Changing the face of hunger

For almost 30 years, the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank has been helping to feed the hungry in an 11-parish area. That job just got a little easier.

On Tuesday, the Food Bank will cut the ribbon to officially open its new headquarters — the 170,000-square-foot Fraenkel Center at 10600 S. Choctaw Drive.

The move over the holidays was the finale to the Food Bank’s $12.1 million “from Hunger to Hope” capital campaign, chaired by Bobby Yarborough. Among the special guests attending Tuesday’s 10 a.m. opening ceremonies will be Albert Fraenkel II, whose generous $2.2 million gift of the building that housed his former wholesale furniture business helped make it all a reality.

“I think it’s great that the Food Bank will be there,” said Fraenkel, who moved to San Francisco after retiring. “It has such a great purpose.”

The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank is a nonprofit organization which solicits, procures, inventories and warehouses donated food and other products and then distributes it to a variety of community agencies, such as pantries, meal sites, homes, shelters and soup kitchens that serve people in need.

Before moving to California, Fraenkel, a New Orleans native, was very involved civically in his adopted home of Baton Rouge. And, while he and his family had always supported the Food Bank financially, it was one board on which he’d never served. However, his lifelong friend, Ned Clark, was on the Food Bank board five years ago when Fraenkel closed his business.

“He said, ‘What’s going to happen to the building?’” recalled Fraenkel. “I told him I was going to sell it, and he said, ‘Well, you know the Food Bank is going to be looking for a new facility.’

“Ned was the matchmaker,” he continued. “He worked real hard to accomplish this … So many people are going to be helped. I feel terrific about this.”

“It was an incredible donation,” said Food Bank Vice President of Development & Philanthropy Charlene Montelaro. “When we were all at the Baton Rouge Area Foundation finalizing everything, he got emotional about his building going to a more noble purpose. He really wants to change the face of hunger.”

While many building donors ask or expect a facility to be named for them, such was not the case with Fraenkel.

“We just wanted to honor him,” said Montelaro.

The Food Bank will be using about 100,000 square feet of the new, much larger facility, which is about five miles down South Choctaw from the old 29,000-square-foot building. Food Bank CEO Mike Manning said plans are to lease the extra space to other nonprofits.

“Calling it the Fraenkel Center makes it more appealing for someone who might be interested in cohabitating with us, while at the same time honoring the generosity of the Fraenkel family,” said Manning.

“There’s extra space in back that we can lease, but we’re going to be very selective about who’s coming in because we are a food warehouse,” he continued, adding that there are also plans being discussed for the old mattress factory.

The Fraenkel donation wasn’t the only major contribution that brought the capital campaign to fruition. The campaign went public in August 2010 when the Irene W. & C.B. Pennington Family Foundation made a $1 million gift and the Kresge Foundation, of Troy, Mich., awarded the Food Bank a $1.1 million challenge grant.

After the death of potato chip king Ron Zappe, a huge supporter of the Food Bank, his family dedicated funding to make one of his dreams a reality. The Ron Zappe Repacking Room allows the Food Bank to buy dry products in bulk and repackage them for individual and family consumption.

“We’re now in conversation with other food banks in the state about going in together to purchase bulk products, and we’ll repackage them for distribution,” said Manning. “We’re also talking to Feeding America about repacking for food banks across the country.”

The new facility also has state-of-the-art cooler and freezer spaces. Both are built as freezer spaces, so that when the Food Bank needs additional freezer space the cooler can easily be converted and a new cooler added.

“We actually hired a freezer consultant to make sure it was done correctly if we were going to be spending that much money,” said Manning. “We’re trying to maximize our donors investment.”

The new Fraenkel Center also minimizes how often staff and volunteers have to handle the food.

“Many times, because of space, we had to move product to get to product,” explained Manning. “Now, we can put it on a rack and know where it is. It’s significantly more effective, and we don’t have to add more warehouse staff. But we are hiring a food safety expert to protect the individuals we serve.”

The new larger facility, which also has loading docks to accommodate 18-wheelers, has gotten the Food Bank designated as the food donation location for the state’s disaster plan.

“We can use the whole warehouse to stage food donation and delivery,” said Montelaro. “Hurricane Katrina taught us all the need to pre-stage in times of disaster.”