Courtney to take over for Kempton at Manna Pantry

LEADERSHIP CHANGE: Isabel Kempton, discussing pantry inventory with volunteer Sara Ham, has led the Manna Pantry for nearly 16 years. She will be stepping down from the role at the end of September. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

LEADERSHIP CHANGE: Isabel Kempton, discussing pantry inventory with volunteer Sara Ham, has led the Manna Pantry for nearly 16 years. She will be stepping down from the role at the end of September. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

BIG RAPIDS — Filling hungry bellies is the goal of the Manna Pantry, and that focus won’t change when a new leader steps into the role of executive director later this year.

Isabel Kempton, who has led the pantry for nearly 16 years of its 27-year history, will be stepping down at the end of September. The Manna Pantry Board of Directors has selected Kevin Courtney, a local farmer and former director of the Big Rapids Department of Public Safety, to fill the role.

“The search committee, with the board, developed a list of criteria for the next executive director and Kevin met or exceeded all the criteria they listed,” Kempton said. “I’m really excited Kevin was chosen as the new executive director. I think he’ll be able to continue the development of the pantry.”

While the pantry began initially in 1989, it didn’t establish its own nonprofit 501(c)3 status until 2015. Prior to that, it had been operating under the nonprofit status of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, where the pantry is still housed though it is an independent organization.

“I saw the position at Manna Pantry as a chance to continue to serve the community and also in effect walk my faith, not just talk it,” Courtney said. “They’re a great group of people. It’s clearly going to be a blessing for me to work with such a good organization.”

With the independent nonprofit designation comes a “whole new set of challenges and opportunities,” Kempton noted. Part of those challenges come from the creation of a paid position at the pantry — Courtney will be the first employee of Manna Pantry. Previous leaders were volunteers.

“We’ve grown enough and there is sufficient external accountability for an employee,” Kempton said. “Now we have to meet IRS criteria. We’re a United Way fund agency and there’s reporting that needs to be done for that. We’ve also gotten grants and will need to continue to write grants.

VOLUNTEERING: (From left) Sara Ham, Judy Hale and Eileen Antal cut up bread donated to Manna Pantry by Panera Bread and bag it for clients. The Manna Pantry will have a new executive director on Oct. 1 after long-time leader Isabel Kempton steps down. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

VOLUNTEERING: (From left) Sara Ham, Judy Hale and Eileen Antal cut up bread donated to Manna Pantry by Panera Bread and bag it for clients. The Manna Pantry will have a new executive director on Oct. 1 after long-time leader Isabel Kempton steps down. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

“When I started, in a busy month for the pantry we’d serve 30 or 40 families. We’ve served 970 families in the first six months of this year.”

The new director was selected early enough to allow Courtney to train alongside Kempton for several weeks before taking the reins himself. Though not officially the executive director until Oct. 1, he will begin working with her at the pantry in mid-August.

“So much of what you do in the management of something like Manna Pantry is learned by doing,” Kempton said. “The best example of that is you don’t ever know how many clients you’ll have in a month, but you do the inventory before ordering from Feeding America. It’s really ‘by guess and by gosh,’ but you need to know what you get from Feeding America and what you get from other sources.”

Like many nonprofit organizations, Kempton sees funding and space as the long-range challenges for the pantry.

“In the pantry and the storeroom, we’re tight,” she said. “If the need continues to grow, though it’s not growing as fast — we’re only up 15 percent this year — the executive director and the board need to deal with how to raise sufficient funds and how to deal with the space constraints we have.”

Looking forward, Courtney wants to be sure the pantry continues to fulfill its mission providing emergency food assistance.

“I want to make sure of the continued strength of the organization and make sure to continue to focus on its goals and mission,” he said.

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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