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Editorial: Split leadership in pantry promotes concentration

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Food pantries across Johnson County serve a vital role in the local safety net of services.

One of the largest and longest running is the InterChurch Food Pantry. The past two years have been the busiest the food pantry has ever been. Last year, 33,712 people received food, down slightly from the 34,644 in 2011.

For most of that time, the director was Elaine Maurer, a Center Grove High School graduate, who assumed the volunteer position after graduating from Ball State University. Now she has stepped down to take another position.

But reflective of the increased activity at the pantry, she has been replaced by two people — Sheila Morton and Carol Phipps. Phipps handles bills and upkeep of the pantry, while Morton focuses on fundraising.

Splitting up the duties should help the pantry operations. It will allow one person to focus on day-to-day issues, while the other can concentrate on long-term ones.

Though they bring different talents and unique strengths to the position, it’s their united stance on the value of the food pantry that will make them successful, pantry board president Pat Foster said.

“They stepped up when we needed a new way of doing things, and this new way has worked out excellently,” she said. “One person can’t manage the pantry by themselves. They’ve been excellent for stepping up to this, and they’ve been excellent volunteers.”

Morton and Phipps take over at a time when the need and the pressure on the pantry is the greatest.

“We need to make sure people are aware of the needs of the hungry in Johnson County. We want to take care of these people,” Morton said. “It should be everybody’s priority.”

Morton first came to the InterChurch Food Pantry after hearing about it during a Kiwanis meeting about five years ago. She and her husband, Joe, started volunteering a few days a month helping to stock shelves and greet potential clients.

Growing up herself in a single-parent home, she can remember times when her family didn’t have enough to eat. She also recalls generous people who helped them find food.

“It’s my way of giving back,” she said. “We just reach out and help people. I’m a people person.”

Phipps’ church, Prince of Peace United Church of Christ, is one of the supporters of the food pantry. She had supported it financially in the past. After retiring from her job at Eli Lilly Co. about two years ago, she went to the pantry to help fill orders and keep herself busy.

In April, the existing pantry manager, Elaine Maurer, stepped down for another job.

“Sheila and I both saw that the pantry desperately needed managers,” Phipps said. “We were both interested in taking that leadership role, but neither of us wanted to do it full time.”

The manager position at the food pantry is a volunteer job. So the two women suggested a solution to Foster — sharing the responsibilities and breaking it up according to their strengths.

We commend Elaine Maurer for service to the pantry and, indeed, to the thousands of people in need served by the agency. And we thank Sheila Morton and Carol Phipps for their willingness to step forward and continue the organization’s work.

Despite an improving economy, recovery remains fragile. There appears to be a continuing strong need for food pantry services in the county.

By splitting leadership duties, the new directors of the InterChurch Food Pantry can concentrate on different vital aspects — support and services. Without the ongoing financial and charitable support, the work of the pantry cannot continue.

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