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Class of 2019 Difference Makers

This Essential Agency Helps the Region Contend with a ‘New Normal’

Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts

Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts

As Andrew Morehouse talks about the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, its history, mission, and future, he makes early and frequent use of numbers.

And for a good reason — actually, several of them.

They bring this story into focus better than any words probably could, said Morehouse, executive director of the Hatfield-based nonprofit since 2005. The numbers punctuate the tremendous amount of need in this region, and … well, they usually wind up surprising people and then inspiring them.

Here are just a few:

Over the past calendar year, the Food Bank has served more than 225,000 people seeking what is known as ‘food assistance.’ That’s not necessarily 225,000 different people, Morehouse acknowledged; that number is at least 100,000 and probably closer to 200,000 — significant no matter what the actual total is, because the population of this region is only about 900,000. Nearly one-third of those served (30%) are children, 14% are seniors, and the rest are adults ages 19-64.

“Do the math. People working at minimum wage or near minimum wage working full-time can’t meet all their basic expenses, including food, so something has to give. And often, it is food.”

As for meals distributed, that number is more than 9.6 million for the four Western Mass. counties, and more than 5 million for Hampden County alone. Those meals add up to 11.6 million pounds of food, or the equivalent of 145 tractor-trailers packed from one end to the other.

And here are perhaps the most surprising, disturbing, and inspiring numbers. The total amount of food distributed in 2005 was 5.6 million pounds, just over half what it is today. Meanwhile, the number of people served spiked after the Great Recession to more than 200,000, and in the decade since, it hasn’t gone down, even though the economy has recovered significantly by every statistical measure.

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts relies on a small army of volunteers to carry out its broad mission.

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts relies on a small army of volunteers to carry out its broad mission.

“That’s certainly alarming,” said Morehouse, adding that all these numbers add up to three simple yet also quite complex words: ‘a new normal.’

“There’s been an economic restructuring, as often happens after recessions, which has brought about a dramatic change in the workforce,” he explained. “Many people, if they are working, are in lower-paying jobs. And that results in a lot of families not being able to support themselves, even if people are working full-time.

“Do the math,” he went on. “People working at minimum wage or near minimum wage working full-time can’t meet all their basic expenses, including food, so something has to give. And often, it is food.”

Confronting this new normal in a proactive manner could be considered the unofficial mission of the Food Bank, which was created in 1982 and first housed in a tobacco barn in Hadley.

And this mission is carried on in a number of ways, said Morehouse, noting that collecting and then distributing food for more than 9 million meals is obviously the most visible and impactful manifestation of the agency’s work and the quickest, most profound explanation for why this agency is being honored as a Difference Maker.

“People are not going to wear a sign around their neck saying, ‘I’m hungry.’ There is a lot of stigma and shame attached to not being able to meet your basic needs, especially food. So there’s a real challenge there in terms of public education.”

Indeed, Monte Belmonte, program director and morning show host at WHMP radio and architect of Monte’s March, an annual trek during which he pushes a shopping cart to raise money for the Food Bank, called the agency ‘mother ship hunger’ that provides food to a number of area food pantries and soup kitchens, and essentially enables them to carry out their work.

“When I go into these emergency food providers across our region, all of them say they couldn’t do their work; that’s how essential the Food Bank is to fighting hunger here,” he said. “If it weren’t for this huge piece of the puzzle, all those other dominoes would be in huge trouble.”

But the Food Bank is also attacking the root causes of this large and persistent problem through an ambitious initiative called the Coalition to End Hunger.

Launched in 2017, the coalition is a collaborative network of leaders and organizations focusing on providing integrated services for those who need them, erasing the stigma associated with hunger and advocating for public policy solutions.

As just one example, he noted the agency’s work to bring awareness to — and a possible solution for — the so-called ‘cliff effect.’ Not a recent phenomenon but certainly a growing problem, this cliff effect refers to a situation where people who want to work, and are often being given help to join the workforce, often don’t because the income they would earn would make them ineligible or less eligible for benefits such as food assistance.

Andrew Morehouse says the Food Bank is coping with what a ‘new normal’

Andrew Morehouse says the Food Bank is coping with what a ‘new normal’ when it comes to the number of area residents needing help and the volume of food it distributes.

Looking toward the future, the Food Bank is blueprinting ambitious expansion plans, said Morehouse, adding that, given the ‘new normal’ this region is facing, the agency will need to nearly double the size of its 30,000-square-foot Hatfield headquarters to effectively carry out its broad mission.

Plans are preliminary, he went on, adding that a capital campaign will certainly be needed for this expansion to become reality. When asked for a price tag, he said he didn’t know what that number might be at this time.

What he does know is that all those other numbers cited earlier are expected to increase in the months and years to come. The food bank will go on being a Difference Maker in this region, he said, but the challenge will only continue to grow in scope.

Crunching the Numbers

Morehouse told BusinessWest that hunger is what he called “an invisible problem.”

By that, he meant that, in many ways, it’s not easy for many people to see or fully comprehend the scope of the problem in this area, especially in times like these, when the economy is, in most ways, doing well and unemployment rates are approaching record-low levels. And also because of the persistent stigma attached to hunger.

“People are not going to wear a sign around their neck saying, ‘I’m hungry,’” he said. “There is a lot of stigma and shame attached to not being able to meet your basic needs, especially food. So there’s a real challenge there in terms of public education.”

Meanwhile, beyond being invisible in nature, hunger, or the need for food assistance, is an often misunderstood problem.

Indeed, the common perception is that many of those seeking such assistance are capable of working and are not, opting instead for a handout. There are certainly a few that might fit into that category, said Morehouse, but the vast majority of people receiving assistance would rather not be. However, circumstances dictate that they must, so they do, although pride does keep some away who are truly in need.

“We need to debunk that myth that people go hungry because of their fault,” he explained, adding that battling this stigma, as well as the many misperceptions about those seeking food assistance, has been part of the Food Bank’s mission since it was created more than 35 years ago by area church leaders. It is now one of 200 food banks across the country under the umbrella of a national organization called Feeding America.

As noted, it started in a tobacco barn in Hadley (a location chosen because the intent was for the agency to also serve Southern Vermont, although it did that for only a short time), but within a year, land was purchased in Hatfield for a headquarters facility that includes a large warehouse and administrative offices.

As he offered a tour of that warehouse, Morehouse noted that the food distributed by the agency comes from a number of sources and agencies with like-sounding acronyms. These include the state government (MEFAP), the federal government (TEFAP), local farms, the agency’s own farm, retail and wholesale food businesses (including CNS Wholesale Grocers, which built a huge warehouse literally next door in Hatfield), community organizations, and individual donations.

“With state funding and food donations from local farmers, we receive more than 1 million pounds of fresh vegetables every year,” he explained, while pointing to cases and large storage bins of food that arrived from a host of various sources, and correcting another misperception about food banks. “Contrary to the stereotype that food banks distribute unhealthy food, a third of the food that we distribute is fresh vegetables; we get vegetables from supermarkets, and we actually buy vegetables from Canada over the winter months because they know how to store the harvest up there.”

Once received and processed, the food is distributed to a number of member agencies or through the Food Bank’s own direct-to-client programs such as its Mobile Food Bank or its Brown Bag: Food for Elders program. These member agencies, located across the four counties of Western Mass., include pantries, meal sites, shelters, rehabilitation facilities, senior centers, and more.

And this is where some confusion exists, said Morehouse, noting that many believe the Food Bank is one of these pantries, such as Rachel’s Table, Kate’s Kitchen in Holyoke, or the Amherst Survival Center.

“Our strategic plan is to continue to increase the amount of food we distribute every year, until or unless we see things get better. But here we are in a period of dramatic economic growth, and there are still 225,000 people receiving food — and we know that another recession will come.”

Instead, it is, as Belmonte described, the mother ship for those smaller distribution facilities, a ship that needs fuel — in the form of donations of food, money, time, and energy; indeed, the Food Bank relies on a small army of volunteers to keep its multi-faceted operation running smoothly.

Meanwhile, donations from the public, attained through a host of fundraisers, including Monte’s March, are used to support the infrastructure that enables the Food Bank to carry out its mission, said Morehouse.

“Those donations support the capacity we have, between staff and trucks and warehousing, to be able to receive the food that’s either donated or paid for by the public sector,” he explained. “That’s the magic that enables us to turn $1 that is donated into the equivalent of three meals.”

But while food distribution is at the heart of the agency’s mission, there is much more to the work known as food assistance, said Morehouse, adding that the Food Bank is engaged in helping area residents on a number of fronts, including SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) outreach and enrollment, nutrition outreach, and the broad realm of advocacy.

Educating the public about the problem of hunger and its vast dimensions is a big part of the mission, said Morehouse, adding that many of the families being served by the agency have incomes that exceed the thresholds established for SNAP benefits, but are not high enough to adequately feed that family. He offered an example.

“For a family of four, that threshold is about $44,000,” he said, in reference to the ceiling for SNAP benefits. “So if you’re making $45,000 a year, you can’t make ends meet, yet you’re not eligible for SNAP benefits. So if you can’t feed yourself, you can go to a local food pantry or meal site and get some food to get through the week or the month until the next paycheck comes. To get by, a family of four would need to earn about $56,000; so there’s a gap of $12,000.”

Word-of-Mouth Referrals

That gap, and, more specifically, the steady, alarmingly high number of people facing such a gap, explains not only the need for the Food Bank but why the long-term strategic plan calls for an expansion of the Hatfield facility, said Morehouse.

Elaborating, he said that, when the Food Bank goes about calculating how much food it will need to distribute, either to area member agencies or through its own programs, it takes that number cited earlier — 225,000 people — and multiples it by the number of times each individual might visit. This takes us to that other number — 11.6 million pounds of food — which, he said, is almost certain to increase in the years to come.

“Every year that I’ve been at the Food Bank, we’ve increased the amount of food we’ve distributed,” he explained. “In 2005, we were distributing 5.6 million pounds of food; last year, it was over twice that amount.

“Our strategic plan is to continue to increase the amount of food we distribute every year, until or unless we see things get better,” he went on. “But here we are in a period of dramatic economic growth, and there are still 225,000 people receiving food — and we know that another recession will come.”

This reality, and the need to be able to respond to it, is one of the forces that started Belmonte on his march back at the start of this decade. The program has its roots in a food drive staged by the radio station, he explained, but was inspired by the knowledge that the Food Bank, with its enormous buying power, can do more with dollars than it can with donated cans of soup.

So Belmonte started marching from Northampton to Greenfield with a shopping cart souped up (pun intended) by students at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, broadcasting and raising money as he went.

In its first year, the march raised $13,000 for the Food Bank. The latest installment, staged last November, raised $294,000. The numbers are just one manifestation of how the event has grown in size — and meaning.

Indeed, the march now covers two days and much more ground; the trek is now from Springfield to Greenfield. And Belmonte, who likened himself to Forrest Gump in the scenes where that movie character is running across the country, has picked up a lot of company in his march.

“There were hundreds of people joining us at various points along the 43-mile route, including all the newly elected legislators in Western Mass. and U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern, who has done this march at least six times now,” said Belmonte, adding that this strength in numbers has helped bring more than money to the Food Bank — it’s helped raise awareness of its all-important mission.

And still more awareness comes with some stops those marching make to a few of the member agencies served by the Food Bank.

“Some of these people who are marching along with us have never been to a food pantry and seen how one works,” he said. “So it brings the pieces to the puzzle together in a rather interesting way for people.”

Thus, the march has become part of Belmonte’s work as a member of the Coalition to End Hunger, an important extension, if you will, of the Food Bank’s mission. The coalition is focusing on three primary areas of work:

• A policy team that identifies and supports changes that will help resolve the underlying causes of hunger;

• A service-integration team that develops a network that will help those who are food-insecure through initiatives ranging from integrating nutrition programs into other safety-net programs to increasing access to healthy food in food deserts and food swamps; and

• A communication and education team (Belmonte’s a member) that addresses the lack of understanding and education about food insecurity, and the stigma attached to the problem, through a targeted media campaign.

“We’ve invested in a public media-education campaign to drive traffic to a website called coalitiontoendhunger.org,” Morehouse explained, “where we’re telling real stories of real people that will help shatter the myth that people are hungry because they’re lazy or they don’t want to work or because they have a drug problem.

“One would do better to not assume or judge, but to understand this problem and come up with smart ways to address it,” he went on, adding that this is the essence of the coalition and its work.

Belmonte agreed, and said his efforts to assist the food bank have certainly evolved over the years and expanded beyond the physical pushing of a shopping cart and asking for donations, and into the realm of education.

“I’ve learned so much about food insecurity and the myths surrounding it, and I wanted to do much more than a publicity stunt,” he said of his work with the coalition. “Using the tools of marketing to help destigmatize this issue is really important to me.”

Food for Thought

As he put the Food Bank and its broad spectrum of work in perspective, Morehouse recalled (he said it was something he’d never forget) a tour of the Charlemont area he was given by a woman who runs a food pantry there.

“She drove me around the rural roads of Charlemont to show me where people lived and tell the stories of the people who lived in those houses and also frequented the pantries,” he told BusinessWest. “It was eye-opening to see the condition of those houses, but it’s just one example of how there’s lots of people in rural communities, and urban communities, who are just scraping by — really struggling.

“People who don’t experience that and don’t live in those circumstances, just don’t have a clue of how much people are struggling to survive,” he went on, adding that it is part of the Food Bank’s mission to not only give people a clue but create enough momentum to confront that new normal he described, in the manner in which it needs to be confronted.

And that’s why, beyond those 9.6 million meals and 11.6 million pounds of food distributed, this agency is a true Difference Maker.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Nonprofit Management Special Coverage

Growth Is on the Menu

 

A rendering of the future Chicopee home of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, set to open in 2023.

A rendering of the future Chicopee home of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, set to open in 2023.

