The need for ECHO services has grown. I think the ECHO staff are experts at doing more with less, but soon they will have an opportunity to more effectively and efficiently serve our community. ECHO has grown in the number of people we serve and the goods we receive. ECHO needs to remodel the area where clients receive their groceries and meet with case managers in the social services area. There is also a need for a better receiving area to take food in and get it downstairs to the pantry, better and increased storage in those areas, and remodeling of the community room. ECHO’s Strategic Plan 2012-2015 addresses ECHO’s core services, as well as building needs – we are busting out of our building.
My story starts with the little house behind ECHO, owned by First Congregational Church. The church talked to ECHO several times in recent years, when tenants in the house left, offering use of the house to ECHO. By the time the house became vacant again in summer 2014, the house was also outliving its usefulness. ECHO asked if the church would permit ECHO to raze it and add on to our building. After reviewing many options, ECHO came up with ideas for building renovations that would allow better service to clients.
Because of the nature of ECHO’s business, with almost all funds going to client services, money is always tight, and there wasn’t any money available for a building update. Timing is everything − the house was vacant, and a long-time ECHO friend, who had read our strategic plan, invited us to apply for a grant from them to cover the entire cost of the renovations and addition. Since then, ECHO has been working out the details with the staff at Angus Young to create an even more effective space to help ECHO continue to serve the community. Below are the highlights of the updates.
A new food-receiving loading area with a garage door, and new side entry to the current building, will be built at the end of the driveway, attached to the northeast side of the building. This will allow us to unload whole pallets off trucks and large equipment, using a forklift. There will also be a pallet lift in the loading area that will lower pallets down to a new storage area in the lower level, where the food can be moved into new walk-in coolers and freezers. This will work so much better, because currently everything has to be broken down off the trucks, loaded onto carts, pushed down the hallway to the elevator, then taken down to the lower level in the elevator, unloaded, carts brought back up, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat.
Many times, obtaining food for ECHO is about logistics. Marge may get an offer for a truck load of produce or a semi-truck load of frozen pizzas for free, but it has to be taken all at once, immediately. The update will allow us to move food quickly into our own storage, decreasing our transportation costs trying to find places for it at various places off-site. It will also allow us to store fresh produce, increasing its stability by having additional walk-in cooler space.
The social services side of the building will be reconfigured to increase space in the food pick-up area, making room for carts and making it more user friendly. The staff offices will be smaller, to make room for that pick-up area. Two offices will be added, as well as separate storage areas for client and financial records, instead of them being spread out in staff offices. That one-level only addition will go out the back of the social services part of the building.
The community meeting room will also be reconfigured to accommodate larger group meetings, like our board meetings and inter-agency meetings, and to create a better space for Fran’s office and storage for silent auction items that she organizes.
The current food donation drop-off area, which will still be used for walk-in donations, will be reorganized, moving personal supply kits and birthday items for children into the new office area, closer to staff who distribute these items, and leaving more space for donations to come in and bread towers to be stored, instead of in hallways. A drop-down stairway into the attic will be added here. Currently, the only way electricians and other trades people have to get into the attic is through a small opening in the ceiling of a closet in the office area workroom.
Requests for Bids on this construction project have been sent out. We expect demolition of the house to be done before spring, with construction and remodeling to begin in spring and be completed in summer/early fall. Although it will be challenging, ECHO will continue to be open and offer all services during construction. I would like to thank everyone who has worked to make this project a success, especially First Congregational Church and our anonymous friend who has always been there for us.
I would also like to thank everyone who has supported and volunteered at ECHO over the years and has made ECHO what it is today. Unfortunately, I feel the need for ECHO’s services will only continue to grow in the future, but I am sure ECHO will be there to meet those needs − always doing more with less.