Above: New Sun Rising Staff outside the Millvale Food + Energy Hub during the Vibrancy Awards for Opportunity on December 9, 2023.
Walk into the first floor of the Millvale Food + Energy Hub today and you may notice some initial changes.
Fresh coats of white and sage green paint cover the walls, and the gray and maroon floor tiles have been painted and sealed to match the light gray ceiling above. Entering the main hall, there is a new bar service area to the left of the entrance. New lighting lends a warmer, cozier vibe.
If you’ve visited the Hub before, you’ll notice that the kitchen area, seating, and other features are largely the same. It feels familiar. If you’re new to the space, it may be a stunning realization to learn that a fire occurred there last winter.
“Once we got over the initial shock it became apparent that the fire recovery represented an opportunity,” said Scott Wolovich, executive director of New Sun Rising (NSR). “Our goal was not to simply come back as quickly and safely as possible. We wanted to understand how we could improve the physical space and operations in service to the Hub’s collective mission.”
The building, owned by Moose MODE Inc. a wholly owned subsidiary of NSR, is a mixed-use facility serving as a home base for multiple organizations with food and energy-related missions, including: NSR, 412 Food Rescue’s Good Food Project, and Sprezzatura.
On January 30, 2023, an electrical fire occurred in the battery system of the lower level of the Hub, displacing tenants for nearly a year. Fundraising efforts began immediately and through community support, over $43,000 was raised to help with expenses outside of insurance coverage. This past November in honor of the reopening, NSR donated $5,000 from the fundraiser to the Millvale Borough Fire Department and held an appreciation dinner for first responders in the new space that was catered by Sprezzatura.
A portion of the money was also awarded as a business recovery grant to Sprezzatura to help recover from the fire; what remains will be used for facility improvements that benefit 412 Food Rescue’s operations, and renovations including a shaded garden patio with stormwater capture on the side of the building next to Lyons Street.
“It’ll offer outdoor seating, and the pavilion itself will be solar panels that will generate energy for the building and be put back into the grid,” said Kayla Misera, community experience catalyst for the Hub. “There’s going to be a small garden, including a rain garden, around the patio and the water collected will go into a cistern.”
Wolovich said rainwater collected onsite will feed into a stormwater management system to slow its release into the flood prone Girty’s Run and be available for onsite use. If you didn’t already have an inkling from the name of the building, food and energy are the main pillars for the Hub, built on a foundation of equity, helping to achieve community goals in the Millvale Ecodistrict Plan.
Sharing the kitchen space with Sprezzatura, 412 Food Rescue’s Good Food Project & Grocery Bagging Program takes surplus food that would otherwise end up in a landfill and transforms it into healthy, frozen meals to increase food access. They also take donations of fresh, frozen, and nonperishable items from donors throughout the region, repack, and distribute grocery bags of food for neighbors experiencing food insecurity.
This year, Greg Austin, director of distribution initiatives at 412 Food Rescue, said they’re aiming to distribute “40,000 prepared meals this year at the Good Food Project Kitchen.”
A regular partnership exists between 412 Food Rescue, Sprezzatura, the Northern Area Boys & Girls Club, and Millvale Free Fridge to prepare and distribute food to individuals and families “who could use a delicious, nutritious meal,” according to Sprezzatura’s website.
Jen Saffron, owner and head chef at Sprezzatura, believes that “everyone deserves a dinner – and the gift of flavorful and healthful food can be especially comforting at a time of need.” Along with the restaurant and catering services, and the aforementioned partnership, Sprezzatura offers meal sponsorships as an add-on through their online ordering system. Donations go towards their Community Meals, which generously feeds two to four people in need of a hot meal.
“Physical spaces reflect our cultural identity. We need to be intentional not only about how they look, but how they function. Sustainable buildings are less harmful to the environment and can also serve as onramps to opportunity for community members,” Wolovich said.
One of the energy opportunities that aligns with community and regional priorities includes the Solar Installation Certification Program. In partnership with CCAC and the Triboro Ecodistrict, NSR will offer at least two training cohorts in 2024. This initiative provides financial stipends for 40 hours of education, hands-on experience with a solar training platform, and in the field installation opportunities. Community projects including solar sheds at the South Hilltop Men’s Group’s Beltzhoover Institute of Arts & Sciences Smart Lot and Millvale Playground, as well as the Millvale CDC’s Zero Energy renovation of 216 North Ave, are supported by NSR and will serve as field training sites.
While the lower level of the Hub nears completion, the first floor opened to the public on December 2 with a Jazz Night hosted by Sprezzatura. (They hold events on Friday and Saturday of every month like Dough 101: Focaccia, Hand Pies, and Pizzas.) On December 9, NSR celebrated the reopening by hosting the Vibrancy Awards for Opportunity and plans to present evening programs on Wednesday and Thursday.
The newly renovated 10,000 square foot former social hall is available for rent to individuals and organizations for a wide variety of occasions, like musical performances, family gathering, presentations, or business events. There are two meeting rooms and the main hall available for rent on the first floor, and The Purple Onion flex room located on the lower level. During the day people are welcome to use the Main Hall as a remote workspace or community meeting place.
“I think for the community, this is a gathering space,” Misera said. “The intention behind the work of the tenants of the building makes what’s happening here special and there’s just a general sense of welcome-ness. I see a lot of hugs happening here in the morning, and I feel like that extends into the community.”
If you’re interested in renting the Hub for your next event, view the venue rental guide.
New Sun Rising and Moose MODE extend our deepest appreciation to the planners, contractors, and service providers who got us back on our feet and made the renovation possible:
Hilltop Rising, ServPro, Demarco Waste, Gateway Engineers, Safety Guard, Allen & Shariff, EvolveEA, PennHab Electrical, Architectural Lighting Sales, EIS Solar, R.D. Eikey Plumbing, BOSS Consulting, Floure Co. Design, Hassan Mada Construction, Eric Thorniley, Air Duct Maintenance, JA Saeuer, Allegheny Refrigeration, Patrinos Painting, Strong Ambitious Women, Enscoe Long Insurance Group, Professional Code Services, and the Borough of Millvale.