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Hansen new manager of Our Community Food Pantry

Date: 3/9/2011

March 9, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

SOUTHWICK — In the last month, Our Community Food Pantry has achieved two milestones: it has become a non-profit organization and it's hired a manager.

Burt Hansen, a 30-year town resident, took the helm of the pantry, formerly part of the Southwick Family Coalition, on Feb. 23. The organization, located at 220 College Highway, next to the Southwick Methodist Church, received notification of its non-profit status on Jan, 23.

"I'm really excited about the opportunity to do good work," said Hansen, who was with Aetna Inc. in Hartford, Conn., for 27 years before being downsized last year. "I think it's a great opportunity, particularly at this stage in my life ... this is the kind of work I really want to be doing."

He cited experience working with the Open Pantry in Springfield, as well as a six-year stint on the Board of Directors of the Southwick Public Library and other volunteer work in town as preparation for his new role with the pantry.

"As a board we are thrilled to be working with Burt," Our Community Food Pantry Board Chair Julie Cecchini, said. "We think the sky's the limit of what we can do together."

Hansen said the pantry serves about 50 clients a month during operating hours — Mondays from 3 to 7 p.m. and Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. — most of them from Southwick.

"But we do have some clients from Granville and Tolland," he added.

Several of those clients are also part of the staff of 15 pantry volunteers and six pick-up drivers who have helped to keep the food pantry running since Our Community Food Pantry took over operation from the coalition in November, 2010.

Cecchini was quick to single out two town volunteers in particular — Kim Moses and Kim Monzka — for their work to keep the pantry running until the organization was able to hire Hansen as manager.

Cecchini said the pantry's board of directors was formed last September when it became clear that, because of state budget cuts, the coalition would not be able to sustain all of its services. Board member Risa Gerrish began work on the organization's non-profit status when the group assumed operation of the pantry.

According to Cecchini, the Southwick Family Coalition, now staffed by only one person, will continue coordinating some programs with Head Start of Westfield until the end of March.

Monies to fund the manager position at the new pantry came from the Southwick Family Coalition, though Cecchini said it was "a fraction of what we expected it to be."

"It's enough to get started and by hook or by crook, the Southwick food pantry is not going to close," Cecchini said. "

She thanked town residents for their generous donations — many of which come through a collection box at the Big Y supermarket across the street from the pantry and from members of the various churches in town — which have helped keep the pantry's shelves filled so far.

"Without that we'd have a huge food expense," she said.

Cecchini said the organization has fund-raising ideas for the pantry in the planning stages at this point, and hopes to host its first event in the spring.

The Southwick Methodist Church next door, she said, has been very generous to allow the pantry to use a house on their property, and to supply heat and electricity for the organization, but there are other expenses that need to be met.

"It's the administrative costs we need to worry about," she said.

For now, though, the pantry will gladly accept both non-perishable food to fill the shelves and monetary donations to ensure the telephone bill, Internet connection and new manager are all paid.

Food donations can be dropped off at the pantry during operating hours, or at boxes at the post office or the Big Y.

For information about making a monetary donation, please call the pantry at 569-9876.

For more information about Our Community Food Pantry, individuals may also visit the pantry's new Web site at www.community-food-pantry.org.



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