In response to rising demand and space needs, the Island Food Pantry will relocate from its longtime home at the United Methodist stone church in Vineyard Haven to the Portuguese American Club in Oak Bluffs, signing a two-year lease in the hopes of increasing food accessibility across the Island.

The move to Oak Bluffs, which will become effective Feb. 22, was announced in a press release that went out Monday morning and follows a merger between the food pantry and Island Grown Initiative in the summer of 2020.

“The centrally located PA Club, within walking distance from a VTA bus stop, will enhance the Pantry’s ability to meet its mission of providing a reliable source of wholesome food more effectively to Islanders in need,” the release states.

Speaking to the Gazette by phone Monday, IGI executive director Rebecca Haag said plans for the relocation began late last year, as demand rose for services from the food pantry and a new space became necessary.

The two-year lease is between the food pantry and the nonprofit Holy Ghost Association, which owns the PA Club, with an option to extend for a third year. The food pantry will operate out of the front building three days a week, according to the release.

Ms. Haag said the space became available when normal programming that operates in the building — ranging from community gatherings to a cribbage club — were cancelled because of the pandemic.

“They hadn’t been able to do any events because of Covid, so we reached out to them and said, if you’re not using the space right now, how about renting out the front building to us?” Ms. Haag said. “They were really receptive to that.”

Ms. Haag added that the timing worked well.

“We knew this winter would be difficult for a lot of families,” she said. “It was a win-win between two local community organizations who want to do good for the community.”

Started as little more than a cupboard for parishioners in need, the food pantry has operated out of the stone church in Vineyard Haven since its founding by minister Helen Oliver in 1981. The pantry grew tremendously over the next quarter century, eventually expanding in partnership with the Greater Boston Food Bank. It now serves a diverse array of thousands of Islanders every year.

But after the merger with IGI last year and the pandemic still in full force, a number of factors — including accessibility, space layout and parking — prompted the need for a different location. Unlike the PA club, the stone church is not wheelchair accessible, has narrow hallways and lacks storage capacity.

“Over the course of last year we’ve seen almost a tripling of the demand,” Ms. Haag said. “We were just outgrowing the stone church.”

The relocation will allow the pantry to double the amount of fresh and frozen food that can be stored and provides a more streamlined and accessible layout for customers, Ms. Haag said. She added that upgrades are planned, including shelving and a walk-in refrigerator. The pantry has also received a grant for an outdoor freezer.

“We’ll have plenty more storage space, and that was becoming a barrier,” Ms. Haag said “We were running out of storage space, and this is really expanding it.”

Plans are also in the works to allow customers to make their own food selections in the building — a practice that stopped because of the pandemic.

The PA Club is located on Vineyard avenue in Oak Bluffs. The pantry’s hours of operation will remain the same: Monday 2-4 p.m., Wednesday 2-6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

“That’s going to be our new location for awhile,” Ms. Haag said. “Everyone is welcome.”