LUMBERTON — Under gloomy skies on Wednesday, Lumberton took a step towards a sunnier future for people in need by breaking ground for a new emergency shelter and soup kitchen.
“This is a great day for the city of Lumberton,” Mayor Raymond Pennington said. “This is the result of a labor of love requiring so many people.”
Plans for the Lumberton Christian Care Center’s new facility have been in the works for years. The center’s home for 29 years on East First Street is, as board member Barbara Andrews put it, “literally falling apart.”
“We have outlived our current facility. Bless its heart, it has served us well,” Renie Mills, the center’s president, told a crowd of dozens of city staff, local officials, board members and residents at the center’s soon-to-be-home on East Second Street, next to Exploration Station.
“You being here today sends a message not only to me but to City Council that you support what’s taking place here today. You support Lumberton,” City Manager Wayne Horne told the group.
Horne noted the single-story center will be one of a few newly-constructed buildings in the downtown area — one Pennington hopes will be recognized statewide for its service to the community.
“I go to a lot of groundbreakings and have been over the last 15 years,” Pennington said. “… I am more proud of this groundbreaking because what we’re doing is something for the people.”
The new building is expected to be open in about eight months and will sleep about 20 people, whether they are homeless, the victim of a disaster, or passing through town and suddenly our without money for a place to stay. Construction crews will start work during the new few weeks.
For a facility that currently feeds about 2,000 people each month, a large kitchen was important. In the new building, delivery trucks will be able to pull up on First Street and unload goods into a large food storage and prep area that leads to the dining room. The dining area will seat 100.
Breaking ground has made the vision real for those involved in the long planning process.
“It’s kind of like we can breathe again,” Mills said. “There’s a lot that goes into the planning and we’ve encountered a few obstacles along the way. We’ve overcome those and it’s kind of like all that hard work has finally paid off.”
City staff and center representatives have long worked with the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency and local donors, like the United Way of Robeson County, to find money for the project. Wooten Company, which did the design work, even pitched in.
“We are deeply, emotionally invested in this project,” Russell Pearlman, the architect, said.
After the city secured $1.1 million in grants, construction was temporarily delayed when designs for the building came in over budget. To lower the costs, some restrooms, a small conference area and decorative details were removed, reducing square footage from 8,500 to about 7,000.
With the money in place to build the facility, the center is now working to outfit it. Mills said about $20,000 is still needed to furnish the sleeping areas, equip the kitchen and pay a full-time administrator. The center’s goal was to raise $150,000 by the end of June.
According to Andrews and the center manager, Leroy Dixon, guests at the current facility are excited for a new home.
“A lot of them, the older ones, knew the building as a hotel during tobacco season, so a lot of them are excited,” Dixon said.
Andrews said the guests deserve a better facility than what they have now.
“They are thrilled,” she said. “Monday when we told them about the groundbreaking, they just applauded and whistled and screamed.”
Some guests, she said, have even donated to the project.
“We put a little container so if they wanted to they could donate and they have done so,” Andrews said. “… They feel like it’s theirs and we want them to feel like it’s theirs.”