Hunt County Shared Ministries — also known as FISH — soon will have a home of its own near downtown Greenville.

Bill Hunt, executive director, said the community-based organization is “on the edge” of closing its purchase of “about five lots” on King Street behind the main Post Office.

“We know the property is ours,” said Katie Slemmons, board member and volunteer. “It’s just a matter of finalizing the sale.”

A new building will be constructed, allowing the agency, which offers basic emergency services to needy Hunt County families, to move from its present location at 3724 O’Neal St.

“FISH is in its 26th year,” Hunt said, “and we’ve been in this building for 16 years.”

FISH shares the building with the local Committee on Aging, which, Slemmons said, will also be moving out.

“We are very grateful to the Committee for allowing us to piggyback with them,” Hunt said, “but the building is getting in bad shape for all of us.”

He said preliminary plans call for the new building to contain between 3,000 and 4,000 square feet.

“It will have heating and air conditioning,” said Dee Ann Kirby, volunteer and building committee chair. She was only half joking, as the only method of keeping board members cool Thursday afternoon was an electric fan.

The ministry operates a handful of offices, including a food pantry, on the west end of the former hospital. FISH has about 70 volunteers, many of whom work in the pantry.

“We’ve been working on this project for about two and a half years,” Hunt said. “A contingent of former board presidents looked at whether we should move into an existing structure or build something new.”

“We did a price comparison,” Kirby said, “and it was so close that it only made sense to build our own building.”

The building committee reviewed four pieces of property for more than a year.

“The (King Street) property is centrally located and close to the bulk of the people we serve,” Hunt said. “About 60 percent of our clients come from Greenville, though we serve the entire county. We consider it the best location for us.”

FISH was initially negotiating a lease agreement with the city, “but the city chose to try and sell the property instead,” said Ceil Armstrong, volunteer and board president. The city recently opened the property to bidders. FISH offered the winning bid.

“It is our desire to pay for this ourselves,” said Slemmons. “We don’t want a note. That way, our resources can go more directly to services, not overhead.”

The ministry, which cites the Arrowhead Club, Greenville Christian School, St. Paul School, Jazzercize Groups, Commerce High School, Daybreak Rotary, and other schools and groups as donors, will start raising funds for the new building “ASAP,” Hunt said.

FISH will soon start “formulating fund-raising directions, finalizing building plans and giving the necessary attention to ... this first-time experience,” Hunt said.

“We’ll also look for grants to help pay for it,” Armstrong said.

“We’d like to have in-kind contributions and community involvement,” Hunt said. “We’re looking for donations of carpentry and landscaping. We want to be frugal, keeping in mind maintenance and operations. We want an energy-efficient building, so that most of our money can be used for our clients.”

Of the ministry’s role in the community, Hunt said, “we see the whole gamut of the human situation. There are people who have been on some form of assistance their entire lives. And there are middle-class people who have fallen on hard times.”

So far in 2006, FISH “has seen 500 families, which is a record for us,” Hunt said. “And we’ve expended some $60,000 in services so far this year. That includes tons of food.”

FISH offers assistance in such areas as utilities, rent, clothing, prescriptions and limited medical expenses. “We do a lot of things that no one else in the county does,” said Kirby.

Donations of pantry items through the “Starter Bag Program” are available through local grocers, said board member Jim Kirby.

A member of the North Texas Food Bank, the ministry replenishes its supply through seasonal and special offerings via “all kinds of food drives held by the schools, the Post Office, the Boy Scouts,” said Dee Ann Kirby.

The offices of FISH are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon (excluding holidays). The phone number is 903-455-0545. Potential clients need to have picture I.D. and Social Security card; proof of past month’s income or benefits; receipts from past month’s paid bills; proof of current job search, training or education; detailed termination bill or eviction notice, and proof of ability to pay any remaining balance on bills. The ministry describes itself as an effort to meet “short-term emergency needs” of Hunt County families.

FISH sets limits on previously assisted families, those “showing little evidence of growing self-help,” and under other circumstances.

Volunteers are needed as office assistants; Clothes Closet workers; shoppers for the Starter Bag Program; drivers for food bank orders or for clients with local or Dallas medical appointments, and to donate professional skills or personal talents.

According to information provided by Hunt, FISH saw “slight decreases in food and corporate gifts” in 2005, though support rose 22 percent over 2004. Donations from churches, individuals and groups rose, as did memorials and miscellaneous gifts.

During a large part of 2005, Hunt said, “we were decreased on food and medical levels, meaning we saw fewer families while providing more assists to families we did see. Our income levels in fourth quarter 2005 were the highest of any previous quarter ... timely, in that there are few other agencies to cover rising needs.”

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