BENNINGTON -- American Baptist Churches USA has awarded a $10,000 grant to The Kitchen Cupboard, a food distribution program of the Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services Inc.

The Kitchen Cupboard is a food pantry which opened earlier this year at the corner of Gage and Bradford Streets.

"The grant was for infrastructure development at the Kitchen Cupboard, and specifically items that we have in mind are a handicapped access ramp that we desperately need and additional cooling... capacity," said Sue Andrews, who directs the cupboard and other GBICS programs. "We have a lot of freezing capacity, but we need more coolers."

Andrews and the Rev. Jerrod H. Hugenot, coordinating minister of the First Baptist Church of Bennington, applied for the grant in March.

The front door of The Kitchen Cupboard, located in a building that was a former tanning salon, is reached by going up two steps. The ramp will be useful not only for people in wheelchairs, but for all those who arrive empty-handed but leave with lots of bags of food, Andrews said.

"In the winter it's going to be very important to have access instead of those two steps," added Dick Bower, vice president of the GBICS board. "It's nice to have a ramp, safety-wise."

Andrews said the additional cooling capacity is needed for vegetables for local farms and other sources: "We're benefiting from the plethora of vegetables that are kindly available."

Grant funded by American Baptists

Hugenot said the grant is made possible by financial contributions of 5,500 American Baptist congregations nationwide to the One Great Hour of Sharing offering, which provides disaster relief aid and grants for domestic and global development. The grant is awarded as part of this program's Domestic Food and Shelter Fund.

"First Baptist is committed to interfaith collaborative efforts that meet basic human needs. Through our key partnerships with GBICS and the Interfaith Council, First Baptist endeavors to create and support collaborative efforts," Hugenot said.

These efforts include The Kitchen Cupboard, the Bennington Free Clinic, which is located in the building attached to First Baptist on Main Street, and the Food and Fuel Fund.

Hugenot said he hopes this grant will encourage other congregations to seek similar grants from their national associations for GBICS programs.

Wayne Kachmar, moderator at First Baptist, said it is difficult to raise money for infrastructure improvements.

"People like to raise money for something that they can point to and see," he said. "Infrastructure is one of those really critical factors; people don't recognize the value, for example, of a freezer or coolers in making food usable for a longer period of time.

"A lot what's gone on with the interfaith council is they've built a lot of infrastructure for support to bring people up, up the economic ladder," Kachmar said. "And I think that's an important factor in all of this."

In recent years, First Baptist has turned its Nichols Education Building into a center for local non-profits, beginning with the Bennington Free Clinic.

It also houses offices for the Vermont Center for Independent Living, Project Against Violent Encounters' Family Time program, Easter Seals, and various community non-profit meetings and events.

First Baptist is recognized by the Vermont Community Foundation as a model for non-profit collaboration and among American Baptists for missional efforts, especially in the area of interfaith partnerships.

The Kitchen Cupboard is open Tuesday evenings and Saturday afternoons.

"The number of guests who are served on any given week kind of depends on where in the month's cycle we are. When food stamps get put on cards and when people get cash allotments from various programs on the first of the month, basically business kind of falls off and we'll serve 50 or 60 families," Andrews said. "And then by the third or fourth week in the month we're up to 150 or 160 at each of two distributions a week."

Contact Mark E. Rondeau at mrondeau@benningtonbanner.com.