News & Politics

Bread for the City Expands, But it Faces Funding Challenges

As the social-services group opens a new center in Shaw, funding challenges loom for its dental clinic and roof garden

Image by John Cole, courtesy of Bread for the City.

On Friday, Bread for the City—a nonprofit that provides food and clothing and medical, social, and legal services to low-income Washingtonians—will officially open the doors to its glass-fronted 11,000-square-foot expansion in DC’s Shaw neighborhood. But just as the 36-year-old organization celebrates a major milestone, the economic crisis that’s increasing need for Bread for the City’s programs is posing new challenges for the organization.

The new space is more than a decade in the making. Bread for the City bought the land adjacent to its medical-and-legal clinic in the late 1990s. In 2004, the group started thinking about how to use the property and broke ground on the $8.25 million site in 2009. Architect Kendall Dorman says the space is part of the neighborhood’s architectural revitalization, and its glassy front is similar to that of the Watha T. Daniel Shaw Library.

Dr. Randi Abramson, Bread for the City’s medical-clinic director, says that the improved space, decorated in the group’s signature green color and equipped with an expanded waiting room, “shows a real respect for clients.” The clinic’s old waiting room was a hallway that afforded clients little privacy and personal space. The new clinic, funded in part by funds from a tobacco-lawsuit settlement, has 13 exam rooms (up from six), a health-resources center, and office space.

Nutrition consultant Sharon Gruber says she’s excited about both large structural changes and happy accidents in the design. The new rooftop garden, which has 40 seed beds, gives clients “an opportunity to get their hands dirty at a time when we’re talking about eating healthier,” and a long counter in the kitchen allows more clients to participate in cooking classes.

The impact isn’t just practical, says Bread for the City executive director George Jones. The new space provides a psychological boost for poor clients used to bleak institutional settings.

“It makes me so proud that we’ve created this idyllic space,” he says.

But how fast Bread for the City can expand its services to fill the new space depends on more than just the architecture. Lawmakers’ failure to pass an omnibus spending bill before the end of the 111th Congress in December stalled the passage of a $125,000 earmark meant to fund a dental clinic. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s fiscal 2011 budget proposal cut the city’s legal-aid-services funding—some of which supports Bread for the City’s legal clinic—by 10 percent. The grant Bread for the City planned to pursue to fund the rooftop garden became unavailable, but the organization is working to raise funds. And DC is reducing Medicaid from an average of $65 per visit to $52, meaning that Bread for the City’s expanded clinic will get smaller fees for services that cost the group an average of $136.71.

This isn’t the first time in the recession that Bread for the City has faced financial setbacks. A $500,000 surplus kept the organization afloat during the worst of the downturn, though staff had to take furloughs and pay cuts. They’ve since returned to full hours, and some of the cuts have been made up in the form of bonuses. While the latest round of programmatic cuts are substantial, Bread for the City is forging on, raising funds for the projects that are hardest hit, and acknowledging that some projects, like the dental clinic, will simply take longer than others.

“I know I’ve heard my board express some frustration that just as we achieve the physical expansion, the funding is cut,” Jones says. “With the DC government in such reactionary dire straits, our message now is that we want to forge ahead.”

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