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After thieves plunder Food Bank building, group unveils plans to transform warehouse

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The Billings Food Bank's warehouse property on North 16th Street has held high hopes for the organization.

But it's faced challenges, from heavy snow that collapsed part of its roof in 2017 to scrap-selling thieves and vandals who did hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. 

Despite that, the property is poised to round a corner.  

Recent construction demolished connecting buildings that were damaged by the roof collapse and built a new wall on the remaining warehouse. The building is now hopefully secure, and awaiting a serious face-lift. 

Billings Food Bank executive director Sheryle Shandy hopes the structure will become a major hub for food bank programs, allowing the organization to seat about 1,000 people for meals — tripling the current capacity at the current Fourth Avenue North building. 

There's no formal timeline for the work, but an architect has drawn up plans and the new wall is designed to accommodate future changes. 

"Instead of leaving this neighborhood, we are going to remodel and repurpose it as an extension of our current facility and make room for more services," Shandy wrote in a letter about the building earlier this month. 

The food bank has owned the property for about 12 years. Past plans called for building a bakery into the facility, but they've evolved. 

A section of roof collapsed in 2017 during the snowiest winter in Billings history. The warehouse was separate connecting buildings, and the structural issues created gaps that allowed access into the remaining storage areas. 

Thieves first struck the wiring near the building's alarm system, disabling that. Over time, the building was stripped of copper wiring and other items of value; some vehicles were stolen, others were stripped. The non-food damage totaled about $500,000, Shandy wrote in the letter. It wasn't insured for that type of damage. 

"We kept coming down (to the building), sealing it up, and they kept coming in," she said.

Some of the damage seemed to serve no purpose other than vandalism itself. For example, a box of toothpaste and toothbrushes was strewn across the floor and stomped on — "who would think someone would do this to a food bank," Shandy wrote. 

The food bank didn't have money to demolish the collapsed building section; it was only recently knocked down.

The new wall on the building's south side is set to become the building's entrance, with a parking lot replacing the plot where the building was demolished. 

The interior is still very much a warehouse. It's cold (the heater wiring was stolen), and largely bare. But it offers a blank slate and a large space. 

The group envisions it holding a catering kitchen and expansive seating spaces, a community center space, and potentially becoming a for-rent event center. 

The Food Bank would keep its current Fourth Avenue North facility. 

"We're trying to expand our services all over," Shandy said. 

She believes that those services will be critical to the food banks work, especially amid lingering economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We've not seen the brunt of this yet," Shandy said. "We better be ready for it."


Retrospective: Downtown Billings

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Billings Gazette.

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