GraceWorks outgrows home, plans to buy land and build

Ministry seeks to raise $1 million by Labor Day to buy 4.4 acres off Columbia Avenue

By Vicky Travis
| The Tennessean

For about five years, GraceWorks Ministries leaders have known the ministry would outgrow its home.

GraceWorks met the needs of about 15,000 Williamson county residents through 15 programs last year. Expectations are the same for this year through programs including the food pantry, housing and utility assistance, medication assistance, senior medical transport, fuel bags for children, its thrift store, Christmas and back-to-school programs.

GraceWorks’ food assistance program has grown 275 percent in five years.

As needs have grown in the area, so have the space and efficiency needs of the ministry grown, Executive Director Tina Edwards said.

GraceWorks is working to raise $1 million before Labor Day to buy 4.4 acres at the end of Southeast Parkway off of Columbia Avenue in Franklin. And, in two years, leaders want to raise another $3.5 million to build a 40,000 square foot facility. The ministry has a letter of intent on the land.

Edwards and the board of directors considered renting another space at several locations around Franklin before they decided to buy land and build. Right now, it spends $150,000 each year on rent.

Edwards’ dream is to raise enough to build a debt-free, permanent GraceWorks home on or before its 20th anniversary in 2015.

A warehouse/office

For the past 10-12 years, GraceWorks has been renting 25,000 square feet in part of a building at 104 Southeast Parkway.

“On paper, it sounds like ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ but when you see it, then you understand,” Edwards said. “We’re on top of each other.

“Ultimately, it’s not about the space, but about what the space allows us to do for people. The needs are great, and we’re not meeting them all.”

The ministry’s food pantry is the largest in the county. One of its quickly growing programs is Fuel Bags — nutritious snacks that go home each Friday with students on free and reduced-price lunch plans at 14 schools. The program has grown 160 percent since it started two years ago.

“We hope to add more schools this fall,” said Kathi McClure, administrative assistant.

That means space is necessary for a month’s supply of about 3,000 cereal bars, 3,000 juice boxes, and the same amounts of other food. To double that program, staffers would find space for 6,000 of each item.

Part of the warehouse now is used for 1,500 backpacks and school supplies for its annual giveaway on July 27.

“When you think through the numbers it becomes mind boggling,” she said.

“We need a bigger food pantry with refrigeration space,” Edwards said. “Even if someone donated 10 refrigerators right now, we don’t have the electrical capacity to handle that.”

“We get calls to give stuff, but we can’t take it because don’t have the cooler space. Someone might call with 50 cases of yogurt, or meats and dairy. We can’t take it.”

About a third to half of the current space does not have heat or air-conditioning. Its thrift store, which brings in more than 40 percent of GraceWorks revenue, is divided up into sections, some of which is in the non air-conditioned warehouse. Lack of parking and private space to meet with clients are other issues.

“We have two different needs,” Edwards said of the new building. “Visibility for the thrift store and awareness, but to be sensitive to confidentiality needs of clients.”

An architect’s rendering of the new building would have the thrift store up front and another entrance for clients. Signage on the back of the building would be visible from Mack Hatcher Parkway.

The resources

Despite having 60-70 churches as partners, fundraising is not easy. Many of the churches give supplies, food, money and thousands of hours of volunteer work.

Annual fundraising events include the Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving morning, which raised $38,000 last year. Its annual dinner raised $25,000 and Golf Fore GraceWorks, which raised $34,600 last year.

Those funds go toward its $3 million operations budget. This new $4.5 million capital campaign is separate.

“GraceWorks has spent time on community needs and not our own needs,” Edwards said. “We have a large donor base, but not a lot of big donors.”

“It’s all about people believing in your mission,” she said. To that end, Edwards and some board members are doing more speaking engagements.

“We want to move into helping clients succeed in future with a center for success. Now, counselors help with basic budgeting. “But, so much more could be done,” she said.

Additional Facts

Big Backpack Giveaway

A drive is on to fill 1,500 backpacks before GraceWorks Big Backpack giveaway event 4-6 p.m. July 27 at Liberty Elementary School. Supplies that tend to run short are red pens;
2-inch, 3-ring binders; scissors; composition notebooks; looseleaf paper; Crayola markers; Crayola colored pencils; dry-erase markers and index cards, said Kathi McClure, administrative assistant.
To make a donation, go to GraceWorks at 104 Southeast Parkway in Franklin from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday through July 23. To volunteer at the event, contact Kristi Sylvester at