LEALMAN — After years of storing food in a 1920s building and maneuvering transport vans through a narrow alley, the St. Petersburg Free Clinic is expanding its food bank to a warehouse in Lealman.
The 14,000-square-foot space at 3115 44th Ave. N will serve as a storage facility and hub for the roughly 65 agencies the clinic partners with to distribute food, said Beth Houghton, the clinic's executive director.
"This food bank really provides the platform, the ability to really go the next step," she said.
Much of that next step will focus on fresh produce, which has been difficult to gather and store in the 5,000 square feet available in the clinic's home base in downtown St. Petersburg. Houghton said there are a few ways to get produce for cheap they want to try when the new space opens.
One is by purchasing farmers' "ugly produce," or produce not fit for store presentation, which usually goes for about 10 to 15 cents per pound, she said. The other is through purchasing surplus produce delivered to grocery stores.
"This is a way to expand how much food we get in," Houghton said, "and the great thing is this is exactly the healthy food that people need."
The $820,000 building purchase and an estimated $450,000 renovation, which includes installing refrigeration and freezer equipment and updating the building's infrastructure, are funded through a donation from Bonnie Hechtkopf, board chairwoman of St. Petersburg-based Kobie Marketing. The facility will be named the Jared S. Hechtkopf Community Food Bank in honor of her husband, who helped start the marketing agency with her in 1990 and died in 2000.
The warehouse is expected to open early next year. Houghton said those in need of the clinic's food services should stick to the downtown St. Petersburg location at 863 Third Ave. N.