New London’s municipal food pantry will stay open
St. Joe’s agrees to take over operations
By Scott Bellile
New London’s municipal food pantry will remain open after a nonprofit organization stepped forward to operate it.
The New London City Council on March 12 unanimously approved directing City Administrator Kent Hager and City Attorney Earl Luaders to transfer ownership of the Community Cupboard to St. Joseph Residence. The move is pending final approval by St. Joseph’s board of directors.
St. Joseph, the Christian skilled nursing home on 107 E. Beckert Road, also operates The Washington Center assisted living facility at 500 W. Washington St. where the Community Cupboard is based and will stay put.
Under the agreement, the city will donate the Community Cupboard’s refrigerators, freezers and shelves to St. Joseph, Hager said at a special New London Finance and Personnel Committee meeting held right before last week’s city council meeting.
St. Joseph will also take over the Community Cupboard’s trust account. City Finance Director Judy Radke said support for the food pantry comes from individual and corporate donations, and “none of that money is taxpayer dollars.”
Gidget Blank, executive director for St. Joseph, told the committee the funds will be held as a restricted asset managed by a food pantry subcommittee of the organization’s board of directors.
City officials originally discussed transferring the Community Cupboard to St. John’s Christian Food Pantry, saying at past city meetings the city government should not be competing with a food pantry.
But St. John’s declined the offer after further discussions because it wanted to remain downtown at 209 S. Pearl St., according to Hager.
St. Joseph then stepped forward.
“We couldn’t pick a better partner to do something like this with,” Hager said. “Once again, The Washington Center, St. Joe’s and us work together to continue to have a wonderful asset for the community.”
Previously the city and St. Joseph collaborated in the early 2000s to convert the former Washington Junior High School building to the assisted living facility.
The city of New London will continue to lease The Washington Center’s gymnasium, community center and meeting room for community functions. In exchange for the food pantry funds and equipment, St. Joseph will extend the city’s lease by two years.
The city sought an organization to manage the Community Cupboard after the city employee who oversaw the program, Kim Ebert, resigned last year. Ebert’s primary job was directing the senior center, but on the side she staffed the Community Cupboard and stocked its shelves.
“When Kim Ebert retired, we did an evaluation of the work that she was doing, and it was obvious that there was quite the time being spent on the food pantry,” Hager said. “So we looked at options for transferring that function to another food pantry.
“If I can put in my own editorial comments, I cannot find a local government that does this service,” Hager said. “It’s really not the type of work that local governments do. It’s more of the nonprofit sector, religious sector and so forth.”
Ebert’s successor at the senior center, Lori Schneider, is not involved with the Community Cupboard.
Recreation Coordinator Ginger Arndt is staffing the Community Cupboard in the interim with help from volunteers with First Congregational United Church of Christ who will continue to assist St. Joseph.
Established in the 1970s at City Hall, the Community Cupboard today serves between 75 and 100 New London residents at The Washington Center.
Mayor Gary Henke called the agreement with St. Joseph “a real win-win,” saying the city can pass on responsibility for the food pantry to a great group of volunteers who will keep the resource available to residents in need.