The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts will be moving from its longtime headquarters in Hatfield to a new location in Chicopee. The Food Bank in December acquired 16.5 acres of vacant land at the Chicopee River Business Park, at the corner of East Main and Carew streets, from Westmass Area Development Corp., for $449,235, with the intent to move to a newly constructed building there in the next year or two following a capital campaign. The nonprofit organization serves Hamsphire, Hampden, Franklin and Berkshire counties.
Executive Director Andrew Morehouse said Wednesday that the acquisition is the result of a strategic plan developed many years ago, with Food Bank officials understanding for a long time that space was running out at the 30,000-square-foot building, 2 1/2-acre site at 97 North Hatfield Road where it has been located since 1987. “We intend to build a state-of-the-art warehouse to meet our commitment to the region’s food assistance for decades to come,” Morehouse said.
Not only will a new building mean maximum storage capacity potential, but it will be energy efficient and utilize green technology, Morehouse said. The building will also be situated near the intersection of three major highways, Interstate 91 and 291 and the Massachusetts Turnpike, as well as being close to the largest population center in the four counties, which has the highest concentration of households at risk of hunger and food insecurity.
During the pandemic, Morehouse said there has been a significant increase in need. The Food Bank was serving 89,000 people per month prior to March 2020, and in October served 119,000 people. Over the past year, the Food Bank estimates that it distributed the equivalent of approximately 12.4 million meals through 165 independent local food pantries, meal sites and shelters, as well as its own 78 direct-to-patron Brown Bag: Food for Elders and Mobile Food Bank sites.
Hatfield Select Board Chairwoman Diana Szynal said officials and residents have long been supportive of the Food Bank’s mission to fight hunger in the region. “Overall I’m glad the Food Bank will be making a change that they feel will move them forward,” Szynal said. But she also called it “sad news” for the town. “In my capacity on the Select Board, I like to brag that organization is in our town,” Szynal said. “I’m impressed at their work and the partnership with our farms. Hatfield’s the perfect home for the Food Bank because we have so many great farms nearby.”
Founded in 1982, the Food Bank moved to Hatfield five years later from a Hadley barn and have expanded its warehouse, most recently in 2005 after a $3 million capital campaign. But the building is now inadequate, with food stored in the aisles and on refrigerated trailers parked permanently at loading docks, as well as off site at Pioneer Cold in Chicopee and Lineage Logistics in Westfield. Morehouse said that a year ago the Food Bank executed a purchase and sale on a building in Springfield which later fell through.
“Our warehouse staff has overcome tremendous obstacles to keep up with demand during the pandemic, working long hours and finding creative ways to get the food out to those who need it,” Shirley DelRio, director of Food Operations, said in a statement.
Food Bank Board President Erica Flores added that the Food Bank is currently working with several individuals and local companies with commercial real estate development expertise, including The Dennis Group and O’Connell Development. “The Food Bank will announce in the coming months the formal launch of a multi-million capital campaign in support of this project to better serve our member food pantries and those in need of food assistance across western Massachusetts,” Flores said.
Jeff Daley President & CEO of Westmass said the Food Bank will be a great addition to the business park. “They are such an important part of our community and to have them centrally located to the population they serve, is a testament to their board of directors and management team,” Daley said in a statement. Despite moving south, a commitment remains to every community in the four westernmost counties, the farmers who supply food and the management of two Food Bank Farms in Hadley, Morehouse said. Once it moves, the Food Bank will sell its current property in Hatfield.