Left without a home

Williston Community Food Shelf continues search for space

July 31, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Williston resident Jill Lang is tired of hearing the word “no” in recent weeks.

The Williston Community Food Shelf president has been working hard to find space for the recently founded organization, but to no avail.

“We’re a food shelf without a home,” Lang said.

She said town officials have told her there are no rooms available in public buildings and local churches don’t have the room either. That leaves Lang and other food shelf volunteers looking at spaces within commercial properties.

Lang said the food shelf considered space at a second-floor location at Maple Tree Place, but accessibility and practicality proved to be an issue. She said it needed to be handicapped accessible and easy for volunteers to bring food to the location.

The food shelf does have some loose requirements for a space, including a handicap accessible room that would be 20 feet by 30 feet, and a landlord or utility company that could donate free utilities.

Resident Maira Newell, who moved to Williston last year, said getting space has been much harder than many in the organization had anticipated. While living in Utah for more than 20 years and being a member of the Utah Food Bank, Newell said finding space in the Salt Lake City region was never an issue and people were always finding ways to help.

Many of the Utah food pantries were located in area churches. Williston has less church space available than what Newell was used to in Utah.

“Given the economy, I can see how a landlord would be reluctant to donate space,” Newell said.

Lang admits the search has come to some frustrating dead ends, yet she still hopes town officials might be able to find something small at a public location. She said if nothing comes to fruition in coming weeks, she’s ready to make signs and stand at Taft Corners to get people’s attention.

“I’m getting desperate,” she said.

Until then, Lang will continue searching for space. She’s been floating around several ideas, including using space at a private residence or having food available once a month at a public space, such as the Fire Department.

Making progress

The Food Shelf has also become a nonprofit organization in the eyes of the Vermont Secretary of State as of July 7. Any donation will now be considered tax free within the state. Lang said the organization is still working on attaining federal nonprofit status. She said the process takes time, but hopes to be official by this fall.

While there is no official space for the Food Shelf, people can still donate money to the organization or drop off goods at certain locations. Lang is in the process of organizing donation boxes at key locations in town, including the Town Hall, library, banks and other possible places.

Williston resident Ryan Simmons, who will be entering his senior year next month at Champlain Valley Union High School, is working with Lang and the food shelf as part of his graduation challenge. Simmons is currently building the wooden donation boxes that will be displayed around town.

He said the boxes are pretty basic, but he hopes to liven them up by incorporating the food shelf’s new logo — designed by the Observer’s graphic artist Jan Kenney — and by painting them. He said he’ll make five, but is willing to make more if there’s demand.
Simmons also volunteers at the Hinesburg Food Shelf, assisting patrons and stocking shelves. He said there’s a lot of support right now in Williston in getting its own location.

“I can tell everybody is pretty excited about starting this,” he said.

Once the Williston location is open, Simmons said he would volunteer there as well. He also plans to take part in the fundraising.
“There’s a real need right now with all the high prices of gas and high prices of mortgages and other costs,” he said.

The food shelf’s board of directors and interested community members have met regularly to discuss fundraising ideas and space issues. There are talks in the works to have a benefit dinner and silent auction, as well as a teen dance-a-thon.

To donate money or food to the Williston Community Food Shelf, mail to P.O. Box 1605, Williston, Vt., 05495, or call 802-735-6303. People can also call that number to find out ways to register for food with the food shelf. The organization’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 13 at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library.