Harvesters Community Food Network moves Kansas distribution facility from Topeka to northwest Lawrence |  News, sports, jobs

Harvesters Community Food Network moves Kansas distribution facility from Topeka to northwest Lawrence | News, sports, jobs

photo from photography: Austin Hornpostel/Journal World

The Harvesters Community Food Network’s main facility is photographed in Kansas City, Missouri on Thursday, September 15, 2022. The nonprofit is moving its smaller distribution facility in Topeka to Lawrence.

Harvesters Community Food Network is moving its Topeka distribution facility to northwest Lawrence.

Harvesters, a regional food bank in Feeding America, buys property at 1220 Timberedge Road and plans to start operating there by June 2024; Stephen Davis, the nonprofit’s president and CEO, told the Journal World last week that he expects the sale to close by late December. The property is located in the North Kansas Turnpike Industrial Estate, across from the Standard Beverage Corporation facility.

Located in Kansas City, Missouri, Harvesters serves a 26-county area across northwestern Missouri and northeastern Kansas, including Douglas and Shawnee counties. The nonprofit provides food and household products to more than 760 nonprofit agencies across this service area, 53 of which—such as agencies like Just Food—are located in Douglas County. It operates two distribution facilities: one moving out of Topeka, and a large-scale facility in Kansas City.

“We are very happy,” Davis said. “He was excited. We have deep, deep relationships in Lawrence with nearly 50 agencies. We have a very great relationship with Just Food, we have a very strong partnership and a great relationship. We have a regional focus, but we see that this is also a win for Douglas County, because we will be closer to those agencies.”

Topeka’s current reapers facility is located just off the I-70 Polk-Quincy Viaduct. The Kansas Department of Transportation announced about a year ago that the bridge would be expanded in a multi-stage project culminating in a reconstruction and replacement phase scheduled for early 2025. Davis said KDOT reached out to Harvesters about the project prior to last year’s announcement to let them know that bridge work is likely to affect the Topeka facility.

It turns out that not only will the bridge be reconstructed. It will be remodeled, and will span the middle of the facility, along with dozens of other properties currently located in that area of ​​downtown Topeka. Davis said the Harvesters leadership recognized the need for this project and didn’t have any hard feelings, but that meant it clearly wouldn’t be viable.

“We have a responsibility to serve this part of our region, so we have to find a solution forward to serve this part of our region,” Davis said. “After we finally realized, ‘Okay, that’s exactly what’s going to happen,'” we laid out, about a year ago, a path to try and find our way forward, for what the new building’s situation would be.

That means leaving a facility where Harvesters has been operating for more than a decade. Until 2010, the nonprofit’s only facility was the premier distribution center of more than 200,000 square feet in Kansas City. Reapers initially rented the Topeka facility until they bought the entire building and renovated it in 2017. Davis said the agency hoped the facility would meet the needs of reapers for the next decade. Instead, it should be outside the building by June 2024, when the building is demolished.

So the search began. Davis said Harvesters initially hoped to stay in Topeka or Shawnee County, but found after looking at dozens of properties that the search area needed to expand. That’s because some specific items are required for the agency’s distribution facilities.

First, the building needs easy access to the highway—ideally I-70, Davis said—due to the volume of trailers that visit to drop off or pick up food for distribution. And inside the building, it’s not just the square foot area that matters, but the cubic area as well. The interior design needs the added verticality to account for the multi-level shelves that fill the warehouse space.

photo from photography: Austin Hornpostel/Journal World

Trucks can support their trailers down to the Topeka building for loading or unloading into Harvesters’ refrigeration space.

“We need something tall to be able to make multi-tiered shelves,” Davis said. “Fifty thousand square feet of flat building is different from 50,000 square feet where you can do several highs, right?”

Davis said that the ability to move into a properly designated building was also an important consideration, as was the cost of the project in general because Harvesters is a nonprofit. The agency will be compensated for the Topeka property either through sale or via eminent domain, but Davis said it’s especially important to pay attention to how much Harvesters is spending to acquire the property. This meant that building something new was out of the question, both on that front and because of the time it would take to finish.

This led Harvesters to the property at 1220 Timberedge Road. It’s not vacant, though; It is the current headquarters of Reuter Organ, which has been in Lawrence for over a century and began operating out of the Wilder Bros. Building. Shirt Factory at 612 New Hampshire Street in 1919. But since 2001, the company has been at location buying Harvesters, a 78,000-square-foot corporate facility built and designed specifically to build pipe hardware.

photo from photography: Austin Hornpostel/Journal World

The property, located at 1220 Timberedge Road in northwest Lawrence, and currently occupied by Reuter Organ, was photographed Tuesday, September 20, 2022.

For now, what exactly Reuter’s next steps will be up in the air, the company’s president and CEO, Albert Neutell Jr., told the Journal World on Tuesday. Newtel said the company is considering a number of options, including bringing in new ownership and moving the company somewhere in Lawrence or the surrounding area. For example, he said that Topeka was at the table. They will have to make that decision soon; Newtel said the company will have to be moved out of the existing building before the closing date in December.

“I don’t have any definitive answers at this point,” Newell said. “We are working hard to find out.”

Davis said the facility will be expanded by about 10,000 square feet to add freezing space and loading berths. It will eventually be twice the size of the Topeka’s 45,000-square-foot facility. The larger area, Davis said, could mean the Lawrence facility would have more volunteer capacity than the one at Topeka. This space accommodates 25-30 volunteers at any one time, and they perform jobs such as sorting food or packing produce.

photo from photography: Austin Hornpostel/Journal World

In the main volunteer space at Harvesters’ Topeka distribution facility, volunteers may sort food or pack produce for distribution to the nonprofit’s 700 partner agencies.

Davis said the nonprofit aims to begin work on the expansion early next year, preferably finished by April or May of 2024, with the goal of addressing “uninterruptions” in its service as it moves between facilities. It’s not clear what the impact will be on Harvesters’ workforce, but it doesn’t look like it will add or eliminate any jobs. Davis said the nonprofit has 18 employees — plus some AmeriCorps volunteers — who work at the Topeka facility and he hopes to stay on board.

Although Just Food is America’s food bank, the two agencies do business differently, Davis said. Reapers buy, store, and distribute food on their network, while network banks like Just Food do the important work in the community to get those donations to people in need in their communities.

Davis said that people who don’t work in the nonprofit industry often don’t understand the differences in that work. They are not competitors but rather collaborators.

“We work collaboratively. We don’t do the same thing,” Davis said. “…there is amazing work already being done in Douglas County. This in no way reflects “Oh, there must be more work done.” For us, it’s just geography, like Where can we find a building? The agencies that work in Douglas County are doing a great job.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Just Food’s chairman, James Walden, in a phone call with Journal-World Tuesday. Walden said the Harvesters move was not likely to change much in terms of the work of either agency, and that it was an overall positive development.

“Over the past few years, Harvesters has been a fantastic partner to Just Food’s as we work to alleviate food insecurity in Douglas County,” Walden said.

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