By Pat Shaver
IOWA CITY—With decreasing funding resources and an increasing need for services, four local nonprofit organizations saw an opportunity.
The 1105 Project is a collaboration of the Crisis Center of Johnson County, the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP), the Free Lunch Program and the Johnson County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
The four agencies will move into a shared space at 1105 Gilbert Court early next year in an effort to better serve and reach more of Johnson County’s most vulnerable populations, people struggling with food-insecurity, domestic violence, mental illness or another personal or financial crisis.
The building, constructed in 1965, was previously the Johnson County public health building. It sat vacant for many years before the Johnson County Board of Supervisors sold it to the Crisis Center for $1.
Work on the building is estimated to cost $1.2 million to $1.3 million. Agencies hope to move in Jan. 1.
“From a client point of view, if you are in a position where you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, you can imagine what it must be like if you don’t have a vehicle and you have to go across town from Free Lunch to the food bank and to get food stamps. What time does that leave you to look for a job or even work?” said Sara Langenberg, 1105 Project’s capital campaign chair. “With what’s going on in the economy and in Congress, it seems like the need is going to get greater. More social service agencies and human services are going to need to form collaborations like this in order to meet the demand.”
Bringing services provided by all four agencies into one building, next to the Crisis Center, is expected to reduce long-term demand for these human services by allowing each agency to reach more clients through proximity and interrelated programming. Shared spaces will reduce overhead expenses for each agency.
The building is also located near the Salvation Army, the Crowded Closet and the Mayor’s Youth Empowerment Project.
About $500,000 of the funding needed to complete the building has been raised. That leaves about $800,000 left to raise in only a few months, Ms. Langenberg said.
“It is disheartening but we are all very optimistic in what can be accomplished. This is a group that is used to doing a lot with very little money,” she said.
If the money isn’t raised, the Crisis Center has talked about taking out a bank loan to cover the remaining costs. That would likely lead to increased rent costs for the nonprofits, which would also set back the efficiencies they were looking to gain from the move.
The Johnson County Board of Supervisors donated its former public health building to the Crisis Center for $1. The city of Iowa City awarded more than $285,000 in Community Development Block Grants toward the building’s renovation and parking lot upgrades. In addition, the project has received more than $200,000 from private donors.
“Government funding is not there, especially since 2009. There have been issues with the recession which has impacts on corporate funding. The economy led to increased unemployment, which increases the need, and increased issues with health care and education. More and more it’s these kinds of collaborative partnerships or initiatives that I think really point to the future,” said Dan Brown, United Way of Johnson & Washington Counties director of annual giving.
The public can find more information and donation options online at www.the1105project.com.
“As the community grows and expands, not only do the needs increase, they also spread out. Now there’s a food pantry in North Liberty where there wasn’t one two years ago and a food pantry in Coralville where there wasn’t one four years ago,” Mr. Brown said.
The 1105 building includes a public office and meeting space for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, which until now has had clients go to a house, which compromises the safety of the people there.
The project will give the National Alliance on Mental Illness more space to host support groups. The groups currently meet throughout the community at churches or other spaces.
The Crisis Center will use the space for meetings with clients in a more private setting. The agency is overcrowded and, for example, has regular suicide survivor support group meetings in an open meeting room and needs private space. The project will also offer the Crisis Center additional parking for its clients.
The Crisis Center Food Bank reached record numbers for food distributions in one month this summer. The Food Bank was visited more than 4,400 times throughout July for food, an all-time record, showing the increasing need for food and donations throughout the county.
“Our concern is that while this will be an additional facility for the Crisis Center, DVIP and NAMI, as of the first of January, the Free Lunch Program won’t have a facility, which makes this really imperative,” Mr. Brown said.
The Free Lunch Program will take up a majority of the space with a kitchen and dining room. The agency has to be moved out of its space in downtown Iowa City by the end of the year.
“This needs to happen now or you lose a major service. It sets a precedent and expands way beyond the 1105 Project,” Mr. Brown said. “And if you take away a service from 150 people, where are they going to go for that lunch?”
The Free Lunch Program, which serves lunch six days a week in the basement of the Wesley Center, 120 N. Dubuque St., has been in the space for much of its 30 years of existence, said Mary Palmberg, program director and volunteer coordinator.
The two issues in the main building is the flight of stairs volunteers and clients have to walk down to get to the meals every day. There is a working elevator, but it is old and unreliable, Ms. Palmberg said.
The organization operates with a $40,000 annual budget and wouldn’t be able to afford to move into its own building, Ms. Palmberg said. In 2012, the Free Lunch Program served more than 41,000 meals. Anyone is welcome to eat with no questions asked; meals are served noon-1 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
“Each year it’s moved up. We anticipate that when the facility is easier to access, we will have more folks able and anxious to utilize our services,” Ms. Palmberg said.
The Free Lunch Program has 36 teams of volunteers with 20-30 people from churches, schools, neighborhood groups and other organizations.
“The reason the program thrives is because of all of the volunteers. We’ve always survived and pinched every penny and so many of the volunteers provide much of what they need to make the meals,” she said. “People come here and not only receive a warm meal, but also hospitality. It’s relatively simple, when your neighbor is out and out, you take them food.”