While it manages an impressive flow of food from numerous sources to the people who need it most, in recent years, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts has been doing that job in a space that’s not sufficient for the work. That will change with the opening, in 2023, of a new headquarters in Chicopee that will more than double the organization’s space and allow it to serve more people with more food and more nutrition and educations — in effect, expanding the menu of what’s possible at a time when the need is great.

 

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts was launched in a Hadley barn 40 years ago. Four years later, it relocated to its current facility in Hatfield.

Today, as one of four regional food banks in Massachusetts, the organization provides food to 172 food pantries, meal sites, and shelters in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties. Its food sources include the state and federal government, local farms — including two of its own  — retail and wholesale food businesses, community organizations, and individual donations.

The organization also provides other forms of food assistance, such as nutrition workshops, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enrollment assistance, and education, public-policy advocacy, and engagement around issues of food insecurity.

That’s a lot of food and a lot of people being served, and not enough space to do it all. In fact, the Food Bank has had to turn away about a million pounds of food donations over the past three years, said Andrew Morehouse, its executive director.

The need for a new facility is nothing new, but the reality of one is finally on the near horizon, with a $19 million, 63,000-square-foot facility breaking ground in Chicopee next month and set to open next year, more than doubling the organization’s current 30,000 square feet of space.

Those are gratifying numbers, Morehouse said.

“This is a project we’ve been planning for probably six years, when we realized we were beginning to run out of space here at the facility in Hatfield. So we began the process of figuring out what we needed to do,” he told BusinessWest. “Do we want to expand the facility in Hatfield or purchase or build a second facility in Hampden County? Can we operate two facilities? If we can’t, are we prepared to move to the Springfield area?”

About three years ago, the Food Bank decided to move to Hampden County, for multiple reasons. “One is because it’s right at the crossroads of two major interstates, which facilitates loads of food to and from the Food Bank. We distribute large amounts of food, tens of thousands of pounds of food every day — over a million pounds every month.”

“It’s right at the crossroads of two major interstates, which facilitates loads of food to and from the Food Bank. We distribute large amounts of food, tens of thousands of pounds of food every day — over a million pounds every month.”

In addition, Hampden County boasts the region’s largest concentration of people facing food insecurity. “For that reason as well, we said, ‘we really need to be in Hampden County,’” Morehouse explained. “We’ve been an upper Pioneer Valley organization, even though we serve all four counties, and this affords us the opportunity to raise our visibility in Hampden County.”

More than two years ago, the Food Bank honed in on a building for sale on Carando Drive in Springfield and made an offer to purchase, but backed out after the inspection stage. “So we went back to the drawing board,” he said, and that process eventually brought the nonprofit to a parcel of land at the Chicopee River Business Park owned by Westmass Area Development Corp.

Andrew Morehouse (center) with Big Y CEO Charlie D’Amour (left) and Dennis Duquette, MassMutual Foundation president

Andrew Morehouse (center) with Big Y CEO Charlie D’Amour (left) and Dennis Duquette, MassMutual Foundation president, when they announced pledges of $1.5 million each to the Food Bank’s capital campaign last year.

The space is plentiful — 16.5 acres, 9.5 of which are buildable, the rest protected as wetlands and greenspace. The Dennis Group had begun designing a building well before the land purchase (Thomas Douglas Architects also had a hand in the design), and C.E. Floyd, based in Bedford, will do the construction, with groundbreaking, as noted, likely to happen next month and the new facility expected to open in March or April 2023, with move-in complete by that summer.

“It’s twice the size of our current facility, which gives us the capacity to receive, store, and distribute more healthy food to more people for decades to come,” Morehouse said.

 

Special Deliveries

The Food Bank’s reach is impressive, serving as a clearinghouse of emergency food for all four counties of Western Mass., most distributed to local food pantries, meal sites, and shelters.

“It’s important to note that more than 50% of the food we distribute is perishable foods, like vegetables and frozen meats,” Morehouse noted. “And a lot of the non-perishable food is very healthy grains, pastas, beans, and nutritious canned food items, low in salt and sugar, for people who don’t have time to cook.”

Much of the food the organization collects is purchased, using state and federal funds, from wholesalers, local supermarkets, and three dozen local farms, from which the Food Bank purchased more than a half-million pounds of vegetables last year using state funds; farmers also donate another half-million pounds each year.

“It’s important to note that more than 50% of the food we distribute is perishable foods, like vegetables and frozen meats. And a lot of the non-perishable food is very healthy grains, pastas, beans, and nutritious canned food items, low in salt and sugar, for people who don’t have time to cook.”

“We’ve also increased our own capacity to distribute food directly,” Morehouse said. “Since the late ’80s, we’ve been providing food to seniors in 51 senior centers across all four counties, and we continue to do that. Every month, we send a truck and provide bags of groceries to 6,500 elders — about 16 food items to supplement elders who lived on fixed incomes. And in the last six or seven years, we initiated a mobile food bank where we send a truck once or twice a month to 26 sites in the four counties — 10 in Hampden County — and provide fresh vegetables and other food items to individuals who live in food deserts, neighborhoods that don’t have grocery stores where they can buy healthy food.”

Andrew Morehouse

Andrew Morehouse says moving food — tens of thousands of pounds of it a day — in and out of the Food Bank’s headquarters will be much more efficient in the new facility.

The federal government responded well to suddenly increased food-insecurity needs in the first year of the pandemic, Morehouse noted, but by late 2021, many of those expanded safety-net programs were sunsetting, at the same time inflation was sending food prices soaring. “We believe that will lead to another spike in demand for emergency food.”

He intends for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts to meet that demand locally.

“This brand-new building is designed to maximize the efficiency of the flow of inventory. Over the last 30 years at our current facility, we’ve been expanding in a very small footprint in any way we can; this new property allows us to maximize efficiency and store more food and move food in and out more quickly and have more bays to receive food and distribute it quickly.”

And because combating hunger requires multiple lines of attack, Morehouse plans to use the additional space for expanded nutrition education programs as well, including a large demonstration kitchen. He also plans to hire more staff.

“We have partnerships with local hospitals and community health centers to address people with food insecurity. We’ll have more staff to help people apply for SNAP benefits and have more community space to accommodate workshops and community events.”

One of the project funding sources, a MassWorks grant to the city of Chicopee for site development, requires the building to have a physical public benefit, Morehouse noted. “So we’ve entered into an easement agreement with the city where our parking lot and community room are available as emergency shelter in the event of a natural disaster.”

Speaking of funding, while the project budget is $19 million, the capital campaign aimed to raise $26.3 million, which includes financing, furniture, fixtures, equipment, legal costs, accounting, and fundraising. Of that, more than $25 million has already been pledged. Large earmarks included $5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and $1.6 million from Chicopee’s coffers.

“Mayor [John] Vieau has repeatedly said how proud he is that the city of Chicopee will become the hub for food insecurity for the four counties of Western Massachusetts,” Morehouse said.

Other sources of funding include a New Market Tax Credit investment program, which will raise $4.2 million from investors, as well as support from individuals foundations, and businesses, he explained. “Lastly, the Food Bank will invest the proceeds from the same of our current building to the campaign.”

When MassDevelopment issued a $9.5 million tax-exempt bond for the project earlier this month, MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera noted that “more residents of Western Massachusetts will soon be able to access nutritious food and supportive services with the construction of this bigger, modern Food Bank. MassDevelopment is proud to deliver tax-exempt financing to help the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts fulfill its mission of addressing food insecurity and empowering people to live healthy lives.”

“This is a great project to be a part of,” added Matthew Krokov, first vice president of Commercial Banking at PeoplesBank, which purchased the bond. “The Food Bank plays a vital role in alleviating food insecurities in our region, and this investment in the Food Bank’s future home will help provide better access for individuals in our community.”

 

Food for Thought

The project, like any large construction project these days, has run into supply-chain obstacles that have caused delay and boosted costs, but Morehouse and other stakeholders finally see it coming into focus — and not a moment too soon for an organization that provided 11.6 million meals in 2021, reaching an average of 103,000 individuals per month.

“We are excited the Food Bank of Western Mass. has chosen the Chicopee River Business Park to relocate their operations and headquarters,” Vieau said. “I can think of no better place in terms of access, efficiency, and accessibility than right here in Chicopee, at the crossroads of New England.” u

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story Top Entrepreneur

A Hunger to Do More

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts Dramatically Grows Its Operations

 

Executive Director Andrew Morehouse

Executive Director Andrew Morehouse

 

It’s long been a tenet among nonprofits — successful ones, anyway — that they need to think entrepreneurally in order to thrive and grow. To think, in other words, like successful for-profit businesses do, in terms of resource allocation, financial planning, workforce management, and day-to-day operations.

And no nonprofit has been more entrepreneurial — and more ambitious — over the past few years than the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, whose $30 million project to build a new, larger headquarters in Chicopee culminated not only in last month’s grand-opening ceremony, but in the dramatic expansion of its capacity to perform work it was already doing on a massive scale.

The project — and the accompanying campaign that raised about $15 million of that cost from private donors and $15 million from state and federal governments — started just before the pandemic and continued through those challenging years, making the successful conclusion especially gratifying to Executive Director Andrew Morehouse and his team, and earning the Food Bank recognition from BusinessWest as its Top Entrepreneur for 2023.

“The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts’ new, state-of-the-art facility will allow their dedicated team to provide greater access to healthy, nutritious foods to thousands more of our neighbors in need and expand service routes to partners throughout the area.”

“We have to be innovative. We have to be able to adapt to circumstances,” he said. “We have a strategic plan, and every year, we have specific objectives — and all that can go out the window if something happens, like a pandemic, and then we have to pivot.”

That applies to any entity — for-profit or nonprofit — of this size, Morehouse added, noting that the Food Bank has a $9 million annual operating budget, and the value of the food that comes through is about $18 million, so this is essentially a $27 million operation, with a staff of 67, and plans to hire another 14 by the end of 2024.

Andrew Morehouse addresses guests

Andrew Morehouse addresses guests at the Food Bank’s grand-opening ceremony last month.

“We acknowledge that it’s the dedication and talent of our staff that’s the source of our success,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s our ethos as a business — that we can succeed in our mission when we acknowledge and invest in our staff and the hard work that they’re doing.”

The new food-distribution center, located at 25 Carew St. in Chicopee, is twice the size of its previous Hatfield location, with an additional 18,000 square feet in the warehouse alone. Floor-to-ceiling warehouse racks and expanded refrigeration and freezer sections enhance efficiencies and enable the Food Bank to store and quickly distribute more healthy food than ever before to 175 member food pantries, meal sites, and emergency shelters across all four counties of Western Mass.

The new site also features a dedicated community space with a working kitchen for cooking and nutrition classes and other educational events. Other efficiencies include electric charging stations, an expanded member pick-up area, and plenty of parking for staff and volunteers. In 2024, the Food Bank will add a solar array on the roof and a canopy over part of its parking, along with backup battery storage that will fully support all electricity needs of the building.

“That will make it a greener building, so there are efficiencies to be gained,” Morehouse said. “We expect that building to be near-carbon-neutral and generate most of the electricity that we need.”

The investment in the relocation project and its capital campaign is already bringing palpable returns. In just the first three months since moving in, the Food Bank has already provided 25% more healthy food than the same period last year — the equivalent of more than a half-million meals. In all, the Food Bank provides a little more than 1 million pounds of food every month, or the equivalent of 850,000 meals.

“The more we thought about moving to Hampden County, the more we realized that was what we needed to do.”

“The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts’ new, state-of-the-art facility will allow their dedicated team to provide greater access to healthy, nutritious foods to thousands more of our neighbors in need and expand service routes to partners throughout the area,” U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern said at the grand opening. “I’m proud of the Food Bank’s 40 years of history serving our community and their continued leadership on the national stage in our movement to end hunger now.”

 

An Overstuffed Facility

The Food Bank, which traces its history back to 1981, expanded its facility in Hatfield just before the Great Recession, and then maxed it out as food-insecurity needs exploded during the ensuing years of difficult economic conditions.

“We had no available space, and we continued to see heightened demand, and that left no space at all for continued growth,” Morehouse said, noting that the Food Bank has grown its operations by about 6% annually between 2006 and last year.

The new Chicopee headquarters

The new Chicopee headquarters doubles the size of the former Hatfield site.

“We knew around 2016 that it was unsustainable, that we would need a larger space in order to continue to accommodate more food and to address increasing food insecurity whenever there was another adverse impact on the economy, whether it be a recession or … who would have known?”

Who, indeed. When COVID struck, the Food Bank had already been scoping out properties — and considering numerous options, such as a two-location model that was rejected because of its expense. But soon after, in 2020, the nonprofit found its ideal spot in Chicopee, launched the capital campaign in 2021, and started building in 2022.

The site had a couple of advantages, one being its proximity to two interstate highways, another being the county’s population and demographic makeup, Morehouse explained.

“The more we thought about moving to Hampden County, the more we realized that was what we needed to do — not only because of the proximity to the largest concentration of people who are faced with insecurity, but also because, quite frankly, it would enable us to strengthen our relationships with communities of color, which, unfortunately, face food insecurity disproportionately relative to the rest of society.”

As for the campaign, it drew the support of 246 individuals, businesses, and foundations — but there was some anxiety early on, especially since it was launching during a challenging economic time, year two of the pandemic.

“If we don’t acknowledge that the problem exists and we don’t, as a society, want to do something about it, we’re not going to make any progress.”

Morehouse credited the early, significant support by Big Y and MassMutual in “grounding” the campaign and lending confidence that it could succeed. After that, the entire banking community stepped in, as did and a host of other businesses, foundations, and individuals, including major contributions from the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation and C&S Wholesale Grocers.

“Before we had launched the campaign, there was a lot of internal discussion and planning, and I just had the faith that we could accomplish it and that the community would rally behind us, and they did,” he said. “Our board felt the same way, so we went public after we secured some of those large commitments. So we had something to start with, and then we were able to inspire and persuade the rest of the community to jump on board, and they did.”

