Over the past couple of years, you may have heard talk of STEP moving to a new building. Why does STEP need to move? STEP needs a larger and better-suited facility to improve our service to our community.

In 2017-18, STEP’s Board of Directors underwent a strategic planning process to chart out our priorities and goals. One of the most significant outcomes of that process was the goal to find a space that can fully host STEP’s programs and operations.

In that time, the Board has explored several possibilities, including partnerships with other entities. This last year, STEP has engaged in a comprehensive evaluation of our future facility needs. A new facility that meets our needs and provides flexibility for future growth and changes will ensure STEP can efficiently and effectively empower lives and restore hope.

The current building on West Lake Street was a significant improvement for STEP at the time of purchase a decade ago. Since then, STEP has provided over 5 million meals worth of food and provided $2 million worth of no-cost clothing. Neighbors in need have physically walked through STEP’s front door for services over 200,000 times. Before that, STEP had relied on donated space from the city and school district. This new home on Lake Street allowed STEP to not operate in crisis, stabilize programs and operations, and plan for the future. Over the last decade, STEP has creatively worked around the building’s limitations. But those workarounds come at a cost of resources and program quality.

 STEP’s current space limits programs

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STEP’s current home on West Lake Street.

The building was built in 1945 to be used as a plastics factory. The size is 8,000 square feet, hosting operations that need at least 15,000 square feet. STEP does not own the parking lot and the long-term lease on the lot (including accessible parking) is being terminated at the end of this year. Additional municipal parking is being reduced in the Walker-Lake project this summer.

The current building lacks any space for meetings or public events, has cramped offices, no space for efficient, back-loading refrigeration and freezers, and no storage for various programs that we conduct, such as Empty Bowls, Holiday Toys and School Supplies. Currently, we store things in nearby churches and peoples’ garages. Space constraints limit the food program’s amount and variety of food that can be sourced and distributed. An appropriate-sized facility would allow STEP to increase food choices by 50%. The aptly-named Clothes Closet was tight before the pandemic and has been closed for the foreseeable future because no social distancing is possible.

The building also makes it very challenging to safely and efficiently accept incoming donations while we are serving neighbors. Waste, organics, and recycling space is inadequate.

Our vision for a new home

Based on our learnings from the past, and right-sized for our present and future needs, a new building will allow STEP to fully welcome the community’s caring for neighbors in need. It would allow STEP to host a spacious food shelf that had a continuous variety of healthy and fresh items. It would be easily accessible by car, bus, or walking. Visitors would be able to easily and comfortably access the building.  A new building would have a clothing program that could accept more types of donations from the community, have more choices, and allow a safe and dignified shopping experience. In this building, each year we would distribute a half million meals’ worth of groceries, 10,000 bags of no-cost clothing, 1,000 winter coats, backpacks and toys for 500 children, and 20,000 appointments with professional social workers.

A new building would centralize other STEP services from far-flung corners of the community. Clients would no longer need to figure out how to get to a church in another part of town during a specific time to access school supplies or holiday toys for their children. A new building would allow STEP to explore new offerings to community members, including hosting tax clinics or employment resources, farmers market-style produce drops, a reservable office with a computer and webcam for virtual meetings with other providers or job applications for low income neighbors.

A new building would help expand volunteer opportunities for neighbors. Currently, we are limited to hosting very occasional volunteer groups under ten due to space. Volunteer groups, including the next generation of scouts and youth groups, can experience the gift of volunteerism at STEP.

STEP is currently seeking specific building options and understanding what the final price tag will be. STEP will be able to utilize the market value of the current building, but will need to raise additional funds from the community to realize this next step in our now 45 year history.

A new building would be something of which the entire community can be proud. It would be a place where we all come together because we are better together. We look forward to inviting the community to be part of this journey.