FAIRFIELD — After getting off to a fast start, a capital fundraising campaign to renovate a new home for the Interfaith Food Pantry has slowed dramatically.

The campaign, which began in mid-March, raised $50,000 in its first 12 weeks, aided in part by a $25,000 matching pledge from businessman Mark Scribner. Since hitting that milestone in mid-June, however, the pantry has garnered only $8,000 more, bringing its total to $58,000, according to pantry volunteer Louella Bickford.

“It is kind of slow right now,” Bickford said.

Bickford said she also has received pledges from donors totaling a few thousand dollars, but she doesn’t count them until the money has arrived.

To make matters worse, the campaign’s initial rough estimate of $100,000 to fix up a small warehouse behind the Town Office, which was donated for the pantry’s use, will not cover the true cost of the renovation.

Bickford said a decision to replace the third floor with a peaked roof has increased the total projected costs by tens of thousands of dollars.

Bickford, who leads the fundraising campaign, said part of the issue is that she hasn’t had as much time as she would like to pursue potential donations. Bickford works full time as the town’s librarian and is attending college, responsibilities which demand most of her time, she said.

“I like doing the fundraising, and it’s an education for me,” she said. “I just wish I had more hours in the day. It’s a full-time commitment.”

Since it opened in 1993, the pantry has fed individuals more than 68,000 times, and Bickford said the need continues to grow.

Pantry volunteers used to distribute food from the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, but when that church closed in 2011 as part of a larger restructuring, the pantry was forced to move. Since 2011, it has been operating at First Baptist Church on Newhall Street, which is too small to house the operation adequately.

The pantry provides a vital service to the town, Town Manager Josh Reny said. When the Gerald Hotel was renovated as housing for the elderly, the town deeded the adjacent warehouse to the pantry. The building is large enough to hold the pantry and would be a permanent solution to its housing needs. However, it needs water, heat, and significant repairs to windows and entryways.

Volunteers initially had hoped to have the building weather-tight and functional by the time the first snow fell, but major work still needs to be done, Bickford said.

In the meantime, the pantry’s 50 active volunteers continue to dispense food to hundreds of people each month from Newhall Street.

Cause for optimism

While the slowdown in donations raises concerns, one donor, Mainely Real Estate owner Tom Munson, said there is cause for optimism.

Munson, a former town councilor who helped initiate and broker the Gerald Hotel’s redevelopment deal, pledged $500 to the cause this week and hopes others will follow suit.

“A lot of us have had a good year, and a lot of people have not had a good year,” Munson said. “This is an opportunity to donate to a worthy cause.”

Munson said December is an ideal time to donate to charity, and not only because of the holiday spirit.

“Uncle Sam is going to tax you,” he said. “Instead of paying taxes to the IRS, why not donate it to the Fairfield Interfaith Food Pantry?”

Munson said he was motivated to give to the pantry in part because he’s seen a scaling back of government services to the poor.

“To me, it’s a basic thing,” he said. “Heat and food should be reasonable things that we would help people with.”

Reny said the town also may be able to help with a Community Development Block Grant that gives downtown entities matching funds for improvements to building exteriors.

Under the grant, the pantry could receive up to $25,000 in matching funds for work on windows, sidings and entryways. Reny said he thinks some or all of the roof replacement might qualify for funds under the grant.

The grant is overseen by the town’s economic development committee, which reviews any applications for improvements.

“The pantry hasn’t yet applied, but they have expressed an interest,” Reny said. “I don’t foresee any problems with their application. Obviously, this project is important to the town.”

Reny said there is also an ongoing effort to rework the parking lots that are between the hotel, the Town Office and the pantry’s new location. He said the plan is for parking space outside the pantry to be shared between the pantry and the public.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287 [email protected] Twitter: @hh_matt

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