The new Samaria Central Food Bank facility, expected to be operational by the close of 2021, will better position organizations to maintain services even when exposed to natural disasters themselves.
“This is something we can give to the next generation, to those who will be community stewards,” said Samaritan Center Executive Director Dena Grosart. “The Samaritan Center has always been a tremendous asset to the community, and we wanted to be a place where we could expand our services to meet the needs of the community, even when we were in an emergency ourselves.”
Grosart said the need to have updated facilities above the flood line hit homes after Hurricane Katrina flooded the current food bank facility, which is located in old Mandeville just two blocks from Lake Pontchartrain. He said volunteers and staff were heartbroken that the facility flooded and damaged food stores, stifling their efforts to help others.
“We have been beyond our space for years, and have dreamed of what we can build,” he said.
The Samaria Center began operations on March 10 for a two-story facility, over 4,000 square feet. Grosart said it will include several features to prevent service disruptions, even if there are hurricanes or other disasters. Among them, the building will be raised and will be equipped with a generator.
In addition, Grosart said the Mandeville Police would be equipped to access the building and distribute food if volunteers were unable to reach the food bank.
But Grosart says it’s the kitchen he likes the most. It will be state food safety certified and includes a separate area for preparing meat and vegetables plus an area that can be used for cooking classes.
At the new facility, volunteers will be able to separate large packages of vegetables, ground beef or chicken to share among multiple families. The current facility is too small for the job, said Grosart.
Grosart said he also envisions holding a gardening class, so Samaritan Center clients can learn how to supplement their diet with their own vegetables and easy recipes they can prepare themselves.
The new food bank will include a second floor largely devoted to food storage and Gran’s Attic, a thrift store adjacent to a food bank property that supports the Samaria Center services. The new building will also be equipped with a ramp so that all visitors, including persons with disabilities, can use the main entrance.
The Samaria Center opened its doors in 1989 to offer emergency assistance to the Mandeville community and beyond. Apart from functioning as a food bank, it also offers recipe assistance, gas vouchers, rental and utility assistance, transportation assistance for low-income students and school supplies and uniforms.
In 2020, it will serve 3,259 families with 4,788 children, 6,636 adults and 1,252 seniors. They shipped nearly 2,000 food carts valued at over $ 11,000. The Samaria Center also helps with electricity bills, rent and other housing expenses for those in need.
While the organization works with the Second Harvesters Food Bank, The Samaritan Center gets most of its donations from schools, churches and individuals.
Grosart said when the pandemic hit, he naturally worried about maintaining supplies, especially with schools operating virtually. But he said churches, especially near Our Lady of the Lake, and others throughout the Mandeville area and individuals and schools continue to keep the organization available and able to serve.
The Samaria Center was set up to help in times of emergency, not long-term need, but he said the pandemic had created an emergency that lasted longer than others. However, the center has been able to cater to needy families, sometimes offering set meals twice a week.
That consistency would not have been possible without support from donors, he said.
“We never got to the place of crisis because of this community. We met our needs before we even had to ask for them. God really provides, “he said.
Grosart said the Samaritan Center could start a building project with current donations, but that the rest would have to be raised through a capital campaign. He will immediately begin enlisting the help of local churches, and later this year, a bricks program will be initiated to help with that effort.
Donations are being accepted now on the Samaritan Center website, www.samcen.org.