After a zoning roadblock prevented its move into a former school building, the Moravia Hope Pantry has found a new home. Better yet, the building used to serve food.
The pantry is now operating in the former Betty Blue restaurant at 76 W. Cayuga St. in the southern Cayuga County village. Its president, Barbara Adams, told The Citizen that the pantry purchased the 1,900-square-foot building this spring. As of September, it is open to residents of the Moravia Central School District from 9:30 to 11:30 the first and third Saturday mornings of each month.
Prior to buying the building, the pantry was hoping to move into the former Moravia High School at 48 Church St. But the building's owner, OmniTech Computing owner Gary Debele, has encountered resistance from the village ever since purchasing the property in 2018. The village has argued that a food pantry would not comply with local zoning law, which classifies the property as residential.
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Adams said the years of back-and-forth with the village were discouraging for the pantry as it bounced from its last home at 66 Aurora St., which was sold, to temporary ones at the Moravia Volunteer Fire Co. and then St. Matthew's Episcopal Church. (Food Bank of Central New York deliveries will continue at 4 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at St. Patrick's Church at 51 Grove St.)
"It was just never going to happen, realistically," Adams said of the pantry's move into the former school. "We gave it our best shot, but after a while you have to be realistic."
This spring, Adams learned that the Betty Blue closed last August after several years in business. The pantry felt the property was too expensive at first, but eventually decided to secure financing from the First National Bank of Groton and make the purchase. The limited availability of rental properties in Moravia influenced the decision, said Adams, who is a former real estate agent.
But the former restaurant has its perks, too. With about 30 parking spots, the pantry is able to serve the 40 or 50 families who depend on its aid each morning it's open, Adams said. Due to COVID-19, services are limited to drive-thru for now. What also makes serving those families easier is the building's walk-in cooler, where the pantry can store produce, milk and more safely until it's distributed.
The pantry would like to remove the bar from the building, Adams said, to get the most out of its square footage. But for now, she and the pantry are just happy to have an accommodating new home.
"We've done amazingly well," she said, "even as we were vagabonds."