"We have been looking for a new place for a long time and this looks like the place we have been looking for," Mears said of the multi-unit building near Mirror Lake. The structure was used as a resort apartment building when the area was a tourist destination in the early part of the century.
Mears said the new site would be perfect as both a homeless shelter and food operation because it is located within the center of the Browns Mills section of the township in a heavily populated area.
"Many people would be able to walk to it," Mears said. "We would probably have to provide a shuttle to people from areas like Sunbury Village who can't get there any other way."
The site includes three apartments that could be used to house the homeless and living quarters for a resident manager. The first floor of the building would be used for the center's food distribution program, which is open on Thursday and Saturday mornings.
Charles Marlin, who owns the building, could not be reached for comment. Mears would not indicate how much the center would pay to rent the building. The group may enter a two-year lease-purchase agreement with Marlin that would
allow it to eventually buy the building, Mears said.
"It would be wonderful to have a permanent location for the center," Mears said. "We would be able to do so much to help people with all the extra space. We will be able to expand our program to help more people."
Mears said the group wanted to expand its services to include an emergency shelter for homeless families. The shelter would be open to people who needed short-term, transitional accommodations.
"It would be a place for them to go when they had no other," Mears said. ''It would provide short-term housing until they found another place to live."
Currently, the center operates its food distribution program in a small, former farm stand that has no plumbing and is heated by a wood stove and a fireplace.
With about 30 volunteers, the center distributes commodities and provides spiritual guidance. The caring center originated about seven years ago when a group from the Messiah Lutheran Brethren Church in the Presidential Lakes section of the township hosted a government cheese distribution day and noticed a need for more community help.
A core group set about collecting clothing and setting up food programs. Much of the money to operate the programs comes from donations. Other support is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's surplus commodities program and the Salvation Army.
The center serves about 150 families, or 600 individuals each month. More than 800 families, or 4,000 individuals, have been helped since the center opened in April 1983.
Marlin met with the Pemberton Township Zoning Board last month to determine whether the center would need a variance to operate its mission from the Clubhouse Road location. Because the apartment building is within a single- family residential zone, the board said a variance would be needed.
The group previously looked into moving the center to an old train station on Hanover Street in Pemberton Borough. The group would have had to raise more than $200,000 to renovate the municipally owned structure.
"We found that cost-prohibitive," Mears said.