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Open Pantry partners with SMOC to survive

Date: 5/11/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD Kevin Noonan, executive director of Open Pantry Community Services, announced on Thursday that an alliance between that organization with the South Middlesex Opportunity Council Inc. (SMOC) will provide much needed help for the agency to survive during these difficult economic times.

Open Pantry, which operates a number of social programs including a food pantry, has faced dramatic cuts in government funding and budgets in the last several years, Noonan explained to Reminder Publications.

SMOC is a community action agency based in Framingham that already has a number of programs operating in Western Massachusetts, Noonan explained.

"SMOC is a mission-driven anti-poverty organization with a long history of providing quality services to people in need. This affiliation is a way for us to preserve our mission and to continue providing life sustaining services to people who are poor or homeless in Greater Springfield," he said.

The affiliation came out of the 15-year relationship Noonan has had with SMOC Executive Director James Cuddy.

The new agreement will make Open Pantry employees SMOC employees. Noonan emphasized, though, that Open Pantry will remain a standalone agency with Noonan continuing as executive director and the non-profit agency's board still acting in an advisory capacity.

Contributions made to the Open Pantry will remain with the local program rather than benefit SMOC, he added.

Noonan said the arrangement might not be a permanent one as the time with SMOC will give his organization time "to hopefully regroup and expand."

"If [the alliance] doesn't work out, we'll undo it," he added.

Noonan said Gov. Deval Patrick cut state funding of the agency and that to survive employees lent money to the organization. While those loans have been paid back, Noonan said the organization has a deficit of $280,000 and no bank will loan them any money.

"We can't go through another year like [2009]," he said.

Noonan said with the current financial conditions the demand for the Open Pantry services has increased.