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Clarke to retire from meals program

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Amy Clarke in her home.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Amy Clarke in her home.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Amy Clarke in her home office.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Amy Clarke in her home office.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Amy Clarke in her home.
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Amy Clarke in her home office.

GREENFIELD — After connecting local residents with free food for the past 11 years, this summer will be Amy Clarke’s last as executive director of the Franklin County Community Meals Program.

Clarke, a 58-year-old who has been involved with the program for 20 years, will retire this fall to spend more time with family and other community organizations. The search is now on for her replacement, who will work alongside Clarke in August and take over in September.

“I couldn’t be more thankful for having had this job,” said Clarke, who has spent nearly her whole life in Greenfield and plans to continue volunteering for the program. “It’s a great community. I just have met so many wonderful people.”

The program — run by six part-time employees and a network of volunteers from 40 different service groups — offers five free meals each week across three different towns. Under Clarke’s leadership, the program has grown: serving 18,276 meals last year compared to 11,306 in 2002.

The program’s food pantry component also expanded. An Orange pantry gave away enough products to feed 14,349 people last year, said Clarke, compared to 8,414 in 2002. And a Greenfield Community College pantry was started in 2011 and has grown every year to meet a needy student population.

The demand for food skyrocketed after the Great Recession forced people out of their homes and jobs. Clarke said that some people who once led service organizations were now showing up in the receiving lines at pantries and meals.

“Nobody wants to think that right here in Franklin County our neighbors don’t have enough food,” said Clarke. “I think it’s an easy program to support for that reason.”

While the program’s budget did double from $50,000 to $100,000 (and food purchases shot up from $6,000 in 2002 to $37,500 last year), it is powered by fundraisers, donations and volunteers. Service groups take turns organizing meals, businesses host food drives and retail stores give away products they don’t sell.

Clarke said that the people who come to the meals range in age and gender, but often come to the same meal each week — creating a sense of community among the participants. Some meals have come with cakes and celebrations, said Clarke, including one instance where a couple people stood up and announced it was their 60th wedding anniversary.

Todd B. Clark, president of the program’s board of directors, said Clarke will be missed.

“Amy has been the heart and soul of the program,” he said. “She does an amazing job with people ... (and) she exudes grace.”

In choosing the next executive director — who will work 20 hours a week organizing the program and 10 hours at the Orange food pantry — he said the board will look for someone who “can wear a lot of hats,” including grant writing, budget management, staff supervision and volunteer recruitment.

Clarke said her successor will need to be well-versed in social media, which she called the “future of fundraising.”

The person will also need to continuously find new sources of food — like BJ’s Wholesale Club and Walmart, which now donate the food they used to throw away. Clarke said that the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts continues to both give and sell food to the program but that the amount has declined in recent years, forcing the need to look elsewhere.

The program will seek executive director applications through next week. Inquires and resumes can be sent to info@fccmp.org.

Free meals every week

The meals are free and doors always open at 5 p.m. with food served at 5:30 p.m.

They’re offered at the Our Lady of Peace Church in Turners Falls on Mondays, the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and the Bethany Lutheran Church in Orange on Mondays and Thursdays.

The Orange Pantry, located at 118 East Main St., is open every Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., except when there is a fifth Thursday in a month.

The GCC pantry, which serves only students and staff, is open on Mondays and Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when classes are in session.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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