One factor, he noted, was that the pandemic focused more attention nationally on the issue of food insecurity across the country — attention that was needed even before COVID, but was definitely in the public eye now.

announced large pledges to the Food Bank’s capital campaign in 2021

Andrew Morehouse (center) with Big Y President and CEO Charlie D’Amour (left) and Dennis Duquette, MassMutual Foundation president, when they announced large pledges to the Food Bank’s capital campaign in 2021.

“If we don’t acknowledge that the problem exists and we don’t, as a society, want to do something about it, we’re not going to make any progress,” he said. “So it was gratifying that the community rallied behind our campaign to help us to be successful. And now we have this facility, this community resource, that can make even greater impact in addressing food insecurity, but also to serve as a place for convening, for learning, for collaborating, for taking action.”

The ‘action’ part of that goal is clearly the most important.

“If we’re ever going to end hunger, we need to raise awareness, and that happens through education and dialogue, but also through the power of public policy and the changes that we can make to public policy and investments in people, families, and communities to ensure that everyone can lead a healthy and productive life,” Morehouse said.

“That means addressing not only the food assistance that people need today, but the underlying causes of hunger,” he went on. “Do people have access to affordable housing, childcare, transportation, education, jobs that pay a meaningful wage to support families? All of those are things we need to be looking at as a society.”

After 19 years in charge of the Food Bank, it’s a lesson that has grown clearer every year. “I’ve been in the nonprofit world for over 30 years,” he said, “and I’ve always enjoyed building things, building capacity, because that’s how, ultimately, I think you create social change and economic change for the better, for families and communities.”

 

In and Out

The Food Bank’s reach is impressive, serving as a clearinghouse of emergency food for the region, most distributed to local food pantries, meal sites, and shelters.

Much of the food the organization collects is purchased, using state and federal funds, from wholesalers, local supermarkets, and dozens of local farms; farmers also donate more than a half-million pounds of food each year.

“We then turn that food around — we store it here and distribute it through a vast network of about 175 food pantries, meal sites, and shelters across all four counties of Western Massachusetts,” Morehouse explained. “That’s how about 85% of the food that we receive flows through, ultimately to individuals in need of food assistance.”

In addition, the Food Bank operates a mobile food bank for direct-to-household distribution at 26 sites once or twice a month, plus a brown-bag program for elders that boasts 52 partners, mainly senior centers. The nonprofit also receives reimbursements to provide some individuals with supermarket gift cards, in addition to referring them to food-pantry meal sites.

And because food insecurity is often entangled with other economic and social needs, “we do refer individuals to some other nonprofit partners who can provide them with affordable-housing assistance, transportation, childcare, job training, things of that sort,” Morehouse added, noting that the Food Bank uses the 413Cares system to coordinate referrals with partners. “We’re all trying to figure it out and find a way to help people lead healthy, productive lives.”

Some of the Food Bank’s top supporters recognize the importance of those efforts.

“Our goal, our mission, is to feed families,” outgoing Big Y President and CEO Charlie D’Amour (see story on page 4) said when announcing financial support for the Food Bank early in the campaign. “We have people in our communities that are really struggling to get food on their table. The role of food banks serving local neighborhoods has never been more important.”

Country Bank President Paul Scully felt the same when announcing a large donation in 2021. “With everything we’re hearing these days about the shortage of food and the high expense of food … the need is real out there,” he said. “As a community partner, we care deeply about the sustainability of our communities and the people who live in them.”

What they were acknowledging was a nonprofit that has been entrepreneurial in its efforts to tackle a widening problem.

“We’re very much like a for-profit business to the extent that we have overhead, we have trucks, we have inventory, and we have staff,” Morehouse said, noting that the Food Bank doesn’t have customers, exactly, but it does have key stakeholders, from the households facing insecurity to the meal sites and shelters that receive 85% of those distributions, to the federal and state agencies that pay for the food. “We have an obligation to those agencies to ensure that we’re delivering on our agreement with them.”

In addition, the Food Bank maintains contracts with the Department of Transitional Assistance to provide SNAP assistance and with MassHealth to provide food assistance to individuals who have chronic illnesses and are referred from hospitals and community health centers.

While the Great Recession and the COVID pandemic marked times of spiking need, that need never goes away, although it does fluctuate, Morehouse said.

“Inflation is coming down, and that might help … but folks are still struggling,” he added. “And, you know, we’re here to help them, give them a hand up.”

And at a higher level than ever before, thanks to an ambitious goal, some very entrepreneurial thinking, and a lot of community support.

Coronavirus Features Special Coverage

Tightening the Safety Net

 

Andrew Morehouse stands in the warehouse at the Food Bank’s complex in Hatfield.

Andrew Morehouse stands in the warehouse at the Food Bank’s complex in Hatfield.

As Andrew Morehouse conducted his tour of the facilities at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the sights and sounds helped tell the story that is emerging at this agency — and within this region — at a critical time.

The first thing to notice was the copious amounts of food of all kinds — from sweet potatoes in huge bins to hundreds of cases of canned tuna — now stored at the complex in Hatfield and in other locations as well, destined for local meal sites and food pantries. Indeed, the Food Bank is “over capacity,” as Morehouse, its executive director, put it, because of the soaring numbers of people who are now facing food insecurity in the wake of the pandemic, and the way government agencies, businesses, and individuals have responded to those numbers.

This capacity issue was clearly in evidence, with pallets of food stacked not only on the shelves and the floor space of the warehouse, but in the hallways leading to it as well.

“The warehouse is jam-packed; we’re storing food off site, and we’re moving it faster,” he explained. “We’ve brought on additional staff, we’ve purchased another van, we’re about to purchase another truck so we can move food as quickly as possible. The pandemic has put us over the top in a big way, so we’re looking at options for expansion.”

As for the sounds … well, the Food Bank was mostly quiet at the hour of this visit — late morning, approaching noon — but the few workers on the floor were talking about what they witnessed in the parking lot of Central High School in Springfield, where a drive-thru food-distribution site, supported in part by the Food Bank, has been established. The staffers were talking about long lines of vehicles, and how this has become a constant, or a new norm, with this initiative.

“The warehouse is jam-packed; we’re storing food off site, and we’re moving it faster. We’ve brought on additional staff, we’ve purchased another van, we’re about to purchase another truck so we can move food as quickly as possible. The pandemic has put us over the top in a big way, so we’re looking at options for expansion.”

Meanwhile, fewer people are working at the Hatfield facility, with many more working remotely because of the pandemic, and a host of safety protocols in place to keep those who do come in — and the public in general — safe.

In many ways, the Food Bank — and the hundreds of sites it serves — has become one of the enduring symbols of this pandemic locally. Indeed, just as the bread lines of the mid-1930s became an indelible image that came to represent the Great Depression, the long lines of motorists picking up food — it can no longer be distributed indoors — have come to symbolize this pandemic.

And as fall continues and winter approaches, need is only expected to grow, said Morehouse, who cited projections from Feeding America showing that, by year’s end, an estimated one in six residents in Western Mass. (perhaps 127,000 people) will be experiencing food insecurity, as opposed to one in 10 before the pandemic began, and one in four children. That would be a 40% increase in the number of people overall, and a more than 60% increase in the number of children.

In many ways, such numbers help tell this story. During the fiscal year that just ended Sept. 30, the Food Bank distributed 14.8 million pounds, or the equivalent of 12 million meals — a 23% increase over the previous year, compared to an average 6% increase year over year. Meanwhile, over the past seven months, the increase has been roughly 30% (from 7.3 million pounds to 9.5 million), much higher than the annual increase, obviously, because of the direct impact of the pandemic, and the highest seven-month spike in the agency’s 38-year history.

Behind the numbers, though, is the inspiring story of how the region and its business community have responded to the crisis, said Morehouse, adding that this response was quick and profound, and it is ongoing.

Sweet potatoes from local farms

Sweet potatoes from local farms are among the many items jamming the shelves and floor space at the Food Bank, which is over capacity due to spiking need.

The biggest question concerns what comes next, and it’s one that’s hard to answer, he noted, adding that many factors will go into determining where these numbers go in the weeks and months to come.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Morehouse about the mounting problem of food insecurity in the wake of the pandemic and how his agency has responded. Overall, he said this response “is how the safety net is supposed to work.”

Elaborating, he noted that the Food Bank has been able to meet soaring need because federal and state agencies have stepped up and put more food into the system, but also because the region has stepped up as well.

 

Food for Thought

As he talked about what has transpired since March, when the pandemic arrived in Western Mass., Morehouse said it’s been a period of adjustment — for area residents, for his agency, and even for area farms.

For many, the pandemic left them unemployed or in a position where they were earning less — although generous unemployment benefits certainly helped large numbers of people impacted by the downturn in the economy. But those unemployment benefits also had the unintended consequence of leaving individuals ineligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) benefits, creating a different kind of problem.

For the Food Bank, the first several weeks of the pandemic were chaotic, he said, as the agency mounted a response to what was happening — but had to do so in the middle of a health crisis.

“There was a lot of uncertainty about how to protect oneself from COVID-19, and suddenly, so many people lost their jobs or were furloughed,” he explained. “There was an outpouring of concern, of wanting to help, from people who don’t know that an emergency food network exists. So we were fielding calls from community groups from all across Western Massachusetts, saying, ‘we want to bring food to the Food Bank,’ or ‘how can we support you?’

“And it took a while for us to connect people to the pantries and meal sites in their communities as a way to support households that were at risk of hunger, because that’s who we work with,” he went on. “We don’t receive individuals who are in need of food assistance at our warehouse, and we don’t deliver food to households; we work through the existing network of about 165 independent pantries and meal sites, plus our own distribution programs to 51 senior centers every month, and on our mobile food bank, which has 26 distribution sites across all four counties on a biweekly or monthly basis.”

When asked how the Food Bank responded to that 30% spike over the past seven months, Morehouse replied with a quick “it wasn’t easy,” before elaborating.

Pallets of food destined for area meal sites and pantries

Pallets of food destined for area meal sites and pantries spills out into the hallways at the Food Bank, clear evidence of soaring need in the region.

“It took us a while to catch up, I’ll be honest,” he told BusinessWest, noting that there were a number of challenges to overcome, starting with disruption to what he called the “supply chain,” meaning donations of food to the agency from individuals and also, and especially, area supermarkets.

“There was a run on those supermarkets, so it was a significant hit,” he recalled, adding that roughly half the food distributed by the agency comes from the private food industry in the form of dry goods, produce, and close to 1 million pounds of meats frozen on the sell-by date.

Beyond this disruption to the supply chain, the Food Bank was impacted by shortages of staff and a loss of many of its distribution sites; several of them closed, including all brown-bag sites for elders and many mobile locations.

Slowly, over time, those sites reopened, while also changing how food was distributed, he noted, adding that as, the spring progressed, the Food Bank adapted to what became a new normal, both in terms of how it operated and with the numbers of people now facing food insecurity.

Indeed, over the period from March to August, the latest information available, the average number of individuals served each month grew to 107,000, Morehouse said, adding that 20,000 of those, or 19%, are people who have never come to a pantry or meal site.

And that percentage of new visitors was much higher, perhaps 40%, in the early weeks of the pandemic, when the layoffs and furloughs started climbing, and before those generous unemployment benefits kicked in. The numbers then leveled off for a time, but they started climbing again, he went on, adding that, when the new six-month numbers come out, the total people being served should far surpass that 107,000 figure.

 

Numbers to Chew On

Behind the numbers is the story of how this rising demand has been met with the help of a number of contributing sources — that safety net Morehouse described earlier.

These include the federal government, state agencies, area businesses, and philanthropic efforts like Jeff Bezos’ $100 million gift to Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund.

“The federal government has stepped up — we’ve received considerably more federal food,” he explained, referring specifically to CARES Act appropriations that enable such agencies to buy more food. “And there was an outpouring of support from individuals, businesses, and regional and state foundations, as well as from Feeding America, the national network of food banks.”

The agency has also received more than $400,000, with another $123,000 coming, from the Massachusetts COVID Relief Fund, he went on, adding that a number of individual businesses, including Big Y and the Antonocci Family Foundation, have made sizable donations as well.

Part of the federal government’s response has come in the form of Farmers to Families Food Boxes, a new program through which the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is partnering with national, regional, and local distributors, whose workforces have been significantly impacted by the closure of restaurants, hotels, and other food-service businesses, to purchase up to $4.5 billion in fresh produce, dairy, and meat products from American producers of all sizes.

Mapleline Farm in Hadley is one of several local farms in the region that have adjusted with the pandemic, now supplying the Food Bank with milk in family-sized packaging.

This program supplies boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and meat products, which distributors package into family-sized boxes, then transport them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other nonprofits serving Americans in need.

The program has benefited several area farms, said Morehouse, noting that those supplying the boxes are purchasing products from many area farmers who were severely impacted by their inability to sell to restaurants, colleges, and universities closed by the pandemic.

“It took a while for some of these farms to adapt, but many of them have,” he said, citing, as one example, Mapleline Farm in Hadley, a dairy farm whose name and logo were on countless boxes of quart containers of milk in the Food Bank’s warehouse.

As for the future, Morehouse said the contributions that have poured in from individuals and businesses have left the organization in a solid position financially for this current fiscal year, one in which overall need is expected to continue growing, while the economy is projected to continue struggling.

Meanwhile, question marks remain about the ongoing level of support from state and federal governments, as well as from individual contributors, he said, citing the potential for donor fatigue as the pandemic wears on.

“The state is operating on a month-to-month budget, so we’re not even sure if we’re going to be level-funded for a program that we’ve come to rely on for 30% of our food since 1992,” he told BusinessWest. “And the federal government has not passed another stimulus package, so we’re anticipating a decline in federal support.

