To say Janet Giordano is concerned might be downplaying things a bit. The executive director of the Cherry Hill Food Pantry is “desperate for help.”
In April, Giordano learned the pantry’s lease was not being renewed, and so, she reached out to the Cherry Hill community for help finding a location where the the nonprofit could own or rent at a cost it could afford. While the Rodi family kindly offered a space on Coles Avenue in Cherry Hill, the place – the site of a former toy train emporium – is in need of a lot of work. Giordano said if they can’t manage to find the funds or volunteer labor to fix the site up, they’ll get out of their new lease without penalty, but they’ll have nowhere else to go.
The nonprofit serves 700 people at its Brace Road location. The owners of the site let the pantry lease the space rent-free with the nonprofit covering just the cost of utilities and insurance. In April, Giordano was informed that a leasing company bought several leases for storefronts in the plaza, including the pantry’s space.
When relator Jeffrey Sloan, vice president of investments at NAI Mertz, read about the pantry’s search for a new location, he knew he had to help. He popped into the pantry one day and offered Giordano any assistance he could provide. So, Sloan began making calls around town to see if there was anyone with a space who might to want help an organization trying to do good. The Rodi family responded in kind and offered up a portion of their location at 41 Coles Ave.
Giordano said in all of their searching, Joseph Rodi was the only person willing to give them a discounted rental. She said everyone else who offered them a space did so at a rental price they just couldn’t sustain for any period of time.
The site has been vacant for years and is need of a substantial amount of work. The previous occupants left the store packed with shelving, display cases and other odds and ends that will all need to be cleared out before they can get to work on the site.
Rodi has offered to replace the roof and redo the parking lot, but once they’ve cleaned house, the site still needs HVAC, plumbing, carpentry work, new flooring and a variety of other fixes. Giordano said their most recent estimate came in at about $200,000 worth of work.
Giordano said they could cut those costs if community members were willing to volunteer their time, labor, supplies, money or anything else they might have to offer. She said they’re in need of plumbers, electricians, carpenters and the financial wherewithal to make the move possible.
“This pantry belongs to this community, and in this community, there are a great deal of businesses that could – if they would open their hearts and minds – help us, so that’s what we’re looking for,” Giordano said.
The lease does state if they’re unable to raise the funds, they can get out without penalties. Giordano said she’s incredibly grateful to the Rodi family for offering them that out, but she’s also not sure where they’d go if they can’t raise the funds.
Sloan said he’s helping organize some fundraisers, and in the coming days, the pantry will kickstart a GoFundMe campaign for the renovations. Sloan is also looking even further ahead. He said even if they raise the necessary funds, in the next five years, he’d like to help the pantry find a more permanent home it can buy or build, so that they’re not faced with this scenario again.
Currently, Giordano’s lease states that they need to be out by Aug. 5, but just this past week, she wrote to the leasing company’s lawyer asking to be granted a 90-day extension. She said she’s still waiting to hear back.
“We are hoping – sincerely hoping – that they would be able to extend us,” Giordano said with a hint of unease in her voice.
Whether it’s August, September or October, the pantry will have to leave soon. Giordano said the Coles Avenue site was the only location offered to her, and she has to make it work.
“We can’t close; our people are very worried about that,” Giordano said. “Our clients are really seriously sad and concerned.”
To donate to the food pantry, visit https://cherryhillfoodpantry.org. Anyone interested in volunteering labor or supplies can contact Giordano at firstname.lastname@example.org.