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New non-profit to continue Family Support Coalition's efforts

Date: 1/18/2011

Jan. 19, 2011

By Katelyn Gendron

Assistant Editor

SOUTHWICK — The Greater Southwick Family Support Coalition may be closing its doors in March but town departments and a new non-profit entity have taken on various services to ensure the wellbeing of those who've come to rely on the coalition's generosity.

A 50 percent reduction in state funding this fiscal year forced the closure and prompted a six-member volunteer board to form Our Community Food Pantry to oversee the operation of the Coalition's food pantry, while the town's Parks and Recreation Department has agreed to facilitate its drop-in play group.

"We're totally independent now. We're still maintaining [pantry hours] three days a week. Hopefully with grants we'll be able to stay open," Carolyn Locke, board member, said.

The Coalition will remain open until March 31 with only one staff member keeping the books and preparing the office for closure, Debbie Oppermann, executive director of the Greater Southwick Family Support Coalition, explained to Reminder Publications on her last day, Jan. 14.

"We are the only human service organization in Southwick and we've always seen our community as Southwick, Granville and Tolland. And with us gone there is not an immediate presence here there is no longer the support and handholding that people have come to expect in the community," Oppermann said. "I think people underestimate how valuable that kind of support can me in a community."

Westfield Head Start will be at the food pantry one day each week to help coordinate the continuation of services, thanks to a $4,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, she noted.

When asked how she's advised patrons to obtain services such as fuel assistance or healthcare referrals in the absence of the Coalition, Oppermann replied, "We've tried to tell people to take a look at churches in their community or they may just have to start calling around. We hope that they'll find their way."

Maintaining the Coalition on a shoestring budget of $125,000 annually was difficult enough without the 50 percent reduction in state funding, she explained. "We do have other small grants from organizations such as United Way, Project Bread and others but the problem is just the costs of salaries and liability and workers' comp, which eats up a lot of money," Oppermann added.

Our Community Food Pantry's board of directors will be responsible for raising funds to keep the facility open and maintain staff.

Pantry hours are Monday from 3 to 7 p.m. and Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

To volunteer at Our Community Food Pantry, call Board member Mira Munson at 258-4590.

For additional information about the pantry, which is located at 220 College Highway, call 569-9876 or visit

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