“We have a jigsaw puzzle of public and private emergency food resources that rely of federal and state funding and private charitable support,” he went on. “We rely on all those sources of support to get the food we need and the resources we need to keep operations afloat.”

One of the important pieces of that puzzle is Monte’s March, the fundraising walk from Springfield to Greenfield that was launched by radio personality Monte Belmonte to benefit the Food Bank. Belmonte has seen the ranks of people joining him on his late-November trek grow steadily over the years, as well as the amount raised for the agency, but that first trend won’t continue this year, as the pandemic is forcing organizers to encourage individuals to support the march remotely — although the top-performing teams when it comes to generating donations will be able to march.

But, given the urgent need for support, they are hoping the second trend will continue. The goal for this year has been raised from the $333,000 mark set last year — each dollar donated buys three meals, so the goal was to fund 1 million meals — to $365,000, or $1,000 a day, or 4,000 meals a day (one dollar now buys four meals, due to greater efficiency).

 

Hard to Digest

Looking at the projections from Feeding America for the next several months, the ones predicting that one in six area residents will be food-insecure, Morehouse had his doubts initially about whether things would really get that bad here.

But now, he’s thinking they may be realistic — painfully realistic, to be more precise — especially when one ponders the unanswerable questions concerning when the pandemic will subside and to what degree the federal government will keep on printing money.

One thing Morehouse does know is that the Food Bank will continue to pivot and respond proactively to the ongoing crisis — right down to finding more warehouse space.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Banking and Financial Services Sections
Country Bank Maintains Its Community Focus

Paul Scully

Paul Scully says Country Bank’s community involvement extends beyond philanthropy to financial-education programs for young and old.

To describe how Country Bank is getting stronger, Robert Kolb used an apt analogy.

Specifically, Kolb — the bank’s senior vice president and chief commercial banking officer, who came on board six months ago — said he wants to take a “barbell approach” to growing its loan portfolio. Picture Country’s reach geographically, he said, with Springfield and Worcester representing the weights and all the smaller towns in between, where Country has a branch presence, as the bar.

“If we want to continue to grow the portfolio, we have to put our toe in the waters of other areas,” Kolb said, noting that the bank does not have physical branches in those two larger cities, but sees opportunities there. “We’re looking to do more in the Worcester market and the Springfield market … we want to expand our presence in those markets.”

As a mutual savings bank with $1.4 billion in assets, and boasting 14 branches and 245 employees — Country has the reach to grow, said its president, Paul Scully, but continues to maintain an emphasis on small communities.

“We’re still focused on providing a full range of consumer and business products and services within our marketplace, and we view our marketplace as the geography between the Worcester and Springfield areas,” he noted. “Our branching strategy is the same: smaller towns.”

However, he noted, “branch locations don’t matter as much anymore; between mobile banking, remote capture, and other services, customers have really caught on to the fact that they can do all their banking and really never go into a branch. Technology has allowed us to expand our product offerings within more urban marketplaces without having a physical presence there.”

And growth is what Scully has in mind.

“Last year we originated about $105 million in commercial loans — pretty respectable, considering what the market was and what the competition is,” he said, noting that the bank boasts a loan portfolio of $838 million. “A lot of banks are looking for the same opportunities as we are, but there aren’t as many opportunities to go around. What every bank tries to do is differentiate themselves from the crowd.”

One of the ways Country has always tried to do so is through an emphasis on service.

“We look at ourselves as a small business,” Scully said. “We’re a good-sized bank, but we’re still a small business able to offer personalized service. We don’t have a high level of turnover; people who come into the branches see the same people who have been working with them for a long time. Customers are recognized and feel comfortable with the people they’re doing business with. They’re not calling an 800 number where someone across the country is answering. The service element is really a key factor in our success and has set us apart since 1850.”

Added Kolb, “on the commercial side, as an organization, we provide a nice match for what the market demands. We’re not too big and not too small.” But he also echoed Scully’s sentiments about service.

“The money’s still green at the bank across the street. It’s a pretty homogenous product. We all make mortgages and commercial loans; we all do deposits,” he said. “But what really differentiates us is service. It’s not just a tagline; it’s something that’s ingrained and apparent.

“When you walk around the teller line, the average tenure there is 20 years. In the business lines, it’s 10 to 15 years. They don’t stay here because it’s a local, sleepy bank in Massachusetts; they take a lot of pride in the relationships they’ve forged. It is the difference between us and the bank across the street.”

 

Wiring of the Green

Bob Kolb says Internet and mobile banking are key to a bank’s success today

Bob Kolb says Internet and mobile banking are key to a bank’s success today, but so is the personal service available at a branch.

But how important is that physical bank on the street, in the era of Internet and mobile banking? Kolb said it will always have its place.

“There are still customers out there that like to see the branch bank on the corner,” he explained. “Having that visibility is important, and it’s never going away; it’s the doorstep to us being active in the community. And giving back to the community is really part of the culture at Country Bank.”

But technology has certainly changed the way customers interact with banks, Scully told BusinessWest.

“We’re pretty much able to have a full range of products to meet everyone’s expectations, from savings accounts straight through to mobile banking and e-bill payment,” he said. “Last year, we converted our ATMs to digital ATMs, so there are no more envelopes; you put the check right into it. That’s the convenience factor; it expedites the transaction for a person sitting in their car with a couple kids or a dog who wants to be somewhere else.”

Those high-tech advances extend to remote capture for businesses that can conduct transactions without going to a branch, and retail online banking has come into its own as well, but there’s no longer as dramatic a split in the ages of people who use it.

“We used to think of it as a generational thing, with the older client base wanting to come into the branch,” Scully said. “People still want to know the branch is on the corner, but we’ve learned that age doesn’t matter. Almost everyone uses a computer, and we have a lot more seniors using e-billing and other technology, and we have people feeling more and more comfortable with security.”

For that reason, the bank’s educational outreach spans generations as well. Country conducts a banking program in area elementary schools, building early financial literacy by teaching students about savings and investment and providing them with passbooks to open their own in-school accounts. It has since expanded that to a ‘credit for life’ program for high-school seniors, teaching them about credit scores and smart handling of paychecks and expenses.

“But the other thing we’re focused on is the senior piece,” Scully noted. “We do a lot with senior centers, talking about banking technology and security, so they don’t feel intimidated using a computer for their banking.”

When Social Security switched over to electronic payments, “we did a lot with senior centers about what that change means and why e-banking is very secure,” he added. “Once seniors feel more comfortable with the technology and understand that their money is not at risk, they want to use e-banking; they want to use mobile banking.”

“The key,” added Kolb, “is to make those channels available, whether through the computer, at a branch, or on the phone, whether someone is 18 or 88 years old.”

In fact, Scully said, there’s no reason why remote banking shouldn’t be embraced by seniors. “Once people realize, ‘OK, I don’t have to go out in the snow and possibly fall down,’ suddenly they feel really good about it.”

For younger customers, he added, “it’s all about smartphones. They’re not looking to have a passbook; they don’t want to bring in some clunky old thing.”

 

Hometown Appeals

The Country Bank name is only 32 years old, but the institution has been around since 1850, when it was known as Ware Savings Bank. It took on its current name after a 1981 merger with Palmer Savings Bank; another merger with Leicester Savings Bank 17 years ago further increased the bank’s holdings.

From the time of the name change, Scully said, it has been important to communicate a sense of community ties. That’s why the name of each branch reflects its hometown: Country Bank of Ludlow, Country Bank of Palmer, etc. “We like to think of ourselves as that town’s small-town bank, their community bank,” he said — despite the occasional confusion of a customer who goes into a branch in a different town and wonders whether he can bank there because of the different name.

The small-town focus is a positive when it comes to lending, Kolb said.

“Small business is really the backbone of America, and it’s certainly the backbone of the small areas we operate in,” he told BusinessWest. “In Central and Western Mass., it’s about small business; it’s about Main Street. With our branch network and experienced lenders on the commercial side and on the mortgage-origination side, that puts us in a great spot to serve the community with the resources of a big bank, yet we’re small enough to be able to jump in the car and see someone at 7 at night, or be reminded when walking down the aisle of the grocery store that you need to see somebody.”

The hometown emphasis is also at the heart of Country’s philanthropic efforts. In 2012, Scully noted, the bank donated more than $600,000 to community organizations.

“They’re causes that people don’t think about because they don’t necessarily apply to their life, but there are so many people whose lives are affected,” he said, citing the bank’s support of domestic-violence task forces, food pantries, and other organizations. “Unless you need that service, you might not pay attention to the fact that their funding sources have been reduced, or that their needs have grown.”

But the bank offers more than money, he was quick to add, noting that management staff alone volunteered more than 1,400 hours last year at community events — “that’s personal time, nights and weekends” — and the bank has been expanding volunteer opportunities for all employees as well. “Now we have more than 100 volunteers giving back to the community.”

All the bank’s efforts — from its lending business to its charitable work — boil down to an effort to improve people’s quality of life,” Scully said. “Maybe we lend to a business that puts up a building and hires more people. Or we could be giving a scholarship to a kid who then graduates from college. Or we could be supporting social services. It’s all full circle, quality of life.”

Kolb was quick to note that “philanthropy is not something that drives revenue; it’s not a profit center. What it is, really, is part of the culture; it’s consistent with the mutuality of the company. What we’re trying to do for the communities we serve is not a revenue driver; it’s really part of who we are.”

Specifically, Scully added, “the profit is in the long-term impact in the community. Everyone benefits from it. And we didn’t start those things; it’s the legacy of the bank as it relates to every aspect of community life.”

 

Bottom Line

In many ways, despite its asset growth, some things have remained the same at Country Bank, Scully said. “Community banking is consistent banking. We’re taking what we believe we’ve done well and expanding it.”

And that requires constant reconsideration of business strategies. For example, “the [loan] portfolio is very heavy in real estate, so one of my objectives in coming here is to diversify the portfolio,” Kolb said, a process that will take some time considering an economy that is improving, but still far from thriving. “The idea is to start with small businesses and identify opportunities in that space where we can exploit our leverage with our infrastructure and the experience of our lenders and our service.”

Scully called today’s banking environment “an exciting time, but a challenging one,” but he noted that, particularly since the financial collapse in 2008 that was brought on partly by the misdeeds of the largest banks, there’s something appealing to many customers about a community bank’s consistency.

“That’s not to disparage super-regionals, but those organizations use their customer base as a means to produce revenue and income, which increase shareholder value,” Kolb noted. “What sets us apart, as a mutual bank, is that our depositors are in essence the drivers, and our mission is to service those individuals.”

“We have sort of a split personality,” Scully added. “Are we a big little bank or a little big bank? We’re sort of both; we can do almost any type of transaction a big bank can do, and by any standard we’re considered large, but by having a focus on the customer, the community perceives it as a little bank.”

But one that, barbells or not, is growing stronger.

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Supplements
That’s the Idea Behind This Nuvo Concept,/h6>
Jim Gardner and Jeff Sattler

Jim Gardner, left, and Jeff Sattler believe there is plenty of room for another bank in the region, and that the need will be even greater in the future with more anticipated mergers and acquisitions.

While conventional wisdom holds that the Pioneer Valley is already overbanked, with intense competition driving the yield curve to razor-thin margins, two area financial services veterans believe there is plenty of room for another player in the market. If all goes according to plan, Nuvo Bank & Trust Co. will open its doors in Tower Square this fall. The principals are sketchy with details, but they promise a bank that is customer-focused, progressive, and fun.

Jim Gardner believes he’s in the right place at the right time with the right concept.

But he also understands that some people in the banking industry would substitute the word wrong in each case. And he thinks they’re wrong.

“We heard it all while we were kicking the tires on this … how this region is already overbanked, and there’s so much competition, very little growth, and how the area simply doesn’t need another bank right now,” he told BusinessWest. “Well, this isn’t just another bank; it’s something new.”

That’s what the name of this venture, Nuvo Bank & Trust Co., would certainly indicate. It was conceptualized by Gardner, a former bank president and, most recently, president of the Polish National Credit Union in Chicopee; and Jeff Sattler, former senior vice president at TD Banknorth, who believe there is plenty of room for another bank in the Pioneer Valley. Especially one with the model they’re shaping — which puts the customer first.

“We’ve designed this bank to be inspired by the soul of the customer, which makes it different right out of the gate,” said Gardner, now serving as Nuvo’s chairman and chief executive officer. “We’re essentially re-inventing the bank.”

How?

Well, for now, the two entrepreneurs will say only that their bank — to be physically located in the long-vacant bank branch within Tower Square — will be different, with its rough outline to be essentially colored in by customers, both commercial and retail. The institution won’t try to be all things to all people, but it will attempt to serve all generations and mindsets — from those who still enjoy going to the bank every week to those who haven’t stood in a teller’s line for years.

“Technology is driving the consumers’ options, and it’s allowing them to do their banking when they want to do it,” said Sattler, president and COO of the venture, who left a senior management position at a bank he greatly respects to take Nuvo to the marketplace. “We’re going to allow our customers to take full advantage of that technology.”

This facility, which now exists largely on paper in the partners’ collective imagination, is scheduled to open this fall. Much has to happen between now and then for the doors to open as planned, especially the raising of $15 million to $20 million needed to get the venture off the ground; a prospectus is due to be issued within a few weeks.

But Gardner and Sattler are confident not only that they will raise the money, but that their venture will be a colorful and successful addition to the region’s banking landscape — today, and especially years down the road.

That’s because they anticipate that more of the region’s community banks that have gone public or are in the process of doing so — that list includes United Bank, Chicopee Savings, and Hampden Bank, among others — will be acquired by or merged into out-of-town or out-of-state institutions.

This phenomenon will take the total of area branches controlled by non-local entities, currently 75% by the partners’ estimates, still higher, and, theoretically, spur a need for a decidedly local bank. Sattler and Gardner say they’ll be well-positioned to meet that demand.

