Every Tuesday, the Sag Harbor Community Food Pantry (SHCFP) is teeming with sights, sounds, and of course, tastes. The basement kitchen in the Old Whaler’s Church is overflowing with boxes of fresh produce, eggs and meat. The tables in the general meeting area are lined with colorful bouquets of flowers and basic toiletries. And nearly 40 volunteers are milling around helping those in need of the Pantry’s help.Orchestrating every movement in this finely tuned operation is SHCFP executive director Lillian Woudsma.
From greeting the needy to finagling the best price for turkey from a wholesaler, Woudsma injected new vigor into the organization over the course of her tenure at SHCFP. After five years of leading the not-for-profit organization, Woudsma resigned from her position last Tuesday.
Under Woudsma’s management, the Pantry transformed from a modest-sized emergency based pantry into an enterprise rivaling those found in major cities.Woudsma championed the “Fresh is Better” program to provide raw fruits and vegetables, among other food items, as opposed to strictly canned goods. When theSHCFP first started in the late 1980s less than a dozen residents took advantage of the program, said a recent press statement released by theSHCFP Board of Directors. Over the recent Thanksgiving holiday, the Pantry fed over 300 people or roughly 80 families.
Woudsma was as well known in the kitchen as she was outside of it. She was a tenacious fundraiser. Woudsma could often be seen in the pages of local publications or heard on WLNG and WLIU radio stations promoting the work of SHCFP and lobbying for donations. Over the holidays Woudsma set up “Giving Trees,” artificial Christmas trees, at various local establishments to allow people to gift a toy or money. Woudsma organized the popular “Kitchen Tours” event featuring six notable village kitchens.
For Woudsma, the SHCFP was a perfect marriage of her professional background and desire to help the less fortunate. She had previously worked in the in catering and the restaurant business. Through her experience in the food industry,Woudsma was at ease making connections with local purveyors. These relationships benefited SHCFP through donations or reduced prices. She also had a knack for organizing the kitchen and keeping her eye on presentation. When she first took over the day-to-day-operations of the Pantry, she enlisted Pierson art teacher PeterSolow to craft an SHCFP logo and printed it on shirts and aprons for the volunteers. Woudsma upgraded the kitchen facilities as well to include a new refrigerator and freezer, which greatly increased the Pantry’s ability to accept more donations.
Woudsma received several accolades for her work. Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman selected Woudsma as a “Woman of Distinction” in the community.
“This is my baby,” said Woudsma of the Pantry during an interview.
An apparent discord between herself and the board of directors seems to have influenced Woudsma’s decision to part ways with SHCFP. In a letter she sent to the board, Woudsma claims she was voted off the board during the November 10 meeting. Woudsma said the president of the board Nathan Brown explained that other executive directors on local not-for-profit organizations, like the John Jermain Memorial Library or the Whaling Museum, are excluded from serving on the board. However, the directors at these organizations are paid a salary for their work, whereasWoudsma volunteered for the SHCFP. Fearing she would lose a voice in the operations and programs of the organization, Woudsma opted to resign.
“I need to go where I feel I am making a positive affect and feel good about what I am doing,” noted Woudsma in the letter. She added that she would return to SHCFP if the executive director was a voting member on the board, “as it was since inception of our corporations,” added Woudsma in the letter. Woudsma was integral in attaining 501 (C)(3) not-for-profit status.
Brown became the board president a few months ago and said he was tasked with reviewing the state by-laws for running a not-for-profit.
“[When first elected to the board,] I had a problem with some of the ways the board was functioning in following the laws. It wasn’t anything personal. I wasn’t trying to change anything that she was doing. She was the face of the food pantry and everyone knew that. She was voted off the board based on her being the executive director. Welistened to all the board members and they voted,” remarked Brown. “Everybody on the board without exception has a great deal of respect for Lillian.”
In the release distributed by the board, Brown added that “It will be difficult to find an accomplished replacement.”
Brown said the board has a few community members in mind to take over the executive director position, though they haven’t formally interviewed anyone.
True to her determined demeanor, Woudsma expects to move on and start volunteering at the East Hampton Food Pantry. Despite the resignation, Woudsma remains steadfast in continuing to help feed the less fortunate members of the community.