FORT WORTH -- The Community Food Bank has come a long way from delivering food to needy people out of the back of a pickup.
The nonprofit, formerly known as the Metroplex Food Bank, went several years without a building after a 2006 fire damaged its home in south Fort Worth.
Led by Opal Lee, an 84-year-old community activist and food bank board member, volunteers kept delivering whatever donated food they had to offer.
Today, they operate in a 40,000-square-foot facility in the Riverside neighborhood, space that food bank officials had leased since 2010. That is, until they got a surprise phone call last week from the facility's owner, Fresherized Foods, informing them that the $775,000 building was now theirs.
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"We were floored!" said Regena Taylor, the food bank's executive director.
Fresherized Foods, known for making Wholly Guacamole, donated its former distribution center and administration building at 3000 Galvez Ave. to the food bank because it "seemed like the right thing to do," said Clay Bowden, vice president of the company, which now operates in Saginaw.
Bowden said the company first had a purchase agreement with the food bank but decided to just give it the property.
"They do good work feeding the hungry," he said. "And we have been fortunate to be successful."
Food bank officials said the donation is a big step in the organization's continued resurgence. Besides recovering from the fire, the organization has had to rebuild its reputation from the questionable practices of a former director, Lee said. The group hired a new director, recruited new board members and is trying to build alliances with trusted philanthropic organizations.
Fresherized Foods supported the food bank before it moved into the building, said Lee, who lives in a home next door. While the guacamole makers still operated there, Bowden offered refrigerated storage space if Lee got donations that needed to stay cold or frozen.
The food bank is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The food is free. There are no ZIP code restrictions, but clients must meet income standards.
With more than 20,000 square feet of refrigerator or freezer space, the food bank is also helping supply other nonprofits, Taylor said. Only about 20 percent of donations are picked up by clients. The other 80 percent are distributed to organizations like the Salvation Army and Union Gospel Mission, she said.
A pet food pantry also operates inside the facility.
Wal-Mart is one of the biggest donors, officials said. Boxes of frozen foods -- tilapia fillets, hamburger meat, pecan cobblers, popsicles -- are stacked in one of the large freezer rooms. On Wednesday, the retailer delivered shelves for stocking dry goods and a conveyor belt to unload deliveries.
People picking up groceries Wednesday said the food bank is helping their families through tough times.
"I take care of my two grandkids, and one is an 11-year-old who wears 36-by-34 pants," Gwendolyn Marrero said. "So he's always hungry, and I wouldn't have enough money to keep up with him without the help I get here."
Food bank officials say they have bigger plans. They hope to turn empty space into banquet hall or a multipurpose room. They would love to add a commercial-grade kitchen.
The food bank is holding a jazz fundraiser from 7 to 10 p.m. Sept. 5. Officials are asking for $10 donations.
"We just want to help as many people as we can," Lee said. "That's our mission."
Alex Branch, 817-390-7689