“We’ve spent a considerable amount of time and a lot of effort to really focus on what customers think about their banks,” said Gardner. “We wanted to know their emotional thinking, their rational thinking about their banks; from their conclusions, we’ve designed a bank that will address those concerns.

“So whatever you don’t like about your present bank,” he continued, “you’ll love about Nuvo.”

In this issue, BusinessWest takes an indepth look at Nuvo Bank & Trust Co. and the people working to making that name part of the local business lexicon. Gardner and Sattler know there are doubters who say there’s no room for another bank, but they intend to make room.

Banking on It

The fax arrived April 27.

It was several pages in length, but Gardner and Sattler started celebrating (quietly) with the first sheet. It was from the state Board of Bank Incorporation, and was a simple acknowledgement, a certificate of “public convenience and advantage,” or a ruling that the proposed Nuvo Bank would serve a purpose in the community.

The two partners had worked for exactly a year to earn that piece of that paper, which was essentially an OK to move forward with the next, and more daunting, set of challenges. But its arrival also provided a moment to reflect on what the two were doing.

“Very few people in the world get a chance to do something like this,” said Gardner, noting that’s been 20 years since Tim Crimmins, Frank Fitzgerald, and a team of partners formed Bank of Western Mass., the last new bank to be opened in the region. “It’s incredibly exciting to take a concept like this and make it real.”

This story starts with the Chicopee Rotary Club and, more specifically, with events it staged within the community. They gave Gardner, a member of the club and then leader of the credit union, a chance to meet and get to know Sattler, a long-time commercial lender who was the banker for many Chicopee-based businesses.

It was Sattler whom Gardner approached when he started tossing around the idea of creating a new bank in Western Mass. The thought process was actually triggered by a recruiter from California-based De Novo Formations, which has developed a blueprint for new community bank creation and serves as a consultant to those who decide to embark on that complex process, defined by strict state and federal regulations and voluminous paperwork.

The recruiter came armed with a proposition to lead the formation of a new bank in Connecticut, but Gardner decided that if he was going to undertake such a venture, he would do so a market he knew well. And he asked Sattler, who knew it even better and had a huge number of contacts in the Pioneer Valley, to join him.

Before embarking on their venture, the two first decided to do some research — lots of it — to ensure that the concept was viable and worthy of what will likely be the balance of their careers in the banking industry. The two assembled what they would later call a focus group to examine the market, the partners’ proposition, and the extent to which there was a fit.

“I didn’t go into this blindly … I wasn’t about to drag anyone down this path without doing my homework — there was simply too much risk a year ago,” said Gardner. “I needed to know I was on the right track; I thought I was, but I needed other voices to confirm what I thought I knew.”

The partners heard from those already within the sector that, while the De Novo blueprint was being employed successfully in many regions of the country, Massachusetts — and specifically the Pioneer Valley — wouldn’t be a likely addition to that list. That’s because of the immense competition, the slow rate of growth, and the arrival of several powerful newcomers to the market, including Connecticut-based institutions New-Alliance and Webster.

All that competition has compressed the so-called yield curve — the difference between what banks can charge for interest on loans and what they’re compelled to pay in interest on savings — to razor-thin margins.

“We heard all that,” said Gardner. “We heard that this wasn’t the right time to be opening a new bank and it wasn’t the right place. But the more we talked to people, meaning customers of area banks, the better we felt about what we were doing. People were telling us there was a real need for this.”

Such need was confirmed, at least in the partners’ eyes, but the willingness of many area residents and business leaders, some of whom served on the focus group, to become partners, or organizers (that’s the industry term), in the venture.

The list of 27 people who invested, on average, $100,000 in the venture includes Donald D’Amour, chairman of Big Y Foods Inc.; Joseph Peters, president of Universal Plastics in Chicopee; Charles Epstein, president of Epstein Financial Services; Raymond Catuogno, president of Catuogno Court Reporting & StenTel Transcription Services in Springfield; Dawn Carrignan Thomas, president of Instrument Technologies Inc. in Westfield; and Michael Hanson, a principal of Hanson Associates and former commissioner of the Mass. Division of Banks.

“These are very successful, very talented people who obviously believe in what we’re doing,” said Gardner. “That support speaks volumes about our concept and whether it’s needed here.”

Taking Stock

Sattler opened the box carefully, and then started unraveling a thick covering of bubble-wrap.

Finally, he reached a small statue of sorts that is serving as a model for the company’s marketing logo. It features two glass stick figures with their arms stretched to form a semi-circle. The two half-circles nearly come together to form an ‘O,’ in this case the ‘O’ in Nuvo Bank.

But the artwork also conveys how the new institution intends to operate, said Sattler, noting that the two figures represent the bank and the customer, and how they can and will work in unison at the new venture.

The statue and marketing materials are still works in progress, as is the model for the new bank itself. While raising the capital to move their venture forward — the organization is offering to the public a maximum of 2,500,000 shares of its common stock at $10 per share (minimum purchase 1,000 shares) — the partners will simultaneously refine their business plan, develop a marketing strategy, and finalize an operating philosophy.

And the bank’s eventual customers will play lead roles in all that, said Sattler, who was short on real specifics, but said the bank will be non-traditional in as many ways as the partners can make it. He used other words not often employed to describe banking operations — like progressive and fun.

How they intend to do that remains to be seen, although the two partners returned repeatedly to the name Nuvo and what they believe it means: the very latest thing in banking.

“We’ve gone to great extremes to differentiate this bank,” said Gardner. “We’ve been from one end of this country to the other, looking for and challenging ourselves to find new and different things to do.

“And this will be a continual, perpetual effort to re-invent this bank,” he continued. “We won’t ever rest; we’ll never say, ‘we’ve got all these things, these bells and whistles, and now we’re done.”

Both Gardner and Sattler expect that this non-traditional approach will be welcome in the Pioneer Valley if, as expected, there is additional consolidation and acquisition of local institutions by larger, out-of-town entities. But they believe the need exists now.

“Banking is changing, and the players just keep getting bigger,” said Sattler, noting that Bank of America and TD Banknorth now hold more than 40% of the deposits in the region and are focused mostly on the larger commercial loans. “This leaves plenty of room for a community-oriented bank with local decision-making.”

Elaborating, he said the Nuvo Bank & Trust concept appealed to him because he and Gardner share what he called a “fundamental community philosophy,” and can apply it to two different disciplines — Gardner on the retail side of the ledger and Sattler on the commercial side.

“I thought that if we could put those disciplines together, with a relationship-focused approach, we would have a winning concept,” said Sattler, noting that the bank will make full use of advancing information technology to serve both retail and commercial customers.

And on the commercial side of the equation, Sattler believes the bank’s small size and community approach will serve it well. “The banks keep getting bigger, and they’re credit-scoring deals under a half-million,” he said. “Where’s the relationship? How are these banks going to help companies that are starting out and trying to get bigger?”

Extensive renovations are currently ongoing at the cavernous former bank branch in Tower Square, which has served several other roles in recent years, including home to the Pioneer Valley Photo Center. The space will be made considerably warmer and inviting, said Gardner, adding that, while the facility will be an enjoyable place to visit, he’s not sure how many future customers will actually go there.

Indeed, while many individuals still prefer going to the bank, a growing number are opting for online services — everything from bill-paying to loan applications. This trend will enable the bank to service all of the Pioneer Valley from one branch, said Sattler, adding that there are no real discussions about future additions of bricks and mortar.

“How many people in the Y generation are going into a bank anymore?” he asked. “We’re not an Internet bank by any means, but we are going to be capable of providing personalized, empowered service from our employees to customers, whether they want to come into the bank or not.”

Making a Statement

For now, the partners are focused on the Springfield site and quickly proving that the risks they are assuming were well worth taking.

Time will tell if the partners can actually re-invent the bank, as they claim, but Gardner and Sattler do not lack in confidence.

“We think this is absolutely the right time and the right place for this,” said Gardner. “That’s because we’re looking at banking differently than the people who are doing it now.”

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]

Banking and Financial Services Sections

Lending Support

Country Bank President Paul Scully

Country Bank President Paul Scully

Country Bank’s sheer scope in Eastern and Central Mass. — it now boasts 15 branches, almost $1.4 billion in assets, and a loan portfolio approaching $1 billion — positions it among the larger banks in its footprint. But even during a time of financial growth, President Paul Scully is equally committed to growing the bank’s community ties, through an ever-evolving series of initiatives that engage employees, customers, and area residents alike. After all, a bank’s success, he believes, shouldn’t be reflected simply on the bottom line.

Paul Scully is gratified that Country Bank is wrapping up a particularly strong year for both commercial loans and retail business. But the bottom line isn’t all the bank is building.

For instance, employees at the bank’s newest branch, in Worcester, recently teamed with Habitat for Humanity to build a playhouse for children of veterans. “Staff members spent the day building the playhouse in the parking lot,” said Scully, the bank’s president. “They loved it.”

More significantly, Scully recently returned from Haiti, where a team of 14 built two houses over five days before being chased out by the quick-moving Hurricane Matthew. Last year, he accompanied a team of management-level employees on a similar home-building mission in the beleaguered Caribbean nation, and this year, he opened it up to all staff members.

“Thirty-three people said they’d like to go, so we had a lottery,” he explained. “It’s a tremendous feeling giving back in the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere. They realized, if they didn’t before, how amazingly fortunate everyone here is.”

The home-building project was also an exercise in team building, he added. “We got to know people for who they are — not just the role they play Monday through Friday.”

That sense of community — both within the Country Bank family and in service to the cities and towns where its 15 branches operate — has increasingly become a hallmark of the Ware-based institution’s identity, Scully said.

Country Bank employees

Country Bank employees in Worcester celebrate the construction of a playhouse for children of veterans, a project conducted alongside Habitat for Humanity.

“When it comes to giving and community involvement, we believe that’s the role of a community bank, and most community banks feel similarly,” he told BusinessWest, noting that the bank’s support of area food banks, senior centers, and Baystate Mary Lane Hospital, among other entities — in all, totaling some $600,000 annually.

“Donations are geared toward all aspects of the community to improve quality of life for residents,” he said. “We’re a staunch supporter of our local hospital because we believe healthy communities must have access to good healthcare, and people want to stay and live and perhaps move into our communities to access quality healthcare.”

To further focus its community involvement, in 2015, the bank launched its Country Bank Cares community volunteer program, offering volunteer opportunities at various events throughout the year to Country Bank staff. Each volunteer hour is logged, and at the end of the year, staff members who volunteered 10 hours or more are awarded a grant to a charity of their choice for $100; 25 hours earns $250.

 

Thirty-three people said they’d like to go, so we had a lottery. It’s a tremendous feeling giving back in the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere. They realized, if they didn’t before, how amazingly fortunate everyone here is.”

 

“They have a stake in where the money goes,” said Shelly Regin, the bank’s marketing director, noting that employees donate about 700 hours of service per year. “They’re really engaged in it and honored to take part in it.”

The spirit of giving even incorporates a dress-down day on Fridays, when employees pay to wear jeans, and the bank matches all donations. At the end of each month, a committee of staff members decides which local nonprofits get the money — to the tune of about $2,500 a month. “That’s a lot of jeans,” Scully said. Meanwhile, a recent event called Be Bald, Be Bold had employees donning bald caps to draw attention to cancer research and raise money for the Baystate Mary Lane Walk of Champions.

“This is something that existed here long before Shelly or me,” he went on, explaining the motivation behind Country Bank Cares and other initiatives. “It’s the idea that Country Bank is engaged in the community and people’s quality of life, and we want our 220 staff members to experience another dimension of giving back.”

Country and City

With assets of $1.39 billion at the end of 2015 and a loan portfolio of more than $978 million, Country Bank is, of course, deeply ingrained in its communities in the traditional banking sense as well. And 2016 has seen further financial growth.

“We’ve had a very robust year in commercial loan originations, really centered in our existing footprint but also throughout New England,” Scully said. “We’ve had a tremendous year in both loan growth and deposit growth. I think that’s attributable, in part, to improvements we’re seeing in the economy and more robust product offerings.”

He noted that the evolution of e-banking solutions increasingly allows banks to develop relationships with customers outside their branch footprint. “That’s opening up the market dramatically. Folks can open up accounts with us online, can do anything they want online.”

Still, physical branches remain important, and the move to Worcester last year made sense on multiple levels, he explained.


Go HERE for a list of Banks in Western Mass.


“We’ve been lending in Worcester for more than 50 years,” he noted, adding that the city boasts a larger population and more diverse demographic than most Country branches, both of which equate into more business opportunity. And without a branch, it was difficult to move commercial customers into other products, such as retail accounts.

“From a cultural perspective, we have not changed the culture to adapt to the city — we’ve just brought the same level of service and quality to Worcester as our other marketplaces.”

Shelly Regin

Shelly Regin says employees are gratified to have opportunities for volunteerism and a say in where the bank’s charitable dollars go.

However, Country remains focused on growing its e-banking platforms as well, reaching a generation that prefers the convenience of doing business on their devices rather than visit a branch. But the community-bank world has long moved past the days of thinking branches will eventually be obsolete.

“They said years ago that ATMs are going to replace branches,” Scully said. “What happens is, every time there’s an advancement, people believe it’s going to replace something, but it doesn’t replace it — it just complements it. In this case, it allows customers to enjoy many different ways to do their banking. Has the foot traffic slowed down? Yes, a little bit, but people still want to know it’s there if they need it for any reason.”

Mortgage applications are one area where the change in customer behavior has been stark. When Country launched an online application option 10 years ago, customers were slow to embrace it, preferring to meet with a loan officer in person. Online applications were filed mostly by customers with poor credit who were targeting multiple banks at once, hoping someone would accept them. Today, 80% of the bank’s mortgage applications originate online, simply because borrowers realize it’s easier.

Brick-and-mortar branches are important for branding as well, but marketing campaigns — through both traditional and social media — remain critical, Regin said, noting that the challenge is to effectively tell a story that’s reflective of the institution and sets it apart.

