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    Pantry in red after move

    By MONIQUE FIELDS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 15, 2002

    CLEARWATER -- The Religious Community Services Food Pantry is more than $30,000 in the red after moving to its Druid Road location earlier this year.

    RCS administrators initially estimated the move would cost about $64,000, but the cost skyrocketed to $104,000 after the pantry purchased a $25,000 refrigeration unit, and completed $22,000 in electrical repairs and about $10,000 in plumbing repairs.

    RCS dipped into its reserves to pay the bills. Now the food pantry is struggling to pay for its operating expenses.

    "The move has just been overwhelming," said Jamia Austin, the pantry's director.

    For now, any cash donations received at the pantry will help pay the debt, while the pantry continues to feed about 85 families a day. Other funds, including grants, will be used to help the pantry get out of the red, Austin said.

    Clearwater prompted the pantry to find a new building after deciding to buy the pantry's downtown home for $1.25-million from its owner, the Clearwater Housing Authority. The site is under construction for a retention pond. New townhomes are also in the works.

    The pantry's move comes after a string difficulties. The Sept. 11 attacks slowed local donations to a trickle as residents sent their money up north. That sent RCS and other charitable organizations scrambling. Soon agencies such as RCS found themselves with smaller contributions and an unprecedented number of people needing help.

    At the same time, the pantry was looking for a new temporary home. The pantry couldn't move too far from its previous site on Ewing Ave S because it wanted to remain close to bus lines and clients. The Druid Road site will do for now, but next year the food pantry must decide whether to buy the building or sign another lease.

    Austin said: "We're going to be okay as far as the purchase of food, but we're struggling with the possibility of having to move again or renewing the lease."

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