BOWLING GREEN — The crowd applauded as the ribbon was cut to mark the grand opening of Manna Mart, Hotel INC's new food pantry building.
Hotel INC is a faith-based nonprofit that provides help with meal planning, budgeting and financial assistance to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness.
"They fill a vital need in our community," Tommy Adams, chairman of the board of directors for Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce, said during the recent opening.
Since 2012, Hotel INC has increased its service from an average of 90 families a month to 350, operating out of a 16- by 20-foot space.
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"We were really working in a cramped space, trying to serve as many people as we could and be here every day for our community," said Lacey Cole, president of the board of directors for Hotel INC.
On Dec. 9, Hotel INC broke ground on the new food pantry building and turned the old area into office spaces. According to executive director Rhondell Miller, the organization was able to stay $40,000 under budget.
"Well our hope in creating the building was to be able to maximize our space here," Miller said. "For our food pantry to have adequate space to serve all who need to be served."
The pantry has new upright freezers and commercial refrigeration acquired through a grant written by Community Farmers Market. The pantry also continues to partner with Meijer for its Simply Give program, which allows Hotel INC to receive donations and buy food directly from Meijer for the food pantry.
"So our food pantry kind of looks like a Meijer grocery store," Miller said.
People are allowed to benefit from the food pantry nine times a year. They can shop once a month for three months in a row, but then must wait a month before using it again.
"Anyone that comes in that's hungry can use the food pantry," said financial literacy counselor Elisabeth Fielder-Hix.
Several volunteers were also at the grand opening to celebrate the new building.
"It's wonderful. We have space to move and to serve more than one person at a time and I think the clients are just so appreciative," said volunteer Cheri Brown.
Volunteer Betty Lah had great reviews for the new office spaces and how they helped clients.
"We have the individual interview rooms that we never had before," Lah said. "It's so nice to be able to talk with them, and pray with them in private, and I think they appreciate that."
Board of directors' member Stacy Carter hoped the new building will create more awareness of what Hotel INC really is and what it does for the community.
"It's a great asset to the community because it gives us more room and more opportunities to serve more people," Carter said. "When they come in to shop, they actually take a shopping cart and they go up and down the aisles as if they're really shopping at the grocery store."