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Food Pantry move will mean more hours

SHELBURNE FALLS — Shelburne selectmen have given tentative support for the West County Food Pantry to move into an unused meeting room of the refurbished Cowell Gymnasium building, where there will be enough room for food storage and more hours of operation for needy West County families.

On Monday night, selectmen asked pantry Coordinator Dino Schnelle to write a proposal that would include a rental fee for the use of the 900-square-foot room and utilities.

For now, the West County Food Pantry has been operating three hours per month for free out of the Shelburne Falls Senior Center, serving about 77 families and elders. Schnelle said he’s grateful to the Senior Center for letting the pantry set up shop on the third and fourth Wednesdays of the month. But this arrangement means hours spent transporting, packing and unpacking nonperishables and fresh produce between Shelburne Falls and the Greenfield Center for Self Reliance, where the food is stored. “We have to cart all the food in and (go back to Greenfield to) store it,” he explained. He said the staff time now used to haul hundreds of pounds of food could instead be spent running more hours in the pantry.

If the Food Pantry Program has a fixed space in the Cowell, produce could be stored in refrigerators. Schnelle said the goal is to open the pantry every Wednesday, for four to six hours. Also, Schnelle said the space could be used on nonpantry days for other outreach efforts, such as a fuel-assistance program or helping residents apply for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.

“Sixty-three percent of Shelburne residents are low- to moderate-income,” said Schnelle. He said about 50 percent of the households that use the West County pantry are from Shelburne, with the remainder from all other West County towns.

The Food Pantry has been receiving part of Buckland and Shelburne’s joint Community Development Block Grant for the past seven years. This year, the pantry’s share of the grant was doubled to $50,000 because selectmen and the consultants felt the Food Pantry needed to serve more people, according to Schnelle.

The food pantry also provides weekly food deliveries to 22 elder households in the Highland Village complex. It is a program of the regional anti-poverty program Community Action.

The Recreation Committee, which oversees activities in the Cowell building, supports moving the food pantry to the Cowell.

Selectmen, who want to boost public use of the town-owned building, asked if there is enough parking at the Cowell to accommodate both pantry users and those who participate in the sports activities in the upstairs gym. Cowell Director Emily Crehan said she believed parking would not be a problem, since there is also on-street parking and additional parking space in the old Arms Academy lot nearby.

Selectmen are to take up the Food Pantry issue again at their next meeting, on Nov. 18.

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