by Lexi Braun, Volunteer Coordinator
Emotions were running high on Nov. 14 as the community gathered at GRACE Marketplace to help us cut the ribbon on a brand new kitchen facility many years in the making. Dedicated in honor of longtime Gainesville activist Pat Fitzpatrick, best known for his fervor in the fight to end the 130-person meal limit at St. Francis House, “Café 131” served its first meal made entirely on-site. Pat’s protest signs now adorn the walls of our dining hall that will serve about 400 meals each day.
GRACE has been serving meals since May 2014 with no equipment or kitchen staff. Thanks to the help of numerous community groups, most meals have been prepared off-site and brought to GRACE at meal times. On nights we’ve had no scheduled groups, our Advocates threw something together using only donated food heated up in a couple of crock-pots or on a barbecue grill. Volunteer groups will now be able to prepare meals in a beautiful kitchen with the help of GRACE residents.
Therefore, the addition of a kitchen is a game-changer for GRACE and all of the guests that will now be able to eat, help cook, and eventually learn valuable skills there one day. With the kitchen and staff comes the possibility of developing catering and boxed lunch programs to generate income for the facility and to provide job training for residents.
These aren’t the only exciting changes happening at GRACE, however. Our once prison-drab buildings have each been painted bright colors to make the campus feel more welcoming and less institutional.
We have broken ground on a huge garden project, which will provide fresh, nutritious food for the kitchen program and a way to give back for the residents who already contribute 60 percent of the volunteer hours on campus. We’ve recently hired an additional case manager, which allows us to double the capacity of our shelter program and increase the number of people we’re able to move into housing. And that program is working! Seventy percent of shelter residents who actively engage with case management leave GRACE with housing, and 60 percent leave with new income.
Additionally, we shelter 55 people per night on the pavilion, and provide supportive services to almost 200 residents of nearby Dignity Village. These are all homeless men and women who would otherwise be in the woods, in unsafe situations, or scattered downtown.
These improvements are just the beginning. Over the next two years, we’re working toward becoming a triage center for people without housing, a place where people can come for help with physical and mental health services, job training, meals, showers, and other supports.
We have a number of ways anyone can plug into the good work we’re doing. Our top priority is finding more groups to purchase and prepare meals in the new kitchen. We need blankets, socks, new underwear, and work boots. One of the best ways to support us is to visit gracemarketplace.org and set up a recurring donation.
On Dec. 12, we will be holding our first “No-Show Gala,” where for a choose-your-own ticket price, you get to stay home and watch us use the proceeds we would spend on throwing a year-end event for more important things like case management, addiction counseling, housing assistance, and other much-needed services. In January, we’ll celebrate our 100,000th meal, and we’ll launch our boxed lunch catering program in the Spring of 2016.
We believe that by providing all our community’s resources in the same location, we can end homelessness for hundreds of people living in our community each year. We’ve served more than 1,700 people since May 2014, and for each of those individuals, life is better today than it would have been without GRACE.
To stay up to date on the good work we’re doing and to become a part of it, please visit our website at www.gracemarketplace.org or “like” us on Facebook.
Thanks for helping us make Gainesville a better place to live…for everyone! We are honored and excited to be a part of this community. D