NORTH BRANFORD - Things are moving forward quickly for the Food Pantry of North Branford (FPNB), which plans to operate as a non-profit out of a portion of the historic North Branford Hall building as soon as Christmas 2014.
On July 9, the Town Council heard an update from FPNB's Lynn Riordan (founder of non-profit Matt's Mission) and attorney Frank Forgione. The council then asked Town Attorney John Gesmonde to frame a three-year lease for review, essentially allowing FPNB use of the building at a cost of $1 per year, with the town paying carrying costs of heat and electricity (estimated to be at least $12,000 to $15,000 per year). Council member Al Rose noted paying the power bill would essentially make the town a "silent partner" with FPNB. Rose suggested FPNB provide an annual financial report to the town.
The $12,000 figure is based on annual carrying costs incurred by the Senior Center before the program moved to the Stanley T. Williams Community Center last fall. Because FPNB would require refrigerators or possibly a walk-in refrigeration unit to store dairy, produce, and other fresh foods, new electricity costs have not yet been pinpointed. Use of the hall would be shared with the Friends of North Branford Libraries, which would use the front-office space for fundraising book sale collection, sorting and selling. FPNB would occupy the back area, including the main hall and kitchen (no meals will be served), with a separate entrance.
Council member Joseph Faughnan questioned whether the $12,000 figure could escalate in time to $20,000 per year, noting the enthusiasm generated by such projects sometimes "sways rational judgment.
"While I'm all in favor of what I'm hearing tonight…we are in effect the municipal [and] financial body of this town…and what I don't see us doing is watching the checkbook. We are writing a blank check, and that gives me pause," said Faughnan. "At the very least, while we may have an obligation to do good for the community, we've got an obligation to be responsible to the community."
What the council heard from Riordan and Forgione is the extraordinary amount of activity that has taken place in just a short time with regard to FPNB. The Town Council gave the initial green light for the idea on
June 17, after Riordan and Forgione supplied compelling statistics showing a need to increase the presence of the current pantry program, and developing its accessibility.
Since that time, "We've been very, very busy," Riordan told the council.
She ticked off actions including filing for a certificate of incorporation, receiving state approval as a business, working on bylaws, naming committees, listing board members, and filing paperwork for non-profit status to allow FPNB to purchase food at 14 cents per pound from the Connecticut Food Bank.
A FPNB bank account has been opened with the local TD Bank, and once FPNB procures non-profit status, the branch will donate $50 to FPNB for every new account, said Riordan. In addition, a post office box has been leased, an email address established, and letter drafted for a first fundraising appeal. The group has also received an insurance liability quote and was poised to get an insurance rider should the council fulfill Riordan's hope of allowing a professional in to the building this week to work on removing old lead paint and repainting the interior.
Riordan said professionals and community members as well as local businesses and churches are calling to help.
"We've been inundated with emails, phone calls, and messages [and] we've had many donations by local businesses," said Riordan, adding the growing volunteer list contained nearly 70 names, to date.
Donation offers include a new oil tank for the hall with installation included, demolition of the existing entry ramp and concrete, time and expertise donated to install a new ramp, all interior paint needed for the building, lead paint removal and painting services, and the services of a certified electrician. In addition, Matt's Mission has made the first financial donation, allocating $10,000. FPNB would provide the materials, funds, and manpower needed to bring the building up to code for use, said Riordan.
Saying surrounding towns have excellent food pantry programs exceeding what is currently offered here, Riordan said, "We need to get the Food Pantry of North Branford up and running without delay. We have the momentum and we are ready to move."