Moveable Feast, the non-profit organization that has been preparing, packing and delivering hot meals to hospice and HIV/AIDS patients for more than a decade, will soon box itself up for a move to a new permanent home.
For the first time, the organization will have a place of its own, directly across Fifth Street from Shiloh Baptist Church at 476 Silver Maple Way.
"The location is in the heart of the majority of clients that we serve," executive director Terry Mullins said.
The former Nannie's Soul Food restaurant has been gutted, he said, by ZKB Construction Company Services and Maintenance, which is providing the renovation work at cost. The building sold for $60,000, and renovations are expected to cost $105,000.
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As we toured the shell of a building, I noticed that there was no give in the stairs and that the walls were sturdy.
"This building has good bones, and it is exactly where we wanted to be," said Blake Eames, president of the Moveable Feast board. "We had an engineer come in and make sure it would hold what we have. We have some pretty heavy-duty equipment."
The organization had lost hope of getting the building when its first attempt to buy it fell through last year. This year, they got another chance and jumped at it.
"The fact that we have a home of our own is huge," Eames said. "Eleven years we've been borrowing space."
The building was constructed in 1893 as a grocery store, Eames said, and it has endured subdivisions, makeovers and even a fire. "We are saving the bull's-eyes (the architectural feature on window frames, doors and woodwork). It is important we salvage as much as we can."
Board members met with neighbors to inform them of their plans and were well received. One of the neighbors joined the board.
"They asked us not to take down the awning," board vice president Tony Burgett, said, "because that is a part of this building's character."
It will be retained and upgraded.
To keep costs down, Eames, an interior designer, has agreed to work as general contractor and to design the prep and cooking areas, storage and cooling areas, and the offices upstairs. Because the building had been subdivided into apartments on one side, an efficiency apartment will be retained in the plans for use as emergency shelter for a client.
The renovation is expected to be completed by June 20, and Moveable Feast hopes to be operating from its new home by July 1.
Until then, Mullins, two other employees and several volunteers will prepare and package about 120 meals a day, five days a week, in their Trent Boulevard facility. The meals are free to clients, who meet income eligibility, and to their caregivers and dependent children in Fayette County.
"The meals consist of a meat, starch, vegetable, salad and dessert," Mullins said. "It is always five different components and bread. Our clients have to keep their weight on."
The eight drivers a day, 40 a week, are not reimbursed for their travel. They deliver meals in their own cars about 5:30 p.m., and a cold lunch is provided for those who are financially strapped.
Attitudes have changed a lot since Michael Thompson founded Moveable Feast in 1998 to provide needed sustenance for HIV/AIDS patients who then were feared and shunned at best.
Although the hospice clients are terminally ill, "the AIDS patients are not necessarily the worst (prognosis), but they are the poorest," Mullins said.
Operating costs are about $12,000 a month, he said, and that is funded by federal grants, city money, private donations and fund-raisers. The Belmont BBQ, one of the organization's biggest fund-raisers, attracted 350 people last weekend, he said. The proceeds have not yet been calculated.
Mullins said the work could not be done without volunteers. He works about 60 hours a week, filling in wherever he is needed.
"I've been active in the gay and AIDS community for a long time," Mullins said. "I saw the need and came on board here. I know most of the people I'm dealing with. It puts it on a more personal level."
Interacting, no matter how briefly, with the clients can be emotionally stressful and just as rewarding. Sometimes the volunteer can be the lone source of help in a medical crisis or domestic dispute.
"It takes a special person to be able to go out there and to deal with that," he said. "You may be the only person that that person will see all day long.
"It brings joy into both peoples' lives," Mullins said.
And now that volunteers don't have to travel as far, the joy is even greater.