Safe Net is about people, not numbers

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Stafford, Union - posted Thu., Feb. 14, 2013
A Foodshare partner, Safe Net Ministries depends on a host of volunteers to box and distribute donations. (L-r): Jeff Aborn, Cathy Lichanac, Laura Marin, Andrea Lorenzetti, Kris Verny and Christine DePellegrini. Photos by Annie Gentile.
A Foodshare partner, Safe Net Ministries depends on a host of volunteers to box and distribute donations. (L-r): Jeff Aborn, Cathy Lichanac, Laura Marin, Andrea Lorenzetti, Kris Verny and Christine DePellegrini. Photos by Annie Gentile.

As Safe Net Ministries secretary, Kris Verny could rattle off a host of statistics about the pounds of food distributed, the numbers of families served, or the amount of volunteer hours put in by their dedicated crew each year - but no statistic could ever really describe the emotional and spiritual support she experienced personally when Safe Net was there for her.

“I was the original secretary of Safe Net when it first got started under Rev. Richard Pagano from First United Methodist Church,” said Verny. Pagano, Verny said, brought the idea of a non-profit to serve needy people in Stafford and Union to other clergy in the area, and seven churches, along with Flo’s Kitchen, came on board. The organization first offered general assistance to families in need, with funds to help pay for utility bills and food vouchers. The all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization grew over the years, adding a food cupboard and Elsie’s House - a short-term, transitional place for families to stay while they save money for a security deposit or make arrangements for longer-term housing.

“In 2009 my husband became ill and we lost our house, and Safe Net helped us get an apartment and come up with the balance of our security deposit,” said Verny. “They offered us food, prayers and support. They were wonderful.” While she left her position there to care for her husband, when she was able, she came back on board with Safe Net, serving today as the current secretary of the organization. “If I could tell people one thing, it would be not to be afraid to come. Everyone needs help once in a while,” she said.
On Saturday, Jan. 26, a crew of volunteers, including Laura Marin, Jeff Aborn, intake coordinator Cathy Lichanac and volunteer coordinator Andrea Lorenzetti - among others - distributed boxes of donations.

“People are sometimes afraid to ask for help, but they shouldn’t be,” said Aborn, who handles all the Foodshare deliveries that come into the cupboard.

In the distribution area, a steady stream of clients were receiving not only food and drink, but also personal care items, pet food and sometimes even toys for their pets. Equally important, they received some much-needed moral, emotional and spiritual support.

“My first visit here - I was just in shock. I was more overwhelmed than embarrassed,” said Safe Net client Cindy Clifford, who now volunteers in the distribution line. “I kept asking myself, ‘How did I get here? I used to give to shelters. How could I go from giving to receiving?’” she said.

Clifford had to. After a 27-year career with a major insurance company, she was laid off as part of a downsizing effort, and, unable to find lasting work, her unemployment benefits ran out.

“I had tears,” said Clifford. “I was upset. My husband was out of work, too, and I didn’t know what we were going to do.”

Clifford said she applied for food stamps initially but found her family made too much with unemployment to qualify. However, she found she and her husband did qualify for assistance from the Safe Net cupboard. This is because while qualification for food stamps, now known as SNAP, is 185 percent of the poverty level, Safe Net can go a little further, accepting clients at up to 235 percent of the poverty level.

“I cried all through the intake process [at Safe Net], but I got nothing but love, compassion and support,” said Clifford. “The people are non-judgmental. They said I could call them if I needed to talk. They let me know I could get some social services through the town.”

Clifford said she has been coming to the cupboard on and off as a client, getting temporary work but unable so far to secure a permanent job. She got involved with Safe Net as a backup volunteer for fundraisers and for the pantry, and when they asked her if she’d like to help work the line in their second and fourth Saturday food distributions, she agreed.

“Helping out here has been a positive experience and gives me the chance to give back,” said Clifford. “When we’re done, I leave here with a good feeling.”

To learn more about Safe Net Ministries, including information about how to volunteer, visit the website

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