By J.D. O’Gara
On Monday, June 12th, a crowd gathered outside the former site of Edwin’s in Franklin, to celebrate the opening of a new location for the Franklin Food Pantry. The revamped, 5,000 sf. building located at 341 West Central Street will be roughly twice the size of Franklin Food Pantry’s former location.
Tina Tavares Powderly, Executive Director of Franklin Food Pantry, opened the ribbon cutting.
“It’s been a 10-year journey to bring enhanced programing to this community in a dignified environment,” she began. Powderly noted that a week prior, she encountered the Food Pantry’s Client Services Coordinator, with a toddler on her hip, helping a new client fill out paperwork in the brand-new space.
“What made that moment so different and so special was that that new client was accessing services in a room with a closed door, in a quiet space, because English was not her native language, in a space big enough for her toddler to be comfortable,” said Powderly. “All of that is brand new. I would think that many of us take those aspects of our daily lives for granted.” Powderly likened the experience to a doctor visit, where one would expect to share private information behind closed doors.
“…The thousands of community members that come to us trust us at their most vulnerable time, and now this space allows us to hold that trust most sacred. We have areas for confidential conversation, for supportive services. We have a bathroom and full ADA accessibility, and we prioritize their well-being by tripling the amount of perishable storage space we have to provide for them the most healthy, and most expensive, I might add, food we can to our neighbors. And we have a dedicated space for our volunteers…”
Powderly explained the project was completed in an “incredibly cost-efficient manner … We all know about the incredible $500K grant we got from MassDevelopment, and we also know about the $100K that we have received to date in state appropriation from our state delegation, but we also were very lucky to receive many donations of material and time from a myriad of local businesses and professionals,” said Powderly, who thanked all supporters, adding, “We also repurposed current items, purchased refurbished items and are the proud and lucky owner of many tables, chairs, desks and assorted furniture from the Davis-Thayer school.”
Tom Mercer made remarks following Powderly.
“On behalf of Franklin and its Town Council, I’m thrilled and honored today to be celebrate the opening of this beautiful and renovated facility and to the new home of the Franklin Food Pantry,” said Mercer. “The legacy of that hallmark business and of its founders Jeanne and Edwin Aldrich is part of Franklin’s storied past, and now this building, through its adaptive reuse, will continue to be a part of the fabric of Franklin.”
Mercer highlighted the collaborative effort of many people and organizations, public and private partnerships that brought the project to fruition, lauding the volunteers, Food Pantry leadership, local legislators Sen. Rebecca Rausch and Rep. Jeff Roy for successfully advocating for earmarks, the Town administration and Council and the generosity of individuals and businesses.
Robert Jenkins, SVP of MassDevelopment spoke next, explaining that the process by which Franklin Food Pantry received the $500K grant was competitive and statewide. “You guys are to be commended,” he said, “You came in under budget. You finished your project. This is truly amazing,” said Jenkins.
Rep. Jeff Roy joined in sentiments of praise for Food Pantry leadership and volunteers as well as for donors. He also thanked his “colleagues in the legislature for their votes, which led to financial support – and a little birdie tells me that there’s another $50K in the FY24 budget, which is in conference.”
Roy closed by adding, “It is not a choice; it’s a reality for many people in our community. Last year, 1,103 people in 514 households were served by this pantry, and 26,292 bags of groceries were provided to our neighbors.” The new, dignified, and attractive space will work to erase stigma, he added, making it “a place of hope to get the help that they need to get back on their feet.”
Jeanne and Marc Aldrich, of the family that owned Edwin’s, which operated in Franklin for 48 years, 30 of which were in the food pantry’s current location, attended the event. Jeanne Aldrich noted, “I don’t think there could have been a better use of this building. I think this is the perfect spot for them. We couldn’t be happier they’re here.”