Food Bank Celebrates Grand Re-Opening, New Executive Director

From left, Somerset County Commissioners Director Shanel Robinson, Mayor Phil Kramer, Commissioners’ Deputy Director Melonie Marano, Township Councilman Ram Anbarasan and Township Councilwoman Shepa Uddin cut the ribbon at the Franklin Food Bank’s March 27 re-opening.

Township officials and Franklin Food Bank supporters were on hand March 27 to celebrate the “re-opening” of the Food Bank, and to welcome the organization’s new executive director.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced the Food Bank to curtail some of its operations, including the “Client’s Choice” program that had begun shortly before the pandemic hit. Through Client’s Choice, Food Bank clients are able to shop for the food they wish – much like they would in a grocery store – rather than have a box of pre-sorted food handed to the,.

Now that the pandemic appears to be lifting, Food Bank officials decided the time was right to restart the program.

The event was also the first time many were able to meet Derek Smith, the Food Bank’s new executive director. Smith follows former executive director Frank Hasner, who retired last year after 14 years at the organization’s helm.

Smith and his family have lived in Franklin since 2005, and have been volunteers for the organization for the past three years.

Smith left his 25-year career in education reform to take the Food Bank’s top job, where, he said, he feels at home.

“There’s nothing in education to me like seeing a family leave with a cartful of food,” Smith said.

“We’re on the front lines here in Franklin on that food insecurity,” Smith said. “You come to the parking lot, you’ll see all kinds of cars in the parking lot. Some people with no food in the refrigerator in their home, some people with no homes, and some people with nice homes.”

After the ceremony, Smith said he believed the Food Bank was only “scratching the surface” in terms of potential clients in the township.

“We need to step up our game in terms of community outreach,” he said. “The numbers that are out there are frightening, as far as food insecurity.”

Smith said he also wants to “expand the quality and diversity” of the food the Food Bank offers, and expand the partnerships that will help the Food Bank grow.

“The more that we can … find people that can partner with us in this effort, the better we can service the people in Franklin,” he said.

Hasner said he was happy to see the Client’s Choice program up again.

He said that he considers his biggest accomplishment “the idea that we never stopped serving people and we never turned anybody away. That’s a pretty amazing feat. We had fantastic community support, the need was there, we had employees work non-stop.”

“The fact that we continue to feed people through everything is what I feel the most pride in,” he said.

Hasner received a plaque memorializing the program being named after him, and also a commendation from the state Assembly, delivered by Assemblyman Joe Danielsen.

Danielsen said he was giving Hasner the commendation in “honor and love for so many nameless souls out there who lived a better life because of you and your colleagues. God bless you, you’re a hero.”

Mayor Phil Kramer was on hand to cut the ceremonial ribbon. He lauded teh Food Bank for being able to “work their way through” the pandemic.

“The food bank you would think during the pandemic would have extreme trouble, but they managed to work their way through it,” he said. “They were serving people who were former donors, and now they’re patrons.”

“They stood up and they were there,” Kramer said.

Shanel Robinson, the Somerset County Board of Commissioners Director and a township resident, said the Food Bank is “part of the fabric of this community, and we are so grateful that they are here.”

Barry Gilmore, president of the Food Bank’s Board of Trustees, said that he wanted to celebrate the Food Bank’s staff.

“Each one of you are incredible individuals,” he said. “You have serviced this community throughout the entire pandemic. Without slowing down a day of service, you have put this market back together.”

Here are some scenes from the event:

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