Judy McLaughlin remembers walking into the two-story commercial building at 400 East Fifth Street in Lexington for the first time more than 17 years ago.
“I remember looking at the front window and thinking, ‘Are those bullet holes?’” McLaughlin said.
The interior of what would eventually become the Catholic Action Center was ... interesting.
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“There was red shag carpet on the floor,” said Ginny Ramsey, who with McLaughlin started the Catholic Action Center, an outgrowth of social service outreach at Cathedral of Christ the King, where both go to church.
The red carpet was eventually replaced by green and blue tile. A commercial kitchen, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, was added in the back. More than 120 churches provide both the food and the staff for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“Over 17 years, we have served 5.5 million meals here,” Ramsey said Thursday, just before the last meals wereserved at the daytime shelter for the homeless and hungry.
Kitchen equipment from the shelter will be moved Friday to a new combination day-and-night shelter on Industry Road. Renovations to that building have gone on for months.
The city of Lexington will take over ownership of the building as part of a deal struck last year. As part of that agreement, Catholic Action Center, a day shelter, and Community Inn, a night shelter on Winchester Road, will combine and move to a former city-owned building on Industry Road.
Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city, said the city is weighing what to do with the building that Ramsey and McLaughlin bought for $75,000, using donations, almost two decades ago.
People who depend on Catholic Action Center for meals won’t go hungry, Ramsey said. Sandwiches and box lunches will be offered at the Community Inn. There also are other social service groups and churches that offer meals to the hungry and homeless in downtown Lexington.
On Thursday, a larger-than-typical crowd came to eat the final lunch, which included sandwiches, soup and a special cake.
Catholic Action Center was started to fill a gap in services for those who lived in the cracks of the system. It’s a place to eat, wash clothes, get mail and have a place to go without being arrested for loitering, Ramsey said.
“What they really wanted was a place where they felt like they belonged,” Ramsey said.
The center’s relationship with the neighborhood on Fifth Street has been tenuous and sometimes strained. In 2011, the Urban County Council even looked at changing its nuisance ordinance to address complaints about loitering and problems at the Catholic Action Center.
The new Catholic Action Center on Industry Road is in a commercial corridor. An exact date for the opening hasn’t been set. It probably will be sometime in late April, Ramsey said.
As lunch service started to wind down Thursday, both Ramsey and McLaughlin said they were surprised how sad they were to leave the building on East Fifth Street.
“So much history here,” Ramsey said. “The community has always supported us. We are so fortunate that we have had so many volunteers and churches help us.”
“I’m sad,” she said. “I think I’m going to go over to the new place on Industry Road. It’s a beautiful space.”