Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Letter from Open Pantry board member: why the governor's veto should be overridden

I received a letter today from an Open Pantry Community Services Board Member, and he has given permission for me to post his letter.

There is a lot of *misinformation* about Open Pantry versus Springfield's preferred provider, Friends of the Homeless, which the City and the Governor prefer to fund:

Fact #1. Open Pantry and the city's Friends of the Homeless non-profit do not compete. Open Pantry runs the biggest emergency food pantry in Western Mass; Friends of the Homeless has never run a food pantry. Open Pantry feeds poor individuals from around the city, not just homeless people; Friends of the Homeless feeds only the portion of homeless individuals who reside in their own shelter. Therefore it is unreasonable for the City to state that it is prepared to step in if Open Pantry fails. The City has no experience in the Open Pantry's missions, and no additional funds. There will be a huge void.

Fact #2. Open Pantry receives over $400,000 in private cash donations every year, and $1.5 million annually in food, clothing, and labor, which is the only way it has been able to provide the level of services it provides. State funding has been inadequate for years. If Open Pantry goes under, most of that $1.9 million in donations will be lost. How will the state or the city be able to make that up?

Fact #3.
Open Pantry has put together over 30 years a huge infrastucture of churches, businesses, and volunteers it has cultivated over the years. How much of that vital infrastructure will be lost if Open Pantry goes away? How much will it cost the city or the state to rebuild? Remember, the city's agencies have never run a food pantry or a public kitchen.

Fact #4.
100% of Open Pantry's administrative support expenses are covered by private donations. Therefore every penny of state, federal, or city money Open Pantry gets goes directly into programs and services.

Fact #5.
Open Pantry is more than a pantry and a kitchen. Through their Open Door program, they deliver cutting edge comprehensive case management and community resource referrals to hundreds of persons at risk of hunger and/or homelessness each year. These services, too, would have to be picked up by some other agency, unprepared to do so.

Fact #6. Open Pantry's mission does not conflict with the state's HousingFirst Initiative. HousingFirst is about housing the homeless; Open Pantry's principal services are providing emergency food for families in homes, and meals for those who are the city's poorest. Thus no amount of "HousingFirst money can be used for these working poor.

Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director of the Food Bank of Western Mass in Hatfield wrote in a message to the Springfield Control Board on July 7th that "Open Pantry has by far the largest impact in serving the poor and vulnerable in Springfield. Open Pantry's services are essential to the well-being of tens of thousands of people. I can't even imagine what would happen in Springfield if Open Pantry were unable to continue operating due to a loss of critical state funding . . ."

I couldn't say it any better. Please call State legislators today. Please ask them to help restore Open Pantry's funding.

R. Patrick Henry, Jr.
Volunteer Board Member

Open Pantry Community Services

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