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St. Vincent de Paul Place celebrates major renovations

The Day - 6/8/2024

Jun. 8--NORWICH -- Blue tape now forms a square on the floor to mark the spot where an elevator soon will open new doors for the St. Vincent de Paul Place to better serve the growing number of individuals and families needing services.

The Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon-cutting for the new elevator on Friday, but the only buttons guests could push were hand-written on what will be the frame of the future elevator. They could stand only within the marks on the floor and pretend to ride to the upper three floors in the former St. Joseph School.

The $250,000 shaftless elevator, funded through a state grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development, will allow St. Vincent to provide handicapped access for patrons to the basement level dining hall, first floor well-stocked food pantry and second floor health flex care rooms, where staff help clients access health care services. St. Vincent also offers showers and laundry services.

The 5,000-pound capacity dual passenger and freight elevator also means staff will no longer need to haul cases of heavy cans and boxes of dry food items up the school stairways to the food pantry. St. Vincent receives 25,000 pounds of food per week from Connecticut Foodshare, St. Vincent Executive Director Jillian Corbin said.

Several other major recent renovations are more tangible in the nearly 100-year-old former grammar school building at 120 Cliff St.

St. Vincent, run by the Diocese of Norwich, is using federal, state and local grants, tax credits and its own resources to upgrade the building and facilities to better meet the growing need in the region, Corbin said.

"We're not expanding services, we're expanding the space for the services we have now," Corbin said, "because we have more people."

Another goal, she said, is to make St. Vincent more welcoming and comfortable for people. Now, the food pantry is crammed into a classroom on the first floor, with no access for people with disabilities. People line up in the hallway waiting for service. The renovations will spread out the pantry, creating an intake room and more inviting atmosphere, she said.

The food pantry, open Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:30 a.m. to noon, serves about 250 households per day. The pantry recently saw a record 354 in one day, Corbin said. The food pantry had 28,546 visits in 2023, and the soup kitchen served 113,939 hot meals and provided 36,050 sandwiches and miscellaneous meals, St. Vincent reported. The facility served people from 32 cities and towns.

The facility has four full-time staff, five part-time staff and more than 150 active volunteers. Corbin praised for their dedication.

The city of Norwich awarded St. Vincent a $139,739 grant from its American Rescue Plan Act federal grant to purchase large a new outdoor freezer and cooler units to ensure the St. Vincent food pantry is more than just a dry goods service. The freezer holds pork, beef, turkey and chickens and frozen vegetables. The cooler is stocked with dozens of cartons of eggs, bags of fresh vegetables and dairy products.

The units sit on a concrete pad built with some of the ARPA money behind the building. St. Vincent paid to construct a large new loading dock leading to the cooler and freezer units. The units replaced 23 inefficient refrigerators and freezers, Corbin said. Now, trucks from Connecticut Food Share can back up to the dock for easy unloading, said Peter Gale, a volunteer member of St. Vincent's building committee.

Gale created a scrapbook with photos of the giant cooler-freezer arriving from Indiana last July 27 as an oversized load on a flatbed truck. A crane lifted it onto the loading dock.

Another ARPA grant from the city is replacing the 1970s-era school bathrooms into modern, handicapped accessible bathrooms, with baby changing stations. That project is nearly completed, Corbin said.

St. Vincent is using Neighborhood Assistance Act tax credit grants to repoint the brickwork on the school building three sides are done, with the front facade remaining and to replace the windows in the basement level.

Neighborhood Assistance Act tax credits also upgraded the heating and cooling system, allowing the basement level dining hall to serve as a designated cooling center in the summer. The facility is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.

"People need to feel like they belong and that they are welcomed," Corbin said of the goal of the renovations. "They need to feel safe enough to come and try to solve problems."

c.bessette@theday.com

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