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The front doors of the new, permanent home of FAITH Food Pantry welcomed clients for the first time on Tuesday, March 27.
—Bee Photos, Hicks
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UPDATE (Monday, April 9, 2018): This post has been updated to reflect the correct group of Town employees who helped relocate FAITH Food Pantry on March 26.
Moving day went much smoother than planned for FAITH Food Pantry (FFP).
It went much faster than anticipated, as well.
The volunteer members of the nonecumenical food pantry — whose initials stand for Food Assistance, Immediate Temporary Help — had expected it would take up to five days to fully move from the pantry’s location on Pecks Lane into the new facility on the St Rose of Lima church campus at 46 Church Hill Road.
Instead, it was less than one work day to complete the move.
Terry Ferris was the first to reach out to The Newtown Bee on Monday morning.
“We’re almost done,” she said, March 26. “It’s incredible. You have to come see this.”
FFP’s new, permanent location is on the eastern side of the Roman Catholic Church’s campus at 46 Church Hill Road. Two years after learning that they would be looking for a new home, volunteers realized Monday morning that they would be able to welcome clients beginning Tuesday, March 27.
FFP President Lee Paulsen began Monday coordinating the efforts on Pecks Lane. FFP Vice President Jill LeBlanc was over at the Church Hill Road building, helping volunteers move items into the new space.
“In four hours, everything was moved from our old location, over here,” Ms LeBlanc said, looking between the two main rooms of the pantry’s new home. “It’s just incredible.”
Employees from the town’s Parks & Recreation Department showed up to help on Monday morning, she said, which moved everything along very quickly.
“They helped us move from St John’s into the Pecks Lane location,” Ms LeBlanc mentioned. “They were a tremendous help then, too. They moved the refrigerators, the freezers, everything.”
By late Monday morning, Ms Ferris, Bill Jensen, Bill Landgrebe, and Jim Shpunt were placing cans and boxes into their new locations.
Peter Cloudas, a professional engineer who has volunteered his time and contacts to help FFP in its journey, was also helping with the move. A tall man, he was easily placing bins filled with cereal and other food supplies on top shelves for storage.
The new location is south of the St Rose rectory, and southeast of the sanctuary. Clients will be invited to enter the fully handicapped accessible building through its main entrance, on the western side of the building. Those dropping off donations will be asked to use the north, or side, entrance. Signs will help people find the appropriate entrance.
The pantry, according to Ms LeBlanc and Ms Paulsen, is planning a pair of open house events. The first will be for the parishioners of St Rose Church, and then the second will be for the public.
‘Such Good People’
Established in 1983, FAITH spent the first 15-plus years of its existence operating out of the basement of St John’s Episcopal Church in Sandy Hook. The pantry is a nonprofit volunteer-based organization that provides one week of groceries, as well as health and beauty, cleaning supplies and, when available, pet supplies, to Newtown residents.
When the Diocese of Connecticut decided to close that historic church in 2016, however, it meant FAITH — among others who used the church building for their programs and meetings — needed to find a new home, preferably one with low or no rent.
St Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church had indicated by July 2016 that it would donate land to the pantry for its permanent home to be built, but a long-term temporary location was still needed.
“The couple of places that we were able to consider each wanted to charge rent that we couldn’t afford or they wanted a long-term lease situation,” Ms Paulsen told The Newtown Bee that summer. “It would have turned into a situation where the money we used to buy food would be spent on rent.”
While the pantry does rely heavily on donations of food and finances for its inventory, it supplements those donations with bulk purchases and occasional trips to the Connecticut Food Bank.
By late summer 2016, Tier One, a precision machining and manufacturing business located at 31 Pecks Lane, was able to help. The women laughed, recalling the experience of looking for their long-term temporary home in 2016.
After being “underwhelmed,” they said, at their first options, the women visited 31 Pecks Lane.
“You know how you go house shopping, and you’re supposed to play it cool?” Ms LeBlanc said. Seated next to her, Ms Paulsen started giggling.
“We walked into Tier One and both went ‘Oh my God!’ I was like ‘Lee, you’ve gotta keep it cool,’ but it was too late,” she continued, also laughing.
The pantry operated out of the freestanding building at 31 Pecks Lane for 18 months. It opened the Pecks Lane doors for clients on August 30, 2016, and hosted its final session on March 22, 2018.
“We just can’t say ‘Thank you’ enough to the people at Tier One,” Ms LeBlanc said.
“And Ken Knapp,” said Ms Paulsen of the longtime Tier One employee who reportedly took the idea of hosting FFP to his employer. In addition to hosting the food pantry, the company’s employees regularly did special collections and food drives, according to the women.
