The Buggy Bunch, a faith-based nonprofit organization that provides assistance to children and families in Indian River County, has moved its operations into a new location – the renovated former Vero Furniture Mart building at 1450 21st Street in downtown Vero Beach.
“For the first time since we started in 2009, we are under one roof for programming, offices, and all things Buggy Bunch,” said the agency’s executive Director, Tara Wright. “It’s fantastic!”
The 10,000-square-foot-plus two-story building has undergone a major transformation since the organization first purchased the building for $530,000 in 2016. Next, they launched a capital campaign to gut and renovate the entire inside of the building – new plumbing, electrical wiring, and everything else from floor to ceiling, Wright said.
“It’s been very important to our organization to remain debt-free through this process,” Wright said. “It’s been great to revitalize part of the history of downtown Vero Beach and at the same time, I feel like we’re in a brand new space.”
Just over 6,000 square-feet of the ground floor has been renovated, with the possibility to one day renovate the 4,000 square-foot mezzanine area, Wright said. “We have more than ample space for our programs, with an opportunity to grow further, should we need to,” she said.
In addition to the reception area and donor wall, there are office spaces throughout the building, plus an innovative Learning Loft – a 1,000-square-foot indoor playground designed by local couple Nick and Melissa Carter with a tree house, a swing bridge, a slide, a farmers market, and a Lego wall.
“In Florida it can get really hot, so we wanted to bring the outside in and give moms and children a place to come in out of the heat, but still feel like they’re outdoors,” Wright said. “The more fun we can make it for the kids, the better we can serve the moms.”
There are “open play” periods where moms can bring their kids to come in and play while the moms socialize with each other, and scheduled story hours, educational play groups, and the area is the childcare center when parents are attending Bible studies, parenting events, financial management classes, and marriage seminars.
Often, the entryway into the Buggy Bunch’s services is through their Diaper Closet, where mothers who are at or below the poverty level can get diapers and other baby supplies, while also receiving counseling and getting connected to services and other local resources that partner with the Buggy Bunch, Wright said.
A core part-time staff of five people run the center, which is almost 100% funded by private donations. They did receive CARES Act dollars during the COVID-19 pandemic as an essential services provider of diapers, wipes and baby formula, Wright said. The demand for these items tripled during 2020, she said. But nearly all the costs of maintenance and operations come from private donations, she said.
A video tour of the building is available online here. Hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, with some programming scheduled in the evenings. For more information, visit www.thebuggybunch.com or call 772-226-0066.