To that end, with the help of its marketing agency, the bank conducted scores of interviews, not only with customers and employees, but people with no connection at all to Country Bank, asking why they choose to bank or work there, or why they don’t. The overwhelming takeaway, Regin said, is that relationships, and how the bank treats people, are its most important investment. So its current campaign incorporates slogans driving home the importance of priorities like service and even good manners. (One slogan reads, “we think politeness is a higher form of intelligence.”)

“That’s just who we are,” she said, before Scully added that the bank has always conducted business that way, but the campaign simply crystallizes it. Equally important is providing the kind of customer or borrower experience that leads to referrals. “Someone says, ‘I had a great experience with them.’ Another says, ‘OK, maybe I’ll give them a try too.’”

Community Legacy

The Country Bank name is only 35 years old, but the institution has been around since 1850, when it was known as Ware Savings Bank. It took on its current name after a 1981 merger with Palmer Savings Bank; another merger with Leicester Savings Bank 17 years ago further increased the bank’s holdings.

With that long history behind it, the bank understands the importance of helping future generations establish their own financial health, which is why Country conducts financial-literacy programs in 29 elementary schools, conducts a Credit for Life program in area high schools — teaching seniors the importance of prioritizing spending — and expanding that program with seniors at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

“That next step is really geared toward those graduating from college,” Scully said. “They’re the ones who will be experiencing the real workforce soon, so the engagement is greater.”

Also thinking generationally — this time focusing on Millennials — Country has been overhauling its corporate headquarters to reflect modern workforce trends, such as low walls, collaborative spaces, enhanced technology, and even a café.

“We want to be an employer of choice for Millennials and folks who say, ‘this would be a cool place to work,’” he explained. “There’s great stuff happening; we’re creating a different vibe in this building. I say we’re giving it a Google vibe. We want to have the building become a place where people not only want to work, but feel really engaged.”

It’s just one more way Country Bank continues to identify needs and meet them — just as it has for the past 166 years.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Banking and Financial Services Special Coverage

Community Interest

Mary McGovern, incoming president of Country Bank.

Mary McGovern, incoming president of Country Bank.

 

When asked why Country Bank supports local nonprofits, incoming President Mary McGovern gave a simple answer. “It’s a way for us to make a difference in our community.”

Then she elaborated.

“We have a tagline we adopted two years ago, ‘made to make a difference.’ We feel that encapsulates what Country Bank is all about, trying to make a difference in our community. It’s something we’ve done over the history of Country Bank, and we continue to make a positive impact by supporting local nonprofits, specifically the kind that rely on donations from their local businesses to help support them.”

Those efforts have focused in recent years on a number of priorities, she added, including food insecurity, health, education, and financial literacy, as well as homeless shelters, senior-serving programs, youth organizations, and more.

To that end, Country reported more than $1.2 million in donations in 2023, with 463 organizations receiving grants. One highlight last year was a partnership with (and $30,000 donation to) the Wonderfund, which aims to improve the lives of individuals in the Department of Children and Families system.

That large number of supported nonprofits resonates with Matt Bannister, senior vice president of Marketing and Corporate Responsibility at PeoplesBank, who was named a 2024 Difference Maker by BusinessWest last month for his extensive role in the bank’s community-support efforts. PeoplesBank recorded $1.6 million in donations last year to more than 550 area nonprofits, making the average grant just under $3,000.

“We continue to make a positive impact by supporting local nonprofits, specifically the kind that rely on donations from their local businesses to help support them.”

“We give a little to a lot of groups. We don’t tend to do large capital campaigns,” he said. “One big ‘yes’ often means a lot of little ‘no’s.’ So many nonprofits out there are doing good work, so it feels wrong to say ‘no’ to people.”

So, outside of a few big splashes — like a major donation to help the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts build its new headquarters — spreading the wealth around is a guideline the bank tends to stick with.

“The overall philosophy for our funding is we want to level the playing field — give opportunities to those who are disadvantaged and need more help,” Bannister added. “We have funding areas — food insecurity, housing, economic development, etc. — and the overarching principle of all these funding areas is to level the playing field.”

Many area institutions share their donation figures each year; Pittsfield Cooperative Bank donates nearly $200,000 — a striking number, considering it boasts around $385 million in total assets — through its charitable contributions to regional scholarships, youth mentorship programs, and nonprofit, economic-development, and health and human-service organizations.

Meanwhile, the Liberty Bank Foundation granted $1,453,742 to local nonprofits in 2023, including $10,000 as an annual ‘holiday gift’ from the bank, with the recipient chosen by bank customers. And Greenfield Savings Bank (GSB) gave more than $1 million in 2023 to more than 300 organizations.

Peter Albero, GSB’s chief financial officer and treasurer, noted that, while profits have been challenged over the past couple years by rising interest rates, the bank has not cut back on its financial support in the community, or its level of employee volunteerism.

Freedom Credit Union President Glenn Welch (right) presents a check to John Beaulieu

Freedom Credit Union President Glenn Welch (right) presents a check to John Beaulieu, president of the Westover Galaxy Community Council, one of the recipients of Freedom’s Month of Giving campaign.

“Profitability may be reduced, but we have not reduced our commitment to our communities. I think we are a pillar of Greenfield and the broader community,” Albero said. “So we continue to reinvest in the community, and everyone benefits from that.”

A.J. Bresciano, first vice president and commercial loan officer at GSB, agreed.

“Even in a higher-interest-rate environment, we’re taking measures to ensure our impact in the community is not being impacted and not deteriorating. So many local organizations throughout the Pioneer Valley rely on contributions of time, talent, and treasure. We make supporting those organizations a priority at Greenfield Savings Bank, and we want our team members to invest going forward.”

 

Philanthropic Priorities

Bannister made it clear that banks are required, to some degree, to be involved in their communities in a charitable way, noting that bank examiners make sure a bank’s locations and loan activities are representative of where it does business — meaning not just serving and lending to those with high incomes or profits — and they also ask how the institution gives back to the community.

“The challenge with that is there’s no right answer. We just have to go to the examiners each year and say, ‘here’s what we did.’ And when we give, we make sure a substantial amount that we give away benefits LMI — lower- to middle-income communities.”

Area banks and credit unions have increasingly inspired employees and customers to involved in giving efforts as well. In 2023, Freedom Credit Union contributed $181,898 to more than 70 charitable organizations throughout the four counties of Western Mass.

Of that, corporate charitable giving accounted for $130,432, but throughout the year, Freedom also conducts Month of Giving campaigns, in which customers can support a specific organization each month; those programs raised $17,316 in 2023. And local branch and department giving contributed an additional $34,150 to local charities.

“Our members and staff are passionate about supporting the community where we live, work, and serve,” Freedom Credit Union President Glenn Welch said. “In 2023, we were proud to donate funds for a wide variety of deserving institutions.”

“We give a little to a lot of groups. We don’t tend to do large capital campaigns. One big ‘yes’ often means a lot of little ‘no’s.’ So many nonprofits out there are doing good work, so it feels wrong to say ‘no’ to people.”

Other institutions take customer involvement to the polls. Both Florence Bank and Monson Savings Bank boast popular programs — called the Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program and the Community Giving Initiative, respectively — that complement other bank philanthropy by letting customers vote for nonprofits to support.

Through that initiative, Florence Bank awarded $150,000 to 46 area nonprofits in 2023, the 21st year of the program; the higher-than-usual total commemorated the bank’s 150 years in business.

“It’s amazing to see so many community organizations being recognized, and the fact that the recognition comes from Florence Bank customers in the form of votes is really special,” President and CEO Matt Garrity said.

Meanwhile, in the 14th year of its community-giving program, Monson Savings Bank awarded a total of $15,000 to the 10 top vote-getting nonprofits.

PeoplesBank employees volunteers

A team of PeoplesBank employees volunteers at Kent Memorial Library in Kent, Conn.

“Everyone’s passion for our annual Community Giving Initiative is always so exciting,” said Michael Rouette, the bank’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “As a locally operated bank, Monson Savings has a great desire to support the residents, businesses, and nonprofits of the communities that we work in and live in.”

President and CEO Dan Moriarty added that “these organizations are worthy nonprofits that supply important resources to our communities. It is clear why they were chosen by our community members to receive support from Monson Savings.”

 

More Than Money

But community banks and credit unions in Western Mass. aren’t just giving money; many also emphasize a culture of volunteerism, even providing time for their employees to get involved in the community.

For example, employees at UMassFive College Federal Credit Union raised more than $18,000 for two local nonprofits last fall — $13,677 for the UMass Cancer Center via participation in the UMass Cancer Walk and Run, and $4,800 for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts via participation in Will Bike 4 Food.

A supporter of the UMass Cancer Walk and Run for more than 20 years — during which time it has raised more than $186,600 for the cause — UMassFive employees join together annually as Team UMassFive to raise funds, both personally and in branch locations. In 2023, fundraising efforts included raffle baskets, bake sales, candy sales, and art and jewelry sales, and the credit union’s corporate partners also pitched in.

Will Bike 4 Food is a more recent priority at UMassFive, as employees have taken part since 2020, raising a total of $17,500 in just four years, which equates to providing 70,332 meals to neighbors in need.

“We are so proud of our employees for supporting local causes that they care about,” said Cait Murray, Community Outreach manager at UMassFive. “Together, our team can make a more significant impact than if we all participate in events on our own. These organizations make such a big difference in our communities, and we are thrilled to support those efforts.”

Country Bank reported that its team members volunteered 1,255 hours of community service in 2023, while 37 team members served on 65 nonprofit boards and committees.

“Oftentimes, we can supplement or replace a monetary donation with volunteers, whether it’s picking vegetables at a local farm to be donated out, or helping nonprofits clean up the facility, or doing outdoor work like volunteering with Habitat for Humanity,” McGovern said. “We’re still putting the bank’s dollars to work, but the hands of our employees are helping to sustain some of these nonprofits as well.”

Liberty Bank reported 13,721 employee volunteer hours, including nearly 170 hours at Connecticut Foodshare, the aforementioned recipient of the bank’s holiday gift in 2023. The bank also actively solicits nonprofits to share information on what types of volunteer help is needed — whether working on a project or serving on a board or committee — and aims to meet those requests.

At PeoplesBank, employee volunteerism is considered part of the bank’s culture, Bannister said — part of its DNA, in fact, and something made clear to job applicants.

“We report volunteer hours to the bank examiners, and we were third in the state last year in hours volunteered per employee. It’s something that’s expected, and it’s something that builds camaraderie,” he said.

And it’s something that community banks simply should do.

“We’re more engaged in the community, where national banks are not known for that as much,” Bannister told BusinessWest. “And we consider it a competitive advantage. When you’re choosing a bank, hopefully the bank’s values are something you consider, and hopefully that volunteerism reflects well on the brand.”

 

Banking and Financial Services Special Coverage

More Than Writing Checks

Kevin Day

Kevin Day says banks — including Florence — responded strongly to rising food-insecurity needs during the pandemic.

Banks and credit unions have long touted their role in supporting local nonprofits through philanthropic efforts, but those efforts took on more urgency over the past two years, especially in areas such as food insecurity and other basic human needs. But even before the pandemic, these institutions were giving back in ways that went well beyond writing checks, from participating in fundraising events in the community to promoting a culture of volunteerism among officers and employees. In other words, the needs remain numerous, but so do the ways to address them.

 

 

When it comes to philanthropy, Kevin Day, says, Florence Bank’s overall goal never changes.

“We just try to be resilient and strengthen our communities and nonprofit sector,” said Day, the bank’s president and CEO. “We don’t necessarily go out year after year and do the same things; we tend to respond to the needs that arise, and needs in the community ebb and flow each year. Certainly, the last two years with COVID, we’ve responded to what the needs are and basically evaluated requests as they come in and tried to find the ones that have the broadest impact.”

The most obvious such need — one that many banks made a point of focus over the last two years — is food insecurity. Since the start of the pandemic, Florence Bank has donated at least $140,000 to organizations addressing that issue.

“We supported many local pantries and survival centers because the pandemic ramped up that need,” Day said. Meanwhile, “other organizations couldn’t run their normal events or even run the services they normally do. The way we managed our donations was responding to needs as they grew, and we were able to respond in a bigger way than normal.”

Craig Boivin, vice president of Marketing at UMassFive College Federal Credit Union, said it’s “in the DNA” of credit unions to invest money back into their local communities, and his institution does so in four main ways: writing checks to nonprofits, running donation drives, encouraging volunteerism among employees to help out community organizations, and financial-education programs that empower members in their financial lives.

“We had new requests coming in that we never had before because of agencies that were feeling an impact from a surge of families and individuals needing support because of the pandemic.”

Some of the events UMassFive typically supports, such as Will Bike 4 Food and Monte’s March, which both support the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, took on new importance during the pandemic, while the credit union also raised $16,000 last year for the UMass Cancer Walk and Run, bringing its total support of cancer detection and prevention through that event to around $160,000. It has also made a 10-year, $100,000 commitment to CISA to help people access healthy food through farm shares.

Meanwhile, members can use their ‘Buzz Points’ from a debit-card reward program, typically redeemable for gift cards at local establishments, to donate to area nonprofits instead, Boivin said.

“We’ve really tried to play that up over the past couple years because there’s so much need in those local organizations, and not everyone has the means to support them by writing checks, so, just by doing normal shopping, they can donate points earned from the program.”

On what Boivin calls the “roll up your sleeves” side of the bank’s efforts, members and employees provided 350 pounds of personal items to food pantries and the Amherst and Northampton Survival Centers last year, collected hundreds of winter coats for people in need, while continuing to participate in events like the Connecticut River Conservancy’s Source to Sea Cleanup.

“During the pandemic, we were thinking creatively about what else can we do that’s different than what we’ve done in the past to support different folks,” Boivin said. “In some cases, it was really kind of doubling down on our efforts because the needs jumped more than expected.”