“We’re really going to miss them,” said Ms Paulsen. “They’re such good people.”
The New Location
The Borough Zoning Commission in March 2017 unanimously approved construction of the 2,100-square-foot, single-story building on St Rose property. The town’s Planning & Zoning Commission had endorsed the project the previous month.
“Everyone wanted this to happen,” Ms Paulsen said, “but we still had to go through the proper channels.”
Ground for the new building was formally broken on October 26, 2017, a few weeks after crews for Merritt Construction Company, LLC, began work at the site. At the time, Ben Gershal, a principal with Merritt, reportedly told Ms Paulsen that the building would be completed by the end of April. Greg Pierson served as the project manager.
The current space is just about the same square footage that the Pecks Lane location was, which means the refrigerators, freezers, tables, and shelving units that were already in use all fit right into the new location.
“We’re using what we already have,” Ms LeBlanc pointed out. If new equipment is needed, she said, that will be decided upon down the road. “We don’t want to do any shopping for at least a few weeks,” she said.
Ms Paulsen said the plan is for everyone to use the new space, and figure out what works where, before creating any expenditures.
In addition to Ms LeBlanc and Ms Paulsen, FFP is run by a board of directors — also volunteers — that includes treasurer Barbara Krell, secretary Joan Brand, and member at large Bill Colbert.
“People have come out of the woodwork to help us,” Ms LeBlanc added. “It’s a very humbling experience, all the people who keep helping us, all the time.”
A Lot To Learn
With the closing of St John’s Church, FAITH suddenly found itself not only without a home base, but also without the nonprofit umbrella that had protected it since its inception.
“We really had relied on St John’s for everything,” Ms LeBlanc said. FFP needed to become its own nonprofit entity.
“Everything previously had been under St John’s,” said Ms Paulsen. “We were just a group of volunteers.”
Fortunately, local attorney Anne Ragusa was able to help the pantry set up the legal protections it needed.
Even the building process was educational. Having operated out of a church basement, and then from an existing building, FFP volunteers were able to decide what they liked and needed — and what they did not want to contend with any longer — when it was time to begin designing their new building.
“St John’s always accommodated us, but we also had to work with what was available to us,” Ms Paulsen said. “Our store room at the church was in their furnace room.”
One of their favorite features of the new building is the two distinct rooms mentioned earlier. The building’s main entrance takes visitors through a small foyer and into a hallway that divides the two rooms. It’s very similar to the setup FFP had on Pecks Lane.
“That design is a direct result of the setup at Tier One,” Ms Paulsen said. “If we hadn’t gotten to Tier One, we wouldn’t have known what we wanted.”
Also thrilling the volunteers are the high windows.
“It sounds crazy, but we’re so happy with those windows,” Ms Paulsen said. “We haven’t had windows in either location.”
The high placement of the windows, just below the ceiling, means natural light comes in over the shelves holding the pantry’s inventory. Volunteers are also going to be able to enjoy fresh air when weather permits, which can also be moved around thanks to ceiling fans. The walls have been painted a gentle blue-gray.
“It’s so bright and sunny,” said Mrs Paulsen. “It’s beautiful.”
The women could not say enough about those who helped bring the building to life, including architect John S. Madzula.
“John designed everything we asked for,” said Ms LeBlanc. “He gave us exactly what we were looking for.”
Seven contractors bid for the construction job. Peter Cloudas, according to Ms LeBlanc and Ms Paulsen, helped the FFP team determine which contractor they should go with.
“We didn’t know anything about construction,,” said Ms LeBlanc. “All we could do was look at the prices, and we didn’t understand how the prices could be so different. Naturally, you want to say ‘Let’s go with the lowest contract,’ but when you pick apart their bids, that’s where you start to see things. Peter helped us understand that.
“Lee and I keep reminding ourselves: we came from a basement and now we have this beautiful, permanent home,” she said. “To have this liberty is just amazing.”
FAITH Food Pantry is open Tuesday mornings from 9:30 until 11:30 am — 30 minutes earlier than in the past — and Thursday evenings from 6 to 7:30 pm. For additional information contact FFP President Lee Paulsen at 203-426-5604 or visit facebook.com/faithfoodpantrynewtown.
FAITH Food Pantry volunteer Terry Ferris and Engineer Peter Cloudas check a floor plan on March 26 created by Mr Cloudas that laid out where supplies would be placed in the new building built on the grounds of St Rose of Lima Church for the nonecumenical pantry.
Shelves were not empty for too long on Monday, with volunteers including Bruce Landgrebe quickly putting donations into place. Mr Landgrebe was transporting jars of pasta sauce when this photo was taken.