Roughly a year ago, on November 4th, 2011, Rene Feuerman celebrated her pre-teen daughter's birthday and decided to have partygoers make food donations instead of give presents. Her family came away with 30 bags of foodstuffs for the Brookline Emergency Food Pantry, the existence of which Ms. Feuerman was unaware until the informal family-and-friends drive.
Not four months later, she received a call from the Pantry Manager, Jim Margolis telling her there were some volunteering opportunities available at the St. Paul Church-based charitable organization. When Margolis stepped down from the position soon after, he suggested she "put her hat in the ring," according to Ms. Feuerman. By April, she was the new manager of the Pantry.
When I sat down with the Brookline resident in the church's rectory, she told me she has been a stay-at-home mom for the past eight years, after spending 12 years at JP Morgan Chase in the financial sector. She had set a goal of getting involved in the community when her youngest child went to kindergarten and the Emergency Food Pantry in Brookline gave her just such a chance.
She has taken that opportunity and run with it. At first shocked by the number of people in need in such a wealthy community as Brookline, Ms. Feuerman lauds the participation of volunteers (the Pantry has a waiting list), the donations made by Trader Joe's and the Greater Boston Food Bank, as well as the kindness of St. Paul's for lending the annex building's room. The new manager is looking to increase the amount of fresh fruit, vegetables and healthy food—like lentils and rice—as well as the refrigerator space available in the section of the St. Paul's buildings reserved for the charity.
I asked Ms. Feuerman how her life and work experience prepared her for her current post; she responded that at JP Morgan Chase she ran an Operations Group, this experience helps her manage the food pantry—which she calls "like running a small supermarket." She also cited working with people over the years at her job as contributing to her empathy and kindness, paramount to her mission at the Brookline Food Pantry. Another experience that she draws upon is her time working at a nursing home in high school.
Ms. Feuerman comes to the food pantry at a time when her significant business acumen is being tested with significant challenges. Demand for food is up 65%, with the Brookline school system's expansion pushing this increase. The Emergency Food Pantry is challenged to keep the shelves stocks all four days they're open (Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Wednesday's 3 -6 p.m.; and Saturday 1-4 p.m.). In addition, 2011 visits-by-clients were 85 per week, while in 2012 that jumped to 110 on average.
With the surfeit of volunteers at the Pantry (originally begun by the St. Paul's parish), Ms. Feuerman stressed that the biggest need is money, canned goods and toiletries (they don't receive as much of this category of donations from Trader Joe's or the Greater Boston Food Bank).
Finally, she observed that meeting hygiene needs by providing toiletries to clients goes hand in hand with food for better overall health of people served by the Pantry. With Ms. Feuerman in charge of a dedicated group of volunteers, the Brookline Emergency Food Pantry is ready to continue the work done by the esteemed Jim Margolis and help a growing demographic in the Brookline community. If the rest of the community responds with the necessary funds and food, as its new head emphasizes they need, the Pantry will work all the better.
By Andrew Palmacci