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Leadership at Carthage food pantry changes

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CARTHAGE — After two years as director of the Village Ecumenical Ministries Food Pantry, Darlene A. Jensen is ready to step down.

Mrs. Jensen will become more active in her ministry at the New Covenant Fellowship Church, where she is the pastor along with her husband, Harry.

“I’m very happy because I know it’s what is supposed to be done,” she said.

She believes that her greatest accomplishments over the past two years have been to make the food pantry more self-sustaining, to establish a core group of volunteers and to increase the number of hours the pantry is open.

“It’s nice not to have to worry about where the money is coming from to buy food,” Mrs. Jensen said of scheduling periodic food drives with the help of other organizations.

She said there are no food drives planned for the summer. But, come September, plans are in the works to organize another “stuff the bus” event in partnership with the Carthage Central School District.

Mrs. Jensen said that, with the help of volunteer coordinator Jody Mono, there is a constant flow of volunteers.

“We encourage the volunteers to feel they are a part of the ministry,” Mrs. Jensen said. “Volunteers make a huge difference.” Thanks to Ms. Mono scheduling the volunteers, it freed up Mrs. Jenson to better serve clients.

Under Mrs. Jenson’s leadership, the pantry has adopted evening hours and is now open four times a week and double the hours it previously was open. The 452 S. Washington St. facility now is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays and Fridays and from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Last year, the Carthage Area Chamber of Commerce and Elks Lodge 1762 recognized Mrs. Jenson as their citizen of the year for her service at the pantry.

Mrs. Jensen said she will miss working with pantry volunteers and will miss the clients.

The outgoing director will not be gone completely from the pantry, however. After taking the summer off, she will return as a volunteer.

Stepping into the directorship Friday will be Beth E. LaGraff, who is no stranger to leadership. For the past 14 years, she has been head teacher and coordinator of the Christian Heritage School. Associated with the Church of the Nazarene, the school serves 10 children in preschool through eighth grade. In its heyday in the 1980s, it served 100 students. Mrs. LaGraff also is the church’s Sunday school superintendent.

Mrs. LaGraff said she is ready for a change.

“It’s time for me to pass on duties,” she said concerning her daughter, Carrie B. Keegan, who will step up as head teacher at Christian Heritage. “I can’t not teach, though,” Mrs. LaGraff said, adding that she will continue to help out at the school.

“I’m inheriting a gift,” Mrs. LaGraff said of taking over at the food pantry. “It’s become a well-oiled machine.”

Since the volunteers shoulder many of the duties, Mrs. LaGraff hopes to “spend time on visionary things” such as increasing client services. She also is well-versed in writing grant applications.

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