Kevin O’Connor, executive vice president and chief banking officer at Westfield Bank, agreed. He said that, during the pandemic, the bank has received requests for help for many new organizations, as well as different kinds of requests from nonprofits it has assisted in the past.

“We had new requests coming in that we never had before because of agencies that were feeling an impact from a surge of families and individuals needing support because of the pandemic,” he noted. “We looked at every agency we didn’t know and looked at how they were doing things to support people. It might have been people we already gave to before, like the Boys and Girls Club of Westfield, that was doing something new and different.”

The bank was able to support many of these new requests through what he called a ‘reallocation’ of resources, especially when it came to events — and there were many of them — that were canceled because of the pandemic.

Moving forward, he said the bank has increased its budget for giving in 2022 to support events and organizations it has backed for years, if not decades, and also support some of those new, pandemic-related requests that won’t be going away any time soon.

 

Expanding Needs

Dan Moriarty, president and CEO of Monson Savings Bank (MSB), said the bank has long supported the basic needs of people in the community, whether that’s food, shelter, clothing, or education, to name a few. “We look at the basic needs first, and then we look at community development and youth. We try to spread money around to as many organizations as we can. And need plays a major role in those decisions.”

The nature of the pandemic, and how it isolated people and disrupted the economic well-being of families and forced them into challenging situations, certainly changed the calculus of those efforts, Moriarty noted. “I think it exacerbated the need to help people with their basic needs, even more than during a normal cycle, outside of a pandemic. Again, with so much need out there, we strive to eliminate it.”

PeoplesBank recently announced a record level of charitable contributions in 2021, with donations reaching $1,315,000 over the past year with a total of close to $11 million donated since 2011. The bank has doubled its donations in the last five years.

“During the pandemic, we were thinking creatively about what else can we do that’s different than what we’ve done in the past to support different folks. In some cases, it was really kind of doubling down on our efforts because the needs jumped more than expected.”

“We do have funding focus areas, as we call them, that are probably similar to other banks,” said Matt Bannister, the bank’s senior vice president of Marketing and Corporate Responsibility, listing among them economic development, food insecurity, housing, social services, sustainability and the environment, and literacy (both early-childhood and financial).

“I would say 90% of our grant requests fit into one of those categories,” he said. “The other category is community, which is anything that doesn’t fit another category. For instance, fireworks or First Night Northampton — things that are good for community spirit.”

The bank has donated meals to frontline responders during the pandemic (as has UMassFive and other institutions) and PPE, actions which are unique to the current environment, but most people negatively impacted by COVID tend to fall into one of PeoplesBank’s traditional philanthropic focus areas, like housing needs, food insecurity, or social services.

“We’ve given to specific COVID causes as they’ve come up over the past couple of years,” Bannister said. “We’ve done that over and above the normal giving we do anyway.”

He noted that, “even giving what we give, we’re still not able to give to everyone who asks; the needs out there are pressing.” To further address those needs, the bank’s employees donate 10,000 volunteer hours per year, and 74 of them have served on 54 different nonprofit boards.

Florence Bank takes pride in similar efforts, Day said. “We encourage all our officers to be part of the nonprofit community in some way. And our employees are involved in roughly 125 organizations in the area, as board members, volunteering at events, and so on.”

Monson Savings Bank recently announced that its employees donated $8,880 to various local nonprofits in 2021 through the bank’s Team Giving Initiative Friday (TGIF) program.

“Western Massachusetts is not only the bank’s home, but home for many of our team members,” Moriarty said. “We work here, live here, and raise our families here. We are invested in the well-being of the local landscape and ensuring that our neighbors’ needs are met.”

Through the TGIF program, bank employees elect to donate $5 out of each of their paychecks to employee-selected nonprofit organizations that support the bank’s local communities. Since the program was launched seven years ago, MSB employees have donated a total of $45,170 to various charitable organizations.

“The TGIF program is just one example of our employees holding up the bank’s value of helping our neighbors in need,” Moriarty went on. “I often refer to us as a team here at Monson Savings. The TGIF program is a true team effort. Participants of this program donate just $5 out of their pay, and each donation comes together to create a large impact.”

 

Mission Driven

O’Connor said Westfield Bank, like other institutions, looked at new and different ways to support the community as a result of COVID, with many of them being public-health-related.

As one example, he cited the bank’s support of vaccination efforts in Springfield in a partnership effort with the Basketball Hall of Fame and other entities.

“We offered some support to help draw some bands and other kinds of entertainment to the Hall of Fame so that people would then hopefully go in and learn about vaccination, and hopefully get vaccinated, if that was their choosing,” he noted, adding that there were other initiatives with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and other agencies working to meet growing needs during the pandemic.

Boivin stressed that part of UMassFive’s community support stems from its financial-empowerment workshops, which have traditionally been offered at branches during the evening and sometimes during lunch hours.

“One silver lining of this pandemic is that it really forced us to get into the virtual world, opening those workshops up to a greater pool of people who might not get into our branches,” he said. “We had people from a much wider range of locations because we put content online and they could log in from home and don’t have to trek over to a branch.”

The workshop topics range from budgeting essentials to understanding credit to the basics of homebuying 101 — “quite a range of topics that all directly support our mission,” Boivin added, noting that these efforts and those directly supporting nonprofits all stem from the same philosophy.

“Even by giving out loans to people buying their first car or their first home, all those big life events, we play a role in the community,” he told BusinessWest. “Part of playing a role in the community is keeping more dollars local, investing in local organizations, and at the same time amplifying the mission of the credit union to better the financial lives of the people we serve. It takes many forms.”

Day agreed. “Community banks are in the same boat. Our employees are here, we all live and work in the community, and we all have a vested interest in making sure our community thrives.”

Unlike larger institutions whose management or directors don’t necessarily have a personal stake in the community, “for us, it’s a very important connection,” he added. “The decision makers are all here in the community. We’re not giving to places we don’t know. We see people impacted every single day, so there’s a tight connection between a bank like ours, where all our customers come from the local community, and our local organizations.”

Moriarty said Monson Savings Bank turns 150 this year, and he’s been looking at documents from the institution’s founding, which drove home MSB’s place in the community and why philanthropy is important, whether in a pandemic year or … well, a more normal one.

“Community banks were established to help people. They’ve always followed that mission,” he said. “We’re here to help the community; our mission is to help people save and prosper, but also to help the community wherever there’s a need, and we take that to heart.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Banking and Financial Services

Checking on the Community

Paul Scully

Paul Scully says much of Country Bank’s philanthropy in 2020 was directed at “COVID-related initiatives.”

Paul Scully says local philanthropy is baked into the DNA of this region’s financial institutions.

“Banks have always been great about supporting communities. And we are fairly philanthropic,” Country Bank’s president and CEO added, noting that the bank gave $1.3 million to local nonprofits last year, touching about 400 different organizations in some way.

Those numbers aren’t atypical. What made 2020 slightly different is where that money went.

“Of that, about a half-million went to what I would call COVID-related initiatives,” Scully said, citing causes ranging from equipping frontline workers at hospitals to meeting soaring demand at local food banks due to the pandemic’s economic impact on families.

At Freedom Credit Union’s April board meeting — the first one after it and the region’s other banking institutions closed their doors in mid-March — President and CEO Glenn Welch said he asked to make larger monthly donations to the community than usual.

“I told them, ‘I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but we need to support the community.’ The board agreed and allocated a chunk of money that we could utilize in the community.”

In the days that followed, Freedom announced a donation of $55,000 to be dispersed among several community organizations at the front lines of the local fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, including Baystate Health Foundation; Mercy Medical Center; Cooley Dickinson Health Care; the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts; Hampshire Hospitality Group, whose Hampshire County Heroes feed first responders in Hampshire County; and Feed the Fight, an initiative of Peter Pan Bus Lines and area restaurants to feed healthcare workers and first responders in the community.

“If you’re still employed with no interruption in your household income, you might not realize a lot people were living on a shoestring, and that shoestring broke. The opportunity to donate and give back is huge.”

“A lot of those are things we haven’t done every year,” Welch said, noting that the credit union’s philanthropic contributions were up 17% from 2019 to 2020, even though it was a tougher financial year for financial institutions.

It’s a story being told across the region — not that banks and credit unions are being more generous this year (although, in many cases, they are), but that the pandemic has revealed different needs, causing a shift in where those grants are being targeted.

In September, for instance, the Berkshire Bank Foundation contributed an additional $1 million — over its $3 million total annual grant budget — to collaborative efforts supporting nonprofit organizations responding to rising community needs, including MHA, the YMCA of Greater Springfield, Western Massachusetts SCORE, and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, among others.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our local communities in ways that no one could have predicted, and the economic impact has created significant challenges for organizations who help so many every day,” said Jim Hickson, Berkshire Bank’s Pioneer Valley regional president.

The foundation’s grants have supported community-based organizations in the areas of housing, food security, health supplies, student aid, small-business assistance — all needs that have been heightened by a pandemic whose impacts will continue to be felt well into 2021.

 

First Response

Some of the earliest contributions from banks and credit unions, at the start of the pandemic, were targeted to hospitals and first responders. Country Bank donated $250,000 to four local hospitals, and also gave $50,000 to the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department’s First Responder Recovery Home, which provided a safe haven for doctors, nurses, EMTs, police, firefighters, and corrections professionals who were diagnosed with COVID-19, but couldn’t safely go home to recover without jeopardizing the health of a vulnerable family member.

Glenn Welch

Glenn Welch

“I told them, ‘I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but we need to support the community.’ The board agreed and allocated a chunk of money that we could utilize in the community.”

As the pandemic evolved and other nonprofits began reshaping their missions to respond to it, Country Bank directed funds to organizations like the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Springfield Rescue Mission, and Friends of the Homeless, as well as similar organizations in the Worcester area.

PeoplesBank’s charitable giving in 2020 surpassed its previous record high, totaling $1,300,000, and benefiting 292 different nonprofits in the region. While the long-standing funding priorities of PeoplesBank include education, community vibrancy, and environmental sustainability, support in 2020 also included donations to COVID-19 emergency relief funds, purchases of PPE for frontline responders, organizations fighting food insecurity and homelessness, and many area youth groups and early-childhood education centers.

“We try to say ‘no’ as infrequently as possible,” said Matt Bannister, the bank’s senior vice president of Marketing and Corporate Responsibility — even though last year’s needs definitely widened, especially considering that many nonprofits gain much of their funding from annual events that never happened.

“When the COVID hit the fan, we said to all our nonprofits we had agreements with, ‘we are going to honor all our commitments, even if you can’t hold your gala or your walk. The money’s still yours,’” Bannister said.

“The event may go away, but the need doesn’t,” he continued. “On one hand, if they don’t have the event, they don’t have to spend money on it, so that’s good. But these events are money makers. They were counting on this revenue. The visibility we get from these events is nice, but the real reason we do it is to support that cause, not because they put our logo on a T-shirt.”

Matt Bannister

Matt Bannister

“The event may go away, but the need doesn’t. On one hand, if they don’t have the event, they don’t have to spend money on it, so that’s good. But these events are money makers. They were counting on this revenue. The visibility we get from these events is nice, but the real reason we do it is to support that cause, not because they put our logo on a T-shirt.”

 

Kevin Day, president and CEO of Florence Bank, said his institution had no inclination to take back money spent to support such events.

“COVID drove everyone indoors this year, and a lot of events got canceled,” Day said. “We usually sign up for events, and we send money ahead of time. The nonprofits all reached out and said, “we’re not going to hold this ball or gala. Do you need the money back?’ But we’re here to support you, and the fact that you can’t throw a ball actually makes it more important that we support you. So even though we didn’t get to go to these events, we still made the donations; that didn’t change a bit.”

Later in the year, as nonprofits scrambled to find other ways to raise funds, banks looked for new ways to support them, Bannister added. “Like, the Community Foundation put together an emergency COVID fund — there’s a new need. We contributed to buy PPE for the frontline workers — that was something that wasn’t a need before. And a number of chambers put together microgrant programs for the members in their communities, with a special round of fundraising for that, and we supported that, too.”

 

Food for Thought

Like PeoplesBank, Florence Bank directs its philanthropy in a few general ways.

“We’ve always focused on what we call the three H’s: hungry, hurt, homeless. We thought food-insecure people having trouble getting food and buying food might be a big deal this year, so we said, ‘hey, let’s do everything we can in that area, if possible,’” Day said, adding that Florence has made good on that pledge by supporting 11 different food pantries and homeless shelters.

“We’ve always supported many of these organizations,” he was quick to add, but cast a wider net this year, donating nearly $100,000 to 10 organizations that address food insecurity.

Kevin Day

“We’ve always focused on what we call the three H’s: hungry, hurt, homeless.”

“We are so grateful. Without the support of donors, we would not have been able to continue our mission,” Ruben Reyes, executive director of Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen & Pantry in Chicopee, one of the recipients, said in December. “COVID has affected us very hard. All of our fundraisers were canceled, and we were very worried about how to fund our programs.”

Compounding the problem, COVID-19 has also affected Lorraine’s clientele. Reyes said he is seeing an additional 200 to 300 families each month, and provides a month’s supply of groceries and dinners five nights a week to a total of 600 to 700 families. “We’re seeing a lot more families who typically would not need pantry services. They are coming to our doors for the very first time.”

Meanwhile, Scully noted that a Greater Boston Food Bank report that food insecurity in Massachusetts reached an all-time high in November. The state has experienced a 59% increase since 2018, representing more than 1 million people in need of food assistance. Most people are using food pantries for the first time.

“We’ve seen the demand at the food banks, and in so many other different areas,” he told BusinessWest, noting that Country has donated more than $130,000 to local food pantries throughout the year. “We’ve always supported local food pantries and food banks, and we made significant contributions to them as well. Everyone is feeling the demands are greater than ever.”

