Feeding America buys former Ms. Choc's Lounge, renovations to begin

Food bank receives 500K in federal grant money for purchase, renovations

ROANOKE, Va. – Feeding America Southwest Virginia now owns the former Ms. Choc's Lounge building on Melrose Avenue and plans to turn it into a Community Solutions Center.

The food bank closed on the building -- once the most violent location in Roanoke -- last week, announced Feeding America CEO Pamela Irvine at a news conference Wednesday. 

Surrounded by city officials -- including council members and police -- Irvine described the changes underway.

"A lot of work and a lot of people have made that happen and made that possible," said Irvine.

Plans for the center have been in the works for nearly a year, with plans to buy the building since December.

"Communities like northwest Roanoke need projects," Irvine said. "They need something they can be proud of. Our children and our elderly people need a safe place to live and work and play."

The food bank didn't go at the project alone. It was part of a community partnership with Goodwill Industries, Roanoke Police and Roanoke City Council, which unanimously voted to approve a history-breaking $500,000 through the federal Community Development Block Grant to buy the building and cover the cost of renovations. 

It is the largest gift Feeding America has ever received from Roanoke through CDBG funding, Irvine said.

Feeding America purchased the $275,000 property with half of the grant and $15,000 raised through three individual donors. The remaining $250,000 in federal grant money will cover the renovations to the building.  

"We want to make sure that this is a viable and vibrant area of our city," proclaimed Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea. Council, he said, is determined to make a difference and make the area come to life in a positive way.

The center will house a training kitchen that will do double-duty. It will provide hot meals for an innovative new food program for kids, set to launch next week. It will also give Goodwill a place to teach food service and skills for employment. 

"A lot of people don't have gainful employment right now or they don't have a skill," Irvine said. "So Goodwill will provide the training for the skills necessary to be able to employ people so they'll make a good living."

The Community Solutions Center will also be home to a police substation where officers can engage with parents and children.

"It just further puts our footprint as a police department back into the community," said Roanoke Police Captain Rick Morrison, who initially took the idea to Feeding America.

They are taking steps toward turning a once problematic area into a safe place for the community to come together for solutions in a model Irvine said other communities will be able to model.

The renovations are expected to take eight months to complete. The center is expected to open by fall 2018.