Leadership of a food pantry in Oxford is changing as the board of directors has named a successor to the executive director as they look forward to being able to reopen the facility to in-person shopping for their customers.
Ann Fuehrer has served as executive director of Talawanda Oxford Pantry and Social Services since July of 2019 and recently decided to step down from that position. She started as a volunteer at the pantry, then known as Oxford Community Choice Pantry, in 2014. She joined the board of directors in 2017 until being hired as executive director.
The board has hired Sherry Martin as her successor in that position. Martin has been a volunteer shopping assistant since 2017 and joined the board of directors in 2019. She has been serving as board secretary.
Martin leaves a position in the office of the Dean of Students at Miami University, where she had been employed for 18 years.
“I had a sense it was time for someone with a new set of skills to take over, someone with more supervisor skills than I had. Sherry is a generation and a half younger than me and more comfortable with technology. It’s really time,” Fuehrer said. She referred to a book in which the author talked about creating new settings and sees the transition as a part of that. “The skill sets need a different level of development. I pivoted to keeping people safe (in the pandemic). I feel good but it is time to really systemize things with targeted philanthropy. It’s time to make use of the facilities we have here.”
She said Martin is more tech savvy and can use that to further the goals of TOPSS.
Martin said her familiarity with the pantry operation will help but will be working with Fuehrer to get better acquainted with the full operation.
“I plan to try some new software as soon as I learn the ropes. I’m excited to serve. I hope to take up where Ann left off and run with it,” she said.
The pantry had previously been located in a building on the grounds of St. Mary Church’s Mt. Olivet Cemetery but moved to two buildings on the grounds of the Family Resource Center, 5445 College Corner Pike. The pandemic prevented allowing people inside to shop for the food items they wanted but Fuehrer transitioned to having volunteers provide delivery service. That eventually gave way to having volunteers shop for people as they waited outside in their vehicles after filling out a shopping list which allowed them to check off their choices.
The pandemic provided an interesting development which allowed Fuehrer to realize a dream she had carried well before the pandemic — a refrigerated van which could be used to collect donations and deliver to clients. That became a reality earlier this year with money the city granted from its federal COVID relief funding of 2020.
TOPPS employee Ross Olson said the van has provided those opportunities, but also more than they had anticipated. He said they had been talking to representatives of the Grace Pointe Church on 27 South. The church operates a food pantry of its own and Olson said they have discussed working together to rescue food. They had an even more immediate need, however.
“They had had an immediate need we facilitated with them for a funeral on Oct. 30. They normally do their pantry Saturday mornings and were looking for an alternate location. We offered our own pantry,” Olson said. Grace Pointe clients were directed to go to the TOPPS location and the church’s food was distributed on the parking lot before their own service that afternoon.
The van is being used for food deliveries to Parkview Arms Apartments on Thursdays and that has morphed into other community partners joining them at the site with various other services, including such things as the Free Clinic and Thread Up and the Coalition for a Healthy Community as well as COVID-19 vaccine clinics.
TOPSS is also looking into offering delivery within other parts of the Talawanda School District such as regular visits to Somerville.
The pantry building was also the site for two recent meetings of residents in the Miami Mobile Home Park to talk about issues there and ways residents can work together to help each other.
“There were eight very vocal residents here,” Fuehrer said. “That was the only event held in this building so far.”
She will now move on to another position as facilitator/office manager of the Oxford Citizens for Peace and Justice.
“I will attend City Council and Board of Education meetings and watch. It’s a way I can be a little more politically outspoken,” Fuehrer said, adding she still intends to be part of the recent work on food mapping project of sources through the pantry service area, the school district.
Martin said she will begin her new job doing things the way they have been done until she gets comfortable with the overall operation.
“I would like to have people come back in (to shop). That would be great. Ann pointed out some people are more comfortable staying in their cars,” she said. With the winter coming and uncertainty about the levels of COVID infections, she said they figure the pantry will reopen for in-person shopping probably in March or April. “I feel I know a lot about what goes on here but there is a lot I don’t know. I’m just absorbing everything right now, watching Ann. I’m really excited. I’m used to sitting in a chair all day. It will be nice to move around.”