director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store, said the nonprofit had been renting the building from the Wyman Group at a reduced rate for the last 14 years, which allowed more cash to go directly to its outreach services.

But with the sale of the building, the thrift store is now scrambling to find a new downtown location before they have to move out on April 29.

Eckstein said if they can’t nail down a new place by then, all the food and donated items will go into storage until they find a new home.

But the nonprofit isn’t looking for just any location. Eckstein said more than anything, they want to keep the store and food pantry in the downtown area, since some clients don’t have transportation and can only walk.

They also want to be on, or close to, a trolley stop so people without vehicles have easy access to the store. There must also be some kind of parking for those who do drive.

And the store would ideally be housed in a facility with at least 3,200-square-feet of floor space, which is how much they had at the Union Street building.

“We had 3,200 feet of space, and we were busting at the seams,” Eckstein said.

She said the nonprofit has had a few leads on properties that checked off most of the boxes on what they need, but nothing has panned out yet.

St Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent de Paul, a food pantry and thrift store operated by St. Patricks and St. Joan of Arc Catholic churches operating on their last day April 17, 2019. The South Union Street building is being sold to Kokomo Schools to house the chillers for Central Middle School. Volunteer Maddalena Hedrick helps Donney Wright pick food from what was the last food pantry downtown. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune

Eckstein said at the very least, they hope to find a temporary location to operate the pantry to keep providing food to those who need it. But without a thrift store to sell items as a source of income, the nonprofit couldn’t pay rent, she said.

“We’re definitely staying in business,” Eckstein said. “If we don’t get a place right away for both, we’ll try our best to get a temporary place for the food pantry.”

But the move to find another location now has some local nonprofit leaders worried the outreach won’t be able to find a downtown spot.

Kathy Esslinger, executive supervisor at Kokomo’s Coordinated Assistance Ministries, which refers people to the food pantry, said it would be “devastating” for the city’s at-risk population if St. Vincent de Paul can’t find a new downtown space.

“That’s going to just be sad,” she said. “People in other areas don’t need it as bad as they need it in the downtown. I think the impact on the underprivileged in the downtown is going to be huge.”

In the past year, the food pantry has helped 673 families by giving away 11,438 pounds of food valued at $25,115, Eckstein said.

Not only does the pantry provide food, it also hands out cleaning supplies, paper products, low-cost clothing for the whole family, shoes, games, puzzles, decorative items, toys and seasonal items.

St Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent de Paul, a food pantry and thrift store operated by St. Patricks and St. Joan of Arc Catholic churches operating on their last day April 17, 2019. The South Union Street building is being sold to Kokomo Schools to house the chillers for Central Middle School. Shelves are starting to look bare as they prepare to close up. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune

The outreach also helped nearly 500 Howard County families last year by spending $35,000 to pay peoples’ rent, utilities and other work-and-school-related fees.

Eckstein said it takes around 50 dedicated volunteers to keep the thrift store, food pantry and other services running smoothly.

“As an outreach, it’s bigger than what it seems,” she said.

Now, the nonprofit hopes to move all those services into a new location as soon as possible.

“We are asking the business and private owners of buildings in the downtown area to search their hearts and resources in order to offer us a solid home with low rent,” Eckstein said. “ … We were really cramping for space, so this may be the Lord’s way to get us a bigger place.”

She noted those renting to St. Vincent de Paul would be eligible for a tax write-off.

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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Carson Gerber is a reporter for the Kokomo Tribune and can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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