Commonwealth Journal

November 29, 2013

From Cruisin' to Cuisine

Somernites Marketing Coordinator Brenda Russell looking forward to challenges at God’s Food Pantry

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

Walking into the South Central Avenue location of God’s Food Pantry en route to Brenda Russell’s office, one passes by a packed lobby of Pulaski Countians , waiting their turn to secure a little extra food for this cold time of year.
It could be enough to overwhelm a person. Yet, when greeted in her office, Russell’s smile is as big as the Pantry’s food storage warehouse, as warm as the weather is chilled.
A perfect fit for her new job — and she knows it.
Russell is the new executive director of God’s Food Pantry, succeeding Jack Keeney, who resigned from the position last month.
Keeney’s retirement takes effect at the end of 2013, meaning he’s staying on through what is likely the Pantry’s busiest time of year to help Russell get her feet wet — or to “keep me from drowning,” as Russell put it, noting the swell of Pantry activity around the holidays.
It’s a challenge Russell embraces whole-heartedly, however. On November 18, she was contacted about her interest in taking over operations of the Pantry from Keeney. It didn’t take her long to give her answer.
“I was absolutely ready to be here,” said Russell. “I really feel this is a blessing for me.
“I knew I was going to have to do something besides Somernites Cruise — I’ve got one (child) going to college — and about the time I decided I needed something, this job became available. I can’t even tell you what a blessing it is.”
Russell has worked as marketing coordinator for the Cruise, Somerset’s popular classic car showcase, for the last 10 years. In that job, she’s held multiple roles, promoting events as well as taking care of day-to-day activities. 
Formerly in real estate, Russell came to Somerset from Wisconsin because of her husband Brian, a native of the area. The two have three children together — Breanna, 17, and Brooke, 16, students at Southwestern High School, and Bryce, 13, at Southern Middle School.
Russell said she’ll be staying on board with the Cruise for the time being, if not at quite the same level as before. “I couldn’t leave them high and dry,” she said.
However, she’s as committed to God’s Food Pantry as she is excited to head up the local food bank, which provides meals to those in need throughout the year.
“It just seemed like the perfect fir for both myself and God’s Food Pantry,” said Russell. “Their needs are the needs that my skills fit.
“I’ve always been very community-minded,” she added. “I’ve always said it’s important to teach my children to take care of their community ... because you have to leave it for your children when you’re done with it.”
Russell’s marketing background should only help make the community more aware of what God’s Food Pantry offers.
“I have lots and lots of plans in mind for promoting the pantry over the next year — new programs, new fundraising ideas,” she said. “... The Pantry is in a good position and I want to continue to make it even better. I think it’s important to market God’s Food Pantry. I think it’s a lot about networking and people working together. With me getting the word out to them, I think this community will get on board and be even more supportive than it already is.”
Right now, the Pantry is in the midst of a push to get food baskets out to the less fortunate this holiday season, which may be the biggest challenge Russell faces in her new role.
“I’m seeing firsthand exactly how busy the pantry is,” she said. “I realize after the holidays it settles down a bit and I can get into the day-to-day running of it.”
Things have gone well, so far — the Pantry is in strong shape thanks to Keeney’s previous leadership (“The systems in place are working wonderfully,” said Russell. “He’s built a wonderful staff. He really brought the pantry a long way in the short time he’s been here”) and there are currently enough funds to help pay for the current allotment of holiday food baskets.
But it’s an ongoing struggle for funds, and year-round giving is needed, not just at the holiday season, as God’s Food Pantry operates around the calendar. And that’s where Russell’s unique talents should come in as a godsend.
“I have a servant’s heart,” she said. “This was a perfect fit for my personality and skills.”
Mike Hornback, vice president of God’s Food Pantry, praised the selection of Russell as executive director.
“On behalf of the board, we are pleased to welcome Brenda and look forward to the continued stewardship that is provided to our community from our community,” he said. “Brenda brings a vast knowledge and desire to help lead God’s Food Pantry forward. 
“The board is extremely grateful for Jack (Keeney’s) leadership,” he continued. “Jack has helped the Pantry grow and become more efficient. We will miss his talent, wisdom and working friendship.”
Russell said her first reaction on the job has been a “heart full of gratitude” for the people of Pulaski County, and hopes that can continue as a part of her life for a long time to come.
“I expect that as long as the Pantry is blessing me and I’m blessing the Pantry, I’ll be here as long as they’ll have me,” she said.