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Pantry: Meriden should contribute

Even though Master’s Manna serves more people from Meriden than Wallingford, Cheryl Trzcinski, founder of the Wallingford-based nonprofit, said the town of Wallingford has contributed to the nonprofit annually since 2010, providing $21,000 in this year’s budget, while the city of Meriden has not contributed at all.

“If they equaled what Wallingford is paying us, I’d have no complaints,” Trzcinski said. “We’ve always served more Meriden residents.”

Master’s Manna was started as a food pantry in 2006. The organization offers several other social services, including counseling for mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence. As of the end of October, the organization provided groceries to 1,194 people in Wallingford this year, Trzcinski said. During the same time frame, 1,507 people from Meriden were served, she said.

In the past, Trzcinski has made appeals to the city to help fund the organization. But “there has never been a request,” Meriden City Manager Larry Kendzior said via email on Monday. “No information on how many Meriden residents are served there has ever been brought to our attention.”

Funding is now an issue for Master’s Manna with the organization looking to raise at least $25,000 by the end of the year to remain functional. Master’s Manna operates in a 6,100-square-foot space rented at 46 North Plains Industrial Road. The landlord would prefer that the organization lease the entire building, which is 11,600 square feet, said Trzcinski. But the organization cannot afford the larger space.

Master’s Manna already owes more than $13,000 in past-due rent. If the organization cannot agree to rent the entire building it might have to vacate by the end of the year, Trzcinski said.

Meriden-based organizations such as the Cuno Foundation and the James H. Napier Foundation have funded Master’s Manna in the past, Trzcinski said, “but the municipality has never funded us.”

The city does very little funding of nonprofits, said Meriden Mayor Michael Rohde.

“We’ve been pulling back on that,” he said. “The primary function is to fund city operations.”

A lack of state and federal funding “has put us in a touch situation,” Rohde said.

There is a need, he said of organizations such as Master’s Manna, but the city has several food pantries available to residents. One example is the Meriden Soup Kitchen, at the First Baptist Church on Broad Street, which is open Monday through Friday.

Since Master’s Manna is not in Meriden, “I’m inclined not to fund them,” said Meriden Mayor-elect Manny Santos. “Solely because of that,” he added. “If they were located in Meriden, I would consider it, but right now I just don’t see the justification for it.”

Meriden taxpayers are burdened enough, Santos said.

Master’s Manna recently won approval from the Meriden Zoning Board of Appeals to move into a 30,000-square-foot building on South Broad Street. But the organization did not have enough money to relocate.

Wallingford Town Councilor Craig Fishbein agreed with Trzcinski that Meriden should be contributing to the nonprofit’s cause.

“I’ve said that from the beginning,” he said.

Santos suggested that Master’s Manna stop expanding its services, “because that is what’s hurting them.”

The organization is expanding too quickly considering its resources, he added. Fishbein agreed.

“Everybody wants to be Santa Claus,” Fishbein said, “but when you’re not asking for grants and relying upon donations, you can’t be expanding services arbitrarily. I’ve been pointing that out to them.”

But there has been no expansion of services, Trzcinski said. “We are doing the exact same services now we’ve done since we opened our doors.”

To save money immediately, Master’s Manna is cutting its non-emergency medical transportation program, which will save about $1,000 per month. The organization also provides shower and laundry facilities, clothing, educational training and access to healthcare through the Community Health Center. Food and clothing are donated. Every other service is self-supporting and provided through volunteer work, Trzcinski said. Costs arise from utility bills, insurance and rent.

“People who say we are only this and only that have not taken us up on the offer to come down, walk through the doors and see what we actually do,” she said. “We’ve encouraged people to come see what we do, but no one has taken us up on our open door policy. Their view would be more accurate if they came here.”

Lisa Pippa, Meriden’s director of Health & Human Services, directed all questions to Kendzior. She did state via email that “Masters Manna provides a great deal of good services.”

“Times are tough for many organizations,” Pippa said.

aragali@record-journal.com (203) 317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz



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