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United Way worker named new meals program director

Recorder/Paul Franz
Sharon Pleasant in the kitchen at the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield.

Recorder/Paul Franz Sharon Pleasant in the kitchen at the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield.

GREENFIELD — Sharon Pleasant, a three-year meal site coordinator for the Franklin County Community Meals Program, will succeed Amy Clarke as the program’s next executive director.

As an employee for the United Way of Franklin County, Pleasant has organized events, managed volunteers and built relationships with partner agencies, including the meals program.

That experience, coupled with three years of coordinating free meals for people every Tuesday and Wednesday in Second Congregational Church in Greenfield, made her the perfect candidate in the eyes of the program’s board of directors.

“By far and away, Sharon was the best candidate that most closely matched what we were looking for,” said Todd B. Clark, president of the program’s board of directors. “We’re looking forward to the passing of the torch.”

She has a strong interest in nonprofit management and has the skills needed to ramp up the program’s social media presence, he said.

Pleasant will work alongside Clarke, the 11-year retiring executive director, for three weeks before fully taking the reins in September.

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.

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.

Since the program is a United Way partner agency, Clarke said that Pleasant’s hire “solidifies an already strong partnership.”

“She is well organized and she’s fun to work with and has wonderful ideas to expand the program,” said Clarke. “It’s always been clear that it’s a program that’s very close to her heart.”

Pleasant, who earned a graduate degree in nonprofit management and philanthropy from Bay Path College, said she can’t wait to get started. She will leave her United Way job for this full-time position, where she will manage the Orange food pantry in addition to executive director duties.

Growing up in Montague, she said she always enjoyed eating dinner with her large family. She believes people who come to the meals, both to serve and to eat, enjoy the meals for similar reasons.

“This is their community. This is where they see their friends and this is where they sit and visit,” she said.

Pleasant first connected with the program when she worked in administration and admissions at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. She has lived in Greenfield for 15 years.

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