BELLINGHAM, Wash. (December 16, 2019) — The Opportunity Council announced today it has signed a lease for a new kitchen facility to prepare meals and snacks for its early learning programs.

“We are very pleased to announce that because of generous donor support we have secured space in Bellingham’s Irongate neighborhood and are underway with modifications to create a safe, efficient central kitchen for our early learning programs,” said Greg Winter, Opportunity Council executive director.

The Opportunity Council provides snacks and meals for 500 preschool children in the Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program throughout Whatcom County.

Previously the agency had a long-term kitchen lease with the Firs organization to prepare these meals.  The agency discontinued that lease last summer due to decisions made by the Firs management to fire a staff person based on sexual orientation, an action that was are not compatible with the agency’s values as well as non-discrimination clauses in the federal and state contracts that fund Opportunity Council programs.

Since then the agency has been using temporary kitchen space in Lynden and Bellingham school districts. The agency plans to transition out of the temporary kitchens and into its new space by spring of 2020.

In addition to modifying the kitchen to meet health code and contract requirements, the agency will need to invest in equipment for meal preparation.  Designed improvements for the new location approved by the Whatcom County health department are estimated to be over $200,000.

“All the added expenses have been a real challenge for us, but we are grateful to have the support of our community,” said Winter.

Winter said the community contributed over $90,000, including GoFundMe donations, contributions made directly to the agency, and grants from Peace Health and the Glaser Foundation.  The agency is seeking an additional grant to help pay for the required renovations and will use some agency reserved funds if needed.  He said it will be an investment in the future.

“This kitchen will not only take care of our current needs, it will also position us for continued growth so more children can benefit from our comprehensive services and be ready for kindergarten,” Winter said.