New Hilltown charity sets up Little Free Pantry

Switzkill Valley Volunteers

Three of the five members of the Switzkill Valley Volunteers, along with Mark Hohengasser, stand before the Little Free Pantry they set up last month in the parking lot of the Helderberg Lutheran Church. From left, they are Hohengasser, Cindy Morrison, Colleen Kunker, and Colleen’s husband Ted Kunker. Not pictured are board members Lisa Carr and Timothy Doherty. ​

HILLTOWNS — The Switzkill Valley Volunteers have established a Little Free Pantry in the parking lot of the Helderberg Lutheran Church in Berne. A variation of Little Free Libraries, a Little Free Pantry is a space where people can pick up and drop off donations of nonperishable foods, paper products, school supplies, and more. 

Ted Kunker, who chaired the Switzkill Farm Board before the Berne Town Board dissolved it, became a founding member of the new charity group. He told The Enterprise that, based on the flow of goods the group has seen so far, it is fulfilling a need in the community. 

“There’s no registration; there’s no criteria,” Kunker told The Enterprise, accentuating the distinction between the Little Free Pantry and traditional food pantries that cater to defined, underprivileged populations. “If you want something, go get it,” he said. 

A sign inside the pantry says: Take what you need, leave what you can.

Donations — nonperishable foods, personal-care items, paper products, or school supplies — may be dropped off at Kunker’s house, at 664 Gifford Hollow Road in Berne, or at the pantry itself at 1872 Helderberg Trail, also in Berne. 

Because the pantry is so successful, Kunker said, there’s a hope that more locations can be set up around the Hill, but no firm plans have yet been made. 


Switzkill Valley Volunteers

The Pantry is a diversion from the new group’s usual focus on individuals, as Kunker described it. 

“What we found in the last year,” Kunker wrote in an email to The Enterprise, “is that there are many great programs existing in the hills and like all volunteer programs most groups are looking for help. We have found that we can assist during times of need, provide support, and lend a welcome hand when they need it most.

“Additionally,” he went on, “we have been able to hear about situations of individuals and families that can use some assistance. It could be as simple as sealing a drafty front door from the cold of winter; to spending time with an elderly person to make a new friend while at the same time providing a little downtime for the primary caregiver.” 

Over the phone, Kunker described what he said was “the most rewarding” effort made by the group. 

“A woman found herself a single mother with two kids and another on the way,” Kunker said. 

The group made three visits to the family during the winter, taking the kids out to buy Christmas gifts for the mother and helping them wrap those gifts. 

“It was one of the first times she had presents under the tree from her kids,” Kunker said. 

Kunker said he helped form the group after he found his time on the Switzkill Farm Board to be less personally rewarding than he hoped and sought out “civic-minded” activities instead. 

Made up of Mark Timothy Doherty; Colleen Kunker, Ted Kunker’s wife; Cindy Morrison; and Lisa Carr, in addition to Kunker, the organization is keeping itself trim as far as members go, but manages to get a lot done. 

“We’ve kept our ranks down to five,” Kunker said. “We’re all members of the board.” 

In addition to efforts of kindness and charity with an individual focus, the group has held a program with the Berne Free Library and hosted a fundraiser at Two Rock Ranch, owned by sheep farmer and Berne resident Emily Vincent, on last year’s Farm Day.

“We have also started a list of people with skills to assist those families that might need some help with general handyman items,” Kunker said, and asked that any readers with a useful set of skills, such as plumbing, reach out so he or she can be included on the list. 

“You may find it very rewarding to help others,” he said. ​

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