KENNETT SQUARE >> The Kennett Area Food Cupboard will more than double in size after the purchase of an adjoining house is finalized.

The owner of the house on Cedar Street is selling to the Food Cupboard for $160,00, far below market value. The house never went on the market.

Melanie Weiler, executive director for the Kennett Area Food Cupboard, said she is hoping to obtain a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant from the county, which would pay for the house and the renovations needed. But even if the grant is not secured, she says the agency is going ahead with plans to purchase the house, because space at the current site is so tight.

“As our inventory grows and our client base grows, we just outgrew the space,” Weiler said. “This will allow us to have more storage space.”

Growing indeed. Last year, the Food Cupboard served 3,461 individuals, 43 percent of whom were children. Families who use the cupboard go home with about 150 pounds of food that feeds a family of four and must last a month. Because space is at a premium, much of the food must be stored off site.

The house is being leased by the Kennett Area Food Cupboard now, and the purchase is expected to go through the first quarter of next year. After extensive renovations, which include replacing the roof, demolishing the basement to make it suitable for offices, and making improvements to electrical and heating systems, the building will be ready for use Sept. 1.

“The house is very sound,” Weiler said. “We’re very excited about this.”

Weiler said all zoning conditions have been met.

The kitchen will be removed, but the shower and bathroom will remain, and be rehabbed. Weiler said the shower will enable homeless clients to get cleaned up, especially if they have a job interview. The ground floor will be used as offices for three local social service agencies at little to no cost.

“This (expansion) is a natural progression for us,” Weiler said. “For years, we fed and fed and fed and then added on heating oil and rental assistance. Our goal is not to just keep giving out assistance and give out food over and over again. Our goal is to help our clients become more self-sufficient and improve nutrition. Our clients need some supportive services to be successful and get out of their crisis situation.”

A new case manager will be added to the new building and a few more volunteers will be needed as well. Currently, 60 volunteers help out every week.

“When our clients come in for food, frequently they will ask for service that we don’t have enough case management to handle,” Weiler said. “Now, we can help these people.”

More than half of the families served by the cupboard are two-parent households. Their average monthly income is about $1,400 per month and average family size is 3.5. To qualify for assistance, families must be at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty line, and live in the Unionville, Kennett Square or Avon Grove areas. That’s an average annual salary of $17,505.

“Our families are trying really hard not to use the services we provide, but we have a core group of people who really need help and we see them once a month,” Weiler said. “The number of families here experiencing homelessness is going up ... We are working hard to prevent that.”

In southern Chester County, some of the major factors affecting low-wage families are the lack of affordable housing, the high cost of housing, stagnant incomes and limited transportation options.

The expansion will allow case workers at the Kennett Area Food Cupboard to better access clients. In fact, Weiler said there will soon be a benchmarking study to determine community needs.

A fundraising campaign for the expansion will start soon.

“We never thought we would outgrow that building, but we have,” Weiler said.

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