Local food bank announces new production facility in downtown Lawrence to make ready-to-eat meals

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The small restaurant space at 805 Vermont Street in downtown Lawrence is pictured on Aug. 10, 2022.

The Lawrence-based food bank Just Food has signed a deal for a new downtown Lawrence satellite location that will allow the nonprofit to more efficiently make ready-to-eat meals for its clients.

The food bank announced on Wednesday it will be adding the space at 805 Vermont St., and staff with Just Food confirmed to the Journal-World that the goal is to be up and running by the end of August. In the production facility, recovered foods will be turned into ready-to-eat meals, which is part of an existing program that Just Food has facilitated since March.

The location, which Just Food is leasing, is the former home of Terrebonne Po’ Boys restaurant, meaning the spot already has a commercial kitchen in place. As the Journal-World has reported, Terrebonne recently moved to a new space on Massachusetts Street.

Just Food leaders said the location — which will be in addition to its headquarters, food store and distribution site at 1000 E. 11th St. — will allow the organization to both increase ready-to-eat meal numbers and reduce food waste by making it easier for Just Food to take better advantage of donated food from the community.

The program has thus far operated out of shared community kitchen spaces like the Culinary Commons at the Douglas County Fairgrounds or the kitchen at Eudora High School, which has hampered its overall production. Agency leaders say the dedicated space will allow Just Food to ramp up production to a higher level than previously possible.

“While a program like this has been a goal for the organization for many years, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic and its lasting effects that we saw the rising need for ready-to-eat meals and the persistence of food waste numbers within our food system,” Brett Salsbury, Just Food’s interim executive director, said in the release. “This program will serve both ends: It will provide more ready-to-eat meals, and it will also curb food waste numbers by adding value to donated and recovered food.”

According to the release, Just Food has seen a higher retention rate of patrons thanks to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing food prices in grocery stores and continued supply chain issues.

That has translated to a busy summer at the food pantry. Almost 20% of Just Food’s visitors this summer — more than 1,500 people — had never visited the food pantry before. In the release, Salisbury said along with eliminating food waste, the hope is that bolstering the food waste reduction program with the new production space will allow Just Food to better meet community members’ ongoing needs.

“Not all of our community members have the time and resources to cook their own meals,” Salisbury said. “This program has already given back so much precious time to our shoppers and their families.”

While the new downtown facility will be set up to mainly be used for production, it could potentially be used for cooking demonstrations and other events. Current plans, however, don’t call for the new location to be used as a food distribution or hot meal site.


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