Planning Commission approves Visalia Emergency Aid Council’s permit to more than double its storage space

@TheSunGazette

VISALIA – A plan to more than double the size of Visalia’s largest food pantry was approved last month.

At its Feb. 26 meeting, the Visalia Planning Commission approved the Visalia Emergency Aid Council’s permit to build a 6,000-square foot metal warehouse on its property at 217 NE 3rd Ave. just north of the Lincoln Oval Park. In order to make way for the warehouse, VEAC will demolish a 1,250-square foot office building and a 1,543-square foot house being used for storage. During construction, the food pantry would continue operating with food being stored a 1,900-square foot adobe brick building at the northeast end of the property.

VEAC Executive Director Liz Wynn said the facility dates back to 1931 when the VEAC was built on the former offices and personnel barracks for CalFire. Visalia’s population was just 7,300 and has grown to more than 130,000. Today, VEAC provides food for 1,100 families each month. For nearly 87 years, Visalia Emergency Aid Council has been providing food to families with children and seniors, working from an adobe brick and mortar building in north Visalia. That building today has a leaky roof, inadequate storage space, no heating or air conditioning and it doesn’t meet current building codes.

“The buildings are old and it is an antiquated facility,” Wynn said. “But over the last 86 years we have been privately run thanks to people in the community making things happen.”

A seven-foot tall wrought iron fence will be replace chain link fence with razor wire along Granite Street and NE 3rd Avenue to make the property more attractive and inviting but also to protect new landscaping from vandalism and nuisance. The entry gate will also be widened to make it easier for trucks delivering food to pull in and out. After construction of the warehouse, the parking lot will be expanded, new landscaping will be added and permanent sidewalks, ramps and driveways will be made wheelchair accessible.

“The biggest issue is the ADA accessibility,” said Wynn. “It’s so hard for our elderly clients.”

Only two people spoke during the six-minute public hearing before the Commission voted 4-0 to approve the project. Wynn, who is also a planning commissioner, abstained from the vote.

“This will be a great boost to the neighborhood, which is mostly made up of people who own their homes,” Wynn said. “This could be the start of revitalizing that neighborhood.”

Wynn said the non-profit’s mission is to help ensure that no one has to choose between paying rent or buying food. The group partners with Family HealthCare Network in hosting Mobile food pantry in Goshen, assist families in crisis by providing free clothing to domestic violence victims with Family Services of Tulare County, support victims of crime through the Victims Witness Advocates at The Tulare County DA’s office, and help at risk outpatients through Kaweah Delta Health Care Bridge Program. Each month, they operate their pantry with a large number of volunteers supplied by Tulare County Welfare to Work program, AARP, Proteus and CSET.

Additionally, the VEAC has a thrift store located at 620 W. Houston Ave. in Visalia, which is a key funding source for the food pantry, special programs and administration. The thrift store offers affordable clothing, furniture, appliances and household and is open seven days a week. Donations are accept anytime Monday through Saturday between 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or they offer free pick up for easier convenience.

Wynn said VEAC has already raised $465,000 of the $600,000 estimated to complete demolition of old buildings and construction of the new warehouse. To donate, visit www.veac.org.

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