Brenda Russell at SPEDA

Brenda Russell, center, gives SPEDA board members a look at plans she has for the old Palm Beach building. Russell wants to create a center that could help the homeless and those who live in poverty.

Brenda Russell gave members of the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) an update on her “God-sized plans” for the former Palm Beach building during last week’s SPEDA meeting.

SPEDA sold the Palm Beach facility to God’s Food Pantry in December of 2020. Russell, who is the executive director for God’s Food Pantry, is not only using the smaller building to house a non-food redistribution center, but also has major plans for the main building to help those in need.

“We know there’s been a lot of discussion lately about those in poverty and those who are homeless and don’t have places to go, and I know there’s not a single one in this room that hasn’t said, ‘How do we fix this?,’ Russell told SPEDA board members.

“I don’t know for sure that we have the plans to fix it all, but I do know that there’s a growing group of agencies that are working together.”

The architectural plans are in the final stages of planning, and Russell said she hopes to have more information for the public soon.

Part of the plan is to not only have facilities that can help the homeless and those in poverty, but also to have facilities like a restaurant and a meeting center that could hold 100 to 200 people at a time.

Those areas would be available to the public at large. Russell said that it would not only help the community as a business center, but would also be informative for those who are not in need to see through the building’s other resources how large the need is.

“There are many in our community that think poverty doesn’t exist,” she said. “They live in their subdivisions, they live in their little parts of the county, and if you tell them we have homeless or people who don’t have a place to sleep at night, they’ll tell you that you’re crazy because they’ve never seen it.”

On top of the restaurant would be a feeding center that would serve hot meals to those in need. The building would also have a clothing center, and God’s Food Pantry would likely move there from it’s current location on South Central Avenue.

The long part of the building would have a mall-like area of rented spaces where other community members would rent. Those could be counseling services, educational centers that could teach life skills, places where those in need could find further resources and perhaps even a medical clinic.

The rent collected from those spaces would help with the cost of the building’s upkeep and insurance, Russell said.

She told the SPEDA board the Deco Architects expects that the renovation of the building will cost around $5 million. But, Russell said, she is determined to raise as much as is needed to create something that could benefit the community for, hopefully, a century or more.

The aim is to break the cycle of generational poverty, Russell said, and she hopes that the center will become something the neighbors in the surrounding community become proud of having near them.

The good news is that between the sale of the previous building she was using for the redistribution center and money management with the current God’s Food Pantry building, Russell says her organization is currently debt-free.

The redistribution center, called Our Place, is a center that collects new clothes, household items, small appliances, blankets, bedding and other non-food items, and redistributes them to other charities, nonprofits, schools and churches.

Those organizations pay a $500 yearly partnership fee to gain access to the center’s items.

The items come from Amazon’s warehouse in Campbellsville. Russell said when the center first opened, she committed to picking up seven to nine pallets worth of items each month, with the understanding that some months she may need to pick up 17 to 19 pallets.

Right now, she said they are picking up 24 pallets a week. On top of that, Amazon has switched from using small boxes to using Gaylord boxes, so that they are taking in the equivalent of 48 pallets a week.

Up to 80 percent of those items are all-new with tags, she said.

With the more items they are able to receive, the redistribution center needed more room to house those items. That is what originally led SPEDA’s President and CEO Chris Girdler to offer Russell use of the Palm Beach building when the redistribution center was still located in Ferguson.

At first, he offered her just a place to store excess items. Then, he decided to offer to sell the property to her so that the building which had been sitting empty for so long could be better utilized.

Girdler said, “At SPEDA, we have talked about how our number one goal is raising the overall quality of life for our citizens. … We mean that for all walks of life.”

He also talked about how he and Russell have had several conversations about community needs, and he always comes away from those meetings inspired by her and what she does.

“Her passion is contagious in making a difference in the lives of others.”

The timeframe for the completion of the new facility has not been finalized, but Russell said it could take several years for it to come to fruition.

Trending Video

Recommended for you