JANESVILLE—As Natalie Jass was leaving ECHO on Monday with a cart full of groceries, one wheel caught the edge of a cardboard box sitting on the floor.
“You’re constantly moving out of people’s way to maneuver in here,” she said.
The Janesville woman wasn’t complaining. She was just stating a fact and expressing excitement about the local faith-sponsored charity’s plans to renovate and expand its building at 65 S. High St.
“It’d make it better and easier for the workers, volunteers and clients,” she said.
ECHO leaders shared details of the project this week. In March, they plan to tear down a nearby vacant house donated by neighboring First Congregational United Church of Christ. Ground for an expansion will be broken in April, said Jessica Schafer-Locher, client advocate and officer manager.
The $700,000 project must be done by Oct. 1, before ECHO gears up for its busiest season of the year, she said.
The cost will be covered by a grant through a local foundation that wants to remain anonymous, said Rick Mueller, board president.
“It will pay for the total cost. We won’t be doing a fundraiser or capital campaign,” he said.
ECHO applied for the grant in September, and it was approved in December, Schafer-Locher said.
“We all know that the need for ECHO’s services continues to get greater, so we have to find ways to be more efficient, and this is a great way for us to be able to do that,” Mueller said.
Increased demand is forcing ECHO to change how it does business, he said.
“Before, when the building was first built, ECHO counted on people with bags of groceries. Now, we get bigger donations—by the truckload,” Mueller said.
The building has 8,304 square feet in the main and lower levels. It was built in 2002 for $850,000, which included furnishings, said Karen Lisser, executive director.
First Congregational United Church of Christ donated the land, but the cost of construction was covered by money raised through a capital campaign, she said.
Lisser said the social services area where clients receive groceries and meet with case managers will be remodeled and reconfigured to increase space for food pickup and carts.
Staff offices will become smaller, two offices will be added to the back of the building and two storage areas will be added for client and financial records, she said.
A new food receiving and loading area will be attached to the northeast side of the building to ease the processing of food donations and moving donations downstairs to the pantry, Lisser said.
“This will allow us to unload whole pallets off trucks and large equipment using a forklift,” she said.
A lift will lower pallets to a new storage area in the lower level, where food can be moved into new walk-in coolers and a freezer, Lisser said.
Now, everything is unloaded from trucks onto carts, pushed down a hallway to the elevator, taken to the lower level and unloaded. Carts are then taken back up and the process repeated until a load is finished, Mueller said.
“What used to take somebody hours will now take minutes,” he said.
The community room will be remodeled to accommodate larger group meetings and to create a better space for the volunteer coordinator’s office with storage.
Lisser said the food donation drop-off area still will be used for walk-in donations, but it will be reorganized.
“We are busting out of our building,” Mueller said.