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Dream Center Bismarck breaks ground on $3.1 million facility to serve the needy

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Jim and Cindy Barnhardt pose next to an artist rendering of the Dream Center after a groundbreaking ceremony in southeast Bismarck on Wednesday. The $3.1 million, 24,000-square-foot multipurpose building will offer free community resources and services to low-income people and families.

A nonprofit on Wednesday broke ground in Bismarck for what will be a one-stop shop for food aid and other services including ministry.

The two-story, 24,000-square-foot Dream Center Bismarck facility on a 1.75-acre lot at 1805 Park Avenue is to house The Banquet nondenominational meal ministry, its Adopt-A-Block food distribution truck, a food pantry, a chapel, a multipurpose room and offices for partner agencies such as health care providers. All services will be free to anyone who comes.

Future plans include a study hall for people working toward a GED diploma, a program to enable parents and children to start their day together with breakfast, health screenings and financial classes.

“We are trying to put together an organization to funnel as much money as possible back into the community in the way of help to the low-income people,” Dream Center Bismarck founder Jim Barnhardt told the crowd of about 100 people who turned out for the groundbreaking. “Especially seniors and families with young children. We'd like to save as much as we could and use as much volunteer labor as we can.”

The project is estimated to cost about $3.1 million. It will be funded through upcoming capital campaigns as well as through individual and corporate donations. The Dream Center Bismarck nonprofit will own the facility, with The Banquet leasing space for a minimal amount.

Barnhardt, longtime owner of J&R Vacuum and Sewing with his wife, Cindy, said he grew up in a low-income household with three siblings, "and that really got me going as far as having a heart for low-income people in our community.”

Then he got a bigger boost.

“First of all I’d like to thank God,” Barnhardt told the crowd. “Without the vision that he gave me on May 29, 2016, none of this would even had gotten started. I just don’t think that big.”

Cindy Barnhardt said in an interview that her husband "just woke up one day and he said, 'I just suddenly had my head filled with an idea.' The dream was to have a seven-day-a-week free meal, with free services for people who needed them."

Jim Barnhardt later took over as board chairman for The Banquet, which was founded in 2005 in partnership with Trinity Lutheran Church. Meals were increased to four days a week.

"The church ... wanted to see it grow but they really didn't have a way to have a seven-day-a-week meal there," Cindy Barnhardt said.

She and her husband a few years ago took part in a trip to Los Angeles, where they helped the original Dream Center with food distribution in impoverished areas of the city. When they returned to Bismarck, Jim launched the Adopt-A-Block program, which brings truckloads of food to neighborhoods six days a week.

Bismarck Mandan Chamber EDC President Brian Ritter during the ceremony thanked the Barnhardts for their efforts.

“What they are doing to help those who have been disenfranchised, to those who are less fortunate than maybe me and you in this community, truly is incredible,” he said.

Officials hope to have all of the services based under the one roof by late this year, according to Cindy Barnhardt. She and her husband are funding the building, The Banquet will conduct a capital campaign to fund the kitchen, and Dream Center Bismarck will conduct another campaign to fill out the rest of the building's interior.

"Jim and Cindy have done a tremendous job building relationships," The Banquet board member Lisa Chaffee said. "This is really, truly a partnership endeavor. This is truly a gift to our community. The Dream Center will be here for years to come.”

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