UTICA, N.Y.--In the 1960s, the bright blue grocery store on South Street in Utica provided food and goods to those who could afford them.
Now, that building is being renovated to serve those in need of a hot meal and compassion.
The building was purchased by Hope House, an organization that feeds the homeless and hungry in Utica. After a groundbreaking ceremony in May, crews have been working to transform the industrial building into a dining room that feels like home.
The building is expected to be completed by mid-January, with outside expansion work ending next week. When the organization moves from Eagle Street, officials expect a more relaxed dining experience.
"We only have seating for 48, so say we're serving dinner for an hour, that means we have to turn the tables over three times," John Madej, executive director of Hope House said. "In the other building, we'll only have to turn them around once because we plan on seating 90 people at a time."
With a more open space, employees and volunteers expect to see an increase in the family-like rapport their guests have already established.
"In a bigger spot, we'll be able to do a lot more, spread out more, so we can put more stuff up to make it more Christmas-y," Joseph Guilford, an employee said. "It's like a gumbo, there's so many different types of people."
The funding for the project is mostly from community contributions, but the sale of the Eagle Street building could go towards completing the project.
"We're currently in fundraising mode, we're reaching out to individuals in the area," Madej said. "We're $200,000 short, but it was a million-dollar project, so whatever we get for this building, it will either go into the building fund or into our operational account."
While excitement naturally accompanies a new beginning, so does the bittersweet reminder that this holiday season will be the last on Eagle Street.
"We've been here for 25 years, so for some of these people, this has been their Christmas place," Madej said.
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