In a historic vote on March 14, board members of Neighbor to Neighbor, the Adventist Community Services social service agency in Berrien Springs, authorized a $1.2 million expansion that will nearly double the physical size of existing operations at the facility adjacent to the campus of Andrews University.
The action will bring about the first, large-scale facility expansion in nearly 50 years, launching a $950,000 first phase for a new building for the thrift store, and a $250,000 second phase for important aesthetic upgrades to the grounds, public access points and parking areas, and a complete remodel of the entire existing building. The first phase total includes more than $125,000 already invested for land acquisition, site preparation and architecture fees. The agency opened at its present location in 1970. The thrift store began operation in 2002. A receiving/processing area was added in 2008. Following a fire in 2010, a small addition with a garage was added to the back.
“This new building and remodel plan inaugurate a new era for Neighbor to Neighbor,” said board chair Harvey Kilsby.
Kilsby said the new building, on which construction is expected to begin on this summer, will provide for a robust, expanded thrift store operation and a much more pleasant shopping experience for the store’s thousands of annual walk-in customers. The second phase will allow the agency’s extensive counseling, social service and food bank operations to expand in sorely needed remodeled quarters in the existing building.
The board chose to break the total project into two phases to get things moving in an efficient way, according to board member and building committee member Tom McCormick. “It’s important to get the thrift store operational in its new setting as quickly as possible. We expect that will modestly increase overall sales revenue from the store, which is important to our expanding operations. So, we’re starting with that. The second phase, which will follow very quickly, is to completely remodel the existing building to provide a better experience and facilities for our regular client services.”
McCormick said that the new 9,300-square-foot thrift store building will be sided in brick to coordinate with the existing building, with generous window placement for good natural interior lighting. It has been designed to meet appearance and placement specifications requested by the Berrien Springs/Oronoko Township Joint Planning Commission & Joint Zoning Board of Appeals.
Kilsby expressed appreciation for the working relationship with Oronoko Township and the Joint Planning Commission. “We had needs and they had requests. Working together, as all good citizens do, we have come up with an arrangement we all can support to make this good thing happen for our community. There are still some details to be finalized, but the general agreement has been worked out.”
Board member and agency treasurer Kendall Hill stressed that the timing of the board’s decision is important. “We have been working on this idea for a long time. Funding is a critical factor. And so much of that funding depends, and will continue to depend, on the generous support of people and organizations who understand the great blessing that Neighbor to Neighbor is to our community. We haven’t completed our fundraising campaign yet, but we have a definite funding plan, and are at the point where we have good momentum for moving forward.”
Hill said local congregations and organizations will be asked to make continuing short-term commitments to complete both phases of the funding plan. He noted that the Village Church already has provided about $12,000 toward a $50,000 pledge.
Kilsby cautioned that the emphasis on the new building should not limit the public’s understanding of what Neighbor to Neighbor is about. “Yes, the expansion will greatly improve the thrift store operations, but it is important to remember that operating a second-hand store is not the primary focus of our agency’s mission,” Kilsby said.
“While the store is the most visible element of our operations, the store itself serves the general public, regardless of need. As such, it is only a vital means to a more important end. Store revenues provide an important share of the ongoing financial support we need to fulfill our mission. That mission is to provide important social and emergency services, including counseling, food, clothing and household goods, to the many people in Berrien, Van Buren and Cass counties who depend on the wide variety of help this generous community is able to provide. We need this new building to accomplish that,” Kilsby said.
Last year Neighbor to Neighbor provided direct assistance to more than 3,000 clients, according to Laura Meyer, executive director of Neighbor to Neighbor. In the annual report for 2018 presented to the board at a recent meeting, she said the agency had distributed nearly $52,000 in food, $91,000 of clothing certificates for use in the thrift store, $31,000 in furniture, and provided many classes and support groups. These services were supported by more than 31,000 hours of donated work from more than 160 regular and periodic volunteers, according to Meyer. She said that Neighbor to Neighbor is part of a strong network of social service agencies in the region, and partners closely with United Way, Salvation Army and the American Red Cross.
“This new building will greatly improve what Neighbor to Neighbor can do in our community,” Meyer said. “We regularly receive far more clothing donations than we can process and sell in our current facility. This new building will help us to turn over our inventory much more quickly, and provide a much larger selection of good quality, used clothing at very low prices for those in our three-county service area who need those low prices, or, of course, for those who are simply looking for a good deal.”
Neighbor to Neighbor is a 501(c)(3) organization. Charitable contributions are tax deductible. The agency is owned by the Michigan Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and is operated by a local board comprised of at-large members and designated representatives from several Adventist congregations in Berrien County. The at-large members are Philip Giddings, Kendall Hill, Harvey Kilsby, Tom McCormick and Harry Miller. The Adventist local church representatives are Marcia Kilsby and Melchizedek Ponniah (Pioneer Memorial); Ronald Knott and Sharon Miller (Berrien Springs Village); Mary Peters (Eau Claire); Rudy Marschner (Stevensville); Lorraine Thames (Niles); Alfredo Ruiz (Berrien Springs Spanish); Sandy Strzyzykowski (Chikaming); and ex officio members Laura Meyer, executive director, and Chelli Ringstaff from the Michigan Conference.