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Essex food bank gets new home, with town council approving $450K building buy

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Essex town council has voted unanimously in favour of spending $450,000 to buy a new home for a local food bank.

Representatives with the Essex Area Food Bank first went to town hall last July, making a plea for help after months of unsuccessful searching for a suitable new space.

Currently the non-profit operates out of the basement of the Essex United Church, which ownership has announced will be closed and sold in October.

“We're in desperate need of another home,” food bank treasurer Lonnie Jones told CTV News Monday. “It's just too important to our people that we have facility available for them.”

When Jones spoke to council last summer he stated that the food bank was helping about 250 people a week.

As the cost of living climbed and Christmas came around later in the year, they were helping more than twice that.

“We had to really scurry around at that time period,” he said. “Normally we have enough food to feed the people for a week, but after the first visit we were out scrounging around the community, bringing in all kinds of food to feed them.”

Jones said the food bank has moved seven times since it started up some 35 years ago.

In moving to a new home, he hoped for stability – but also for a space that wouldn’t require the volunteers, donors and clients to have to haul groceries up and down stairs.

All of this was told to Essex council that July evening, and it just so happened that Dave Cassidy, owner of Fitness Fury was in the room.

Fitness Fury was in a unique position. The privately owned gym sits on the grounds of the Essex Sports Complex, next to the dog park.

The owners built the facility on municipal property after a deal struck with the previous town council in 2017.

Cassidy spoke up during Jones’ presentation last summer offering to sell the gym’s building to the town in order for it to house the food bank.

Food bank treasurer Lonnie Jones talks to Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy about the increased usage of the service. March 4, 2024. (Travis Fortnum/CTV News Windsor)Standing outside the building Monday, Jones said it’s perfect.

“It would be a wonderful facility for us,” he said. “We would have ample space, we'd have parking, no stairs, it would be an ideal situation but even more important, it would be more long term.”

Town staff consulted Cassidy to see how serious he was about the offer and, eight months later, came back to council for approval to buy the building.

Mayor Sherry Bondy called the transaction a win-win-win.

“This is a relationship where we work together in conjunction with our food bank volunteers to make sure the most vulnerable residents in our community are taken care of, and that's really important,” she said.

Of the $450,000 to buy the building, $215,000 will be taken from the town’s landfill reserve while another $215,000 will be taken from the land acquisition reserve.

The remaining $20,000 will come from the Essex Area Food Bank.

A five-year lease will be signed this summer, with a five-year extension and options to extend with future councils.

The foodbank will pay $2,300/month rent plus property taxes. An amount that will be adjusted after the first year.

Bondy made the announcement on social media and said she was surprised when some questioned the move.

“Food and shelter. I know they're not exactly municipal jurisdictions but if we have people in our community that don’t have access to food, then we're doing something wrong,” she said.

The Essex Area Food Bank is expected to move into its new home in July. 

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