Work continues on build-out expansion at Badger Prairie Needs Network, a Verona-based but Dane County-serving food pantry and commissary kitchen located at 1200 E. Verona Ave.

And no, it’s not a gymnasium or basketball court – a common question BPNN has gotten – leadership team member Karen Dettinger told the Press.

Rather, it will host the anticipated return of community meals post-COVID-19 in a 144-seat community room, as well as provide training center space for organizations such as the Latino Academy of Workforce Development, she said.

The new community space will focus on wellness programming and job training programs for jobs that lead to family-supporting wages, keeping within BPNN’s mission of addressing poverty, Dettinger said.

The training center’s initial focus will be preparing under-served communities who were hit harder when their service-industry jobs dried up because of the pandemic, to find jobs in the transportation industry through the Latino Academy of Workforce Development’s transportation-related job training program.

While other organizations similar to the Latino Academy have expressed an interest in using the space for jobs-related programming, nothing has been formalized yet, she said.

The expected completion date of the expansion is April 2022, and ideally BPNN leadership would love to hold a grand opening in late spring or early summer, she said. 

The expansion will see BPNN’s overall square footage grow by 50%. The food bank is about 9,500-square-feet currently, and the addition will add another 4,800-square-feet.

The 144 banquet-style seats will more than double the capacity of the former approximately 60-seat community room. There will also be 18 fixed-furniture seats outside on a patio.

The former community room was transformed into a waiting room for registration and the pantry, as part of adapting to the pandemic.

There will be two roll-up garage style bay doors to open the space up to the patio on warmer days. There will also be large screens or televisions put up for training groups and other community events to use during programs.

There will be two entrances into the expansion – one from the kitchen and one from the waiting room.

Another addition to the new space will be a roll-up server window, like ones seen in church dining halls, she said.

The new serving window space will have steam tables permanently installed. In the old meal space, volunteers had to wheel-out portable tables with buckets of hot water. Dettinger said the installed steam tables will be much safer and easier for volunteers to work with.

COVID-19 prompted the project planning team to think about other safety features, such as installing sneeze guards, she said.

The food bank is eagerly awaiting the return of the community meal program, one of the programs the organization has most lamented the loss of during the pandemic, Dettinger said.

“The thing about the community meal was it was a place for people from all walks of life to gather together,” she said.

She hopes the expanded capacity of the new community room will encourage people to stay longer, whereas before she believes people felt pressured to get out quickly to make room for others.

Verona-based company Epic supports the meal at BPNN.

“We are looking forward to relaunching our popular community meal in partnership with Epic in this larger space,” Dettinger said. “We are following guidance closely from Dane County Public Health regarding reopening the pantry and restarting the community meal.”

Work on the building project began in November, Dettinger said. The project cost is $2.6 million—with $2 million of that coming from federal COVID-19 relief funds distributed by Dane County. Those funds were awarded to BPNN because the new building will provide training and workforce development to under-served populations, Dettinger said.

Another $102,000 came from Veridian Home’s “The Generous Home” Program, $75,00 from a United States Department of Housing and Urban Development grant, $200,000 from an anonymous donor and $383,000 from individual donors and a capital campaign.

Outside the new addition will be a brand-new parking lot, set to be paved in Spring 2022. It will add 50 more parking spots, which Dettinger said is much needed as BPNN, Dane County Consolidated Food Service and Badger Prairie Health Care Center all share the same parking lot currently.

While BPNN leadership has missed providing many of its staple in-person services over the past two years because of the pandemic, it has allowed for the special projects team to grow the nonprofit for when people can gather safely again.

“We’ve been able to focus on capacity building,” Dettinger said.

Reporter Neal Patten can be reached at npatten@wisconsinmediagroup.com

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