As another example of the way financial institutions have rallied to the cause of food insecurity, Freedom Credit Union partnered with its members and the local community in December by matching funds donated to benefit the Pioneer Valley USO.

Located at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, that organization provides more than 102,000 pounds of food to more than 3,200 individuals annually through the Emergency Food Pantry, among other efforts.

“We’d heard that some of the people who serve us in the military are having trouble feeding their families, and the food pantries need to be stocked,” Welch said. “It’s pretty sad when people in the U.S. have to be going to the food banks, with the loss of jobs due to COVID. A lot of people are hurting this year.”

All the region’s banks and credit unions helped customers who were struggling financially in other ways as well, such as mortgage and loan deferrals and relief loans.

“All the institutions did a lot to help members by deferring payments and coming up with loan programs,” Welch said. “It’s important to help people out, and we’re still doing that.”

 

Community Partners

While food insecurity and other basic needs are front of mind these days, banks and credit unions support a host of other nonprofits as well, many of which rely on performances, events, and member activity to pay their bills. Many of these were able to pivot to virtual events to maintain connections with the community until they can go back to live events, but those don’t bring in nearly as much funding as in-person gatherings.

Through its philanthropic efforts, Scully said “what we try to do is help communities thrive, whether it’s economic health, physical health, or nutritional health. Put all those pieces together, and these communities will thrive. If there’s a need and we’re able to help satisfy some of these needs, we’ll do our part to the extent we can.”

That attitude, at most local financial institutions, extends beyond monetary donations into volunteerism, Bannister noted.

“We’ve averaged about 10,000 volunteer hours across the organization pretty consistently for the past four or five years,” he said, adding that the total in 2020 was closer to 5,000, due to organizations moving to remote operations and events being canceled. “That wasn’t from a lack of desire; people were concerned about going out in public, so there was a lack of opportunity. We expect that to come back this year as things start to open up again.”

At an employee giving campaign in November, the bank actually had more associates give more money this year than ever before, Bannister added. “That could have gone the other way. There’s a lot more economic insecurity out there. So that, to us, was a sign that folks are still engaged, and they still want to give.”

While nonprofits have cut back hours and volunteers can’t always come in, especially at organizations that deal with an older population. “people have been creative,” Scully said. “We work once a month with the Ware mobile food pantry. We were there the week before Christmas, and that had upwards of 300 cars coming in. They turned it into a mobile experience. There’s a group of us there, you’re outside, masks on. It’s a way to give back, volunteer, and be safe.”

After all, he added, people want to help, and so do banks.

Day said the outpouring of concern was so great in 2020 that some nonprofits actually weathered the early months of the pandemic well.

“In March, maybe the first week of April, I think my supposition would have been that everyone is going to be hurting instantly,” he said. “But I’m involved in several nonprofit boards, and across the region, many are saying their needs have been met, in my view, pretty well.”

But 2021 poses a trap of sorts.

“The critical aspect is coming in the next year,” Day said. “Many of them received a great deal of donations during this past year, and we’re happy to do our part. I think the needs will come as the recovery moves along this year, once the perception of need goes away.”

That’s because human needs are still great among families that come to nonprofits for help, especially those in the lower economic strata who have experienced economic devastation. “They’re going to need continued support, and I expect that need will continue through 2021, easily.”

Scully agreed. “The needs are greater than the average person realizes. If you’re still employed with no interruption in your household income, you might not realize a lot people were living on a shoestring, and that shoestring broke. The opportunity to donate and give back is huge.”

And will remain so going forward, Day added.

“We gave more money this year than we ever have, sprayed it around, touched every aspect of the nonprofit world,” he said. “People know we’re a good partner of the community, and we’re happy to help out those in need.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

 

Banking and Financial Services

Strike Against Hunger

Andrew Morehouse thanks Country Bank

A surprised Andrew Morehouse thanks Country Bank for the $500,000 donation to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

Paul Scully says he wants to “throw hunger a curveball.”

And to the leaders of two Massachusetts food banks, it was a welcome pitch indeed.

At its annual meeting on June 21, Country Bank unveiled its most recent — and largest — donation targeting the persistent issue of food insecurity in the Bay State, surprising Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and Jean McMurray, executive director of the Worcester Food Bank, with two $500,000 checks, one for each organization.

“With everything we’re hearing these days about the shortage of food and the high expense of food … the need is real out there,” Scully said during the announcement event. “It’s really exciting for us and an honor to announce we’re kicking off a million-dollar pledge to throw hunger a curveball, and we are presenting a $500,000 check to both Jean and Andrew for your organizations.”

It’s just the latest, and largest, in a remarkable show of support from banks across the region in the fight against food insecurity, which spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to be a persistent problem. Most banks in Western Mass. have ramped up their contributions to area food banks and food pantries, often significantly.

“As a community partner, we care deeply about the sustainability of our communities and the people who live in them,” Scully added, noting that this $1 million pledge reflects an recognition of the burdens many have experienced throughout this past year.

“I’m in awe of Country Bank’s generosity and so impressed by their commitment to the community, whether it be Worcester County or the four counties of Western Massachusetts.”

Newly appointed Country Bank board members Elizabeth Cohen-Rappaport, Richard Maynard, Ross Dik, and Stacey Luster presented the checks to Morehouse and McMurray at the annual meeting.

“I’m in awe of Country Bank’s generosity and so impressed by their commitment to the community, whether it be Worcester County or the four counties of Western Massachusetts,” a visibly surprised Morehouse said. “This demonstrates that Country Bank is for real, and they practice what they preach.”

McMurray was equally touched. “This was totally unexpected, but, when I think about it, Worcester, and Worcester County, is the best place to live, to work, and to give back, and we are going to put this tremendous gift from Country Bank to work so none of our neighbors has to go hungry.”

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts relies on donations from individuals, businesses, foundations, civic organizations, faith-based groups, schools, and government to fulfill its expanding mission. With the help of that support, it provided the equivalent of 12.3 million meals in in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2020 — a significant increase from meals provided in previous years, and a pace that continued as the pandemic extended well into 2021.

“Country Bank is always looking at the basic needs of folks in our communities, whether food services, shelter and homelessness, as well as healthcare — those are the primary pillars where the bank tries to make the most of its donations,” said Shelley Regin, the bank’s senior vice president of Marketing.

The support for food banks comes at a critical time, not just in Massachusetts, but nationally. Feeding America estimates that the pandemic caused 13.1 million non-elderly adults to seek free meals or free groceries for the first time.

“The pandemic forced businesses and workers to make tough decisions,” said Ash Slupski, the organization’s website marketing manager. “To prevent the spread of coronavirus, many businesses were forced to close or lay off employees. This is especially true for people employed in restaurants, hotels, other service industries, and small businesses.”

Meanwhile, the needs of remote learning, especially for young children, forced many working parents to temporarily leave their jobs to be home, if they couldn’t work remotely themselves. And many faced reduced hours and paychecks when they did return to work, Slupski noted. “All these changes impact people’s ability to provide for their families now and plan for the future.”

To meet the growing need locally, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts recently revealed plans for a new distribution center and headquarters, which will be located on the corner of Carew and East Main streets in Chicopee. Construction on the new headquarters, which will be larger and more sustainably build than the current location in Hatfield, is expected to begin next spring.

Regin noted that, in 2020, Country Bank’s philanthropy exceeded $1 million by supporting 450 nonprofits throughout the region, mainly focused on helping food pantries, homeless shelters, COVID-19 relief services, veterans, and other programs that supported the everyday needs of the people in its communities.

“Country Bank really wants to make sure we’re supporting all our communities,” which extend geographically from Springfield to Worcester, she noted. “It starts with Paul, and we all follow his lead in looking for ways the bank can make a difference. We support many charities, as many banks do, but it starts with Paul; he’s a great leader in that way, and we’re all on board.”

 

—Joseph Bednar

Company Notebook

Community Foundation Grants $700,000 Through COVID-19 Response Fund

SPRINGFIELD — The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (CFWM) announced the release of its first grants, totaling $700,000, to community organizations and nonprofits from its recently-established COVID-19 Response Fund for the Pioneer Valley. The fund has raised $2,480,000 from local philanthropic and business organizations and over 50 individuals. The first round of funding to support local response to the crisis includes $190,000 to distribute food through the region’s system of food pantries; $120,000 to address the needs of vulnerable elders, including home-delivered meals; $120,000 to provide critical health services and outreach through the Valley’s federally designated Community Health Centers; $150,000 to provide shelter for those without homes and those impacted by domestic violence; and $120,000 to provide flexible supports to the region’s lowest-income families and individuals. Organizations receiving funding include Caring Health Center, Catholic Charities Agency – Diocese of Springfield, Center for Human Development, Community Action Pioneer Valley, Community Health Center of Franklin County, Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Friends of the Homeless (Clinical & Support Options), Greater Springfield Senior Services, Highland Valley Elder Services, Hilltown Community Health Center, Holyoke Health Center, LifePath, New England Learning Center for Women in Transition, Safe Passage, ServiceNet, Springfield Partners for Community Action, Springfield Rescue Mission, Valley Opportunity Council, WestMass ElderCare, Womanshelter Companeras, and YWCA of Western Massachusetts. More grants are expected to be announced and released to respond to emerging needs. In subsequent phases, grants will be made to address needs of nonprofit organizations that have been financially impacted by the crisis. The Community Foundation welcomes additional donations to the COVID-19 Response Fund for the Pioneer Valley. Donate online at communityfoundation.org/coronavirus-donations.

Fire Investigation Transfer Program Launched at STCC

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) has a hot new program. Starting this fall, the college will offer a new option in the Fire Protection and Safety Technology department: fire investigation transfer. Students who choose this option will study fire behavior, fire operations, prevention, investigations, and criminal law through courses in fire science and criminal justice. Fire investigators often work for local, state, and federal agencies, but also pursue opportunities in the private sector. The program is offered in the evening only, which will give students who work more flexibility. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for fire inspectors and investigators are expected to grow by 8% between 2018 and 2028. The median pay in 2018 was $60,200. Students who successfully complete the two-year program will receive an associate of science degree in fire protection and safety technology. To learn more about the program and to apply for the fall, visit stcc.edu/explore/programs/fitr.as. Individuals with questions may contact Tenczar at [email protected] or call (413) 755-4596.

HCC President Pledges $10,000 to ‘Together HCC’ Campaign

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College (HCC) President Christina Royal has issued a personal $10,000 challenge gift toward a new HCC campaign that is as much about building moral support in a time of great uncertainty as it is about raising money for students experiencing financial distress. As part of the HCC Foundation’s “Together HCC — A Campaign for Caring,” students, staff, faculty, alumni, relatives, and friends are being asked to use the hashtag #TogetherHCC to share stories and images on social media that show the strength of the college community in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Royal’s $10,000 challenge is not just a financial one. Instead, the goal is to gather 1,000 contributions of any kind toward the #TogetherHCC campaign. That includes monetary donations as well as social-media posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well as e-mail submissions that describe an inspirational tale or messages of encouragement relating to the ongoing pandemic. Besides scholarships, the HCC Foundation manages several funds that directly support students facing financial emergencies as well as those experiencing food and housing insecurity. These include the President’s Student Emergency Fund, which was established by Royal, and another that supports HCC’s Thrive Student Resource Center, which manages the HCC Food Pantry.

Northampton Survival Center Updates Public on Services

NORTHAMPTON — While concern for staff, client, and volunteer health during the COVID-19 pandemic recently forced Northampton Survival Center to temporarily stop client visits to pick up food, the center anticipates resuming modified operations as soon as possible. Even though the building is closed, however, new community partnerships and initiatives have sprung into action. The center has teamed up with Community Action Pioneer Valley to begin distributing food out of Jackson Street School, a nearby location with ample, circular parking and cafeteria and refrigeration capabilities. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning, food will be delivered by the Survival Center to the school, where a team of trained personnel will be able to create pre-bagged packages of nutritious food while maintaining safe distancing and other health precautions. On those same afternoons, bags will be carted outdoors under a tent, for quick drive-up intake and food transfer to clients safely in their cars. Another initiative between the Northampton Survival Center and Grow Food Northampton delivers fresh produce and groceries every Tuesday to high-need sites including Hampshire Heights, Florence Heights, Meadowbrook, and the Lumber Yard on Pleasant Street. Food distribution at all four sites will work in tandem with the Northampton public-school system and Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School’s new meal-delivery program for children, in order to amplify each other’s efforts to keep children and their entire families fed. Shelf-stable groceries will be paired with fresh produce purchased directly from local farms, as well as produce and other goods purchased from distributors via River Valley Co-op. To serve clients in the hilltowns, food is being brought from the Hilltown Pantry and Northampton Survival Center to the various Councils on Aging that serve the region. COAs in Chesterfield, Worthington, and Goshen have already begun distributing this food from their sites, and further outreach is being coordinated with the Hilltown Community Health Center and the Hilltown Community Development Corp. The center is exploring using a school classroom in Worthington as a mini-pantry, and fresh produce has been shared with the Maples senior housing in Worthington. Eggs from Northampton Survival Center have been shared with the MANNA hot meal program, and fresh produce and retail donations of bread and other items usually reserved for the center are now being shared with other food pantries in the area, via the center’s partners at the Food Bank.

Monson Savings Bank Donates $25,000 to Baystate Health’s Greatest Needs Fund

MONSON — Baystate Health has just completed construction of a rapid-response triage area outside of the Baystate Medical Center Emergency Department, allowing the hospital to better protect patients and medical staff from exposure to the virus as patients are being screened and tested. This new triage area is just one of the many large, unplanned expenses this health emergency has created. Additionally, the exploding demand for personal protection equipment for staff and myriad other needs to fight this outbreak are stretching resources and finances to the limit. Monson Savings Bank has donated $25,000 to Baystate’s Greatest Needs Fund. This gift will directly support resources needed at Baystate Health as it continues to address and prepare for the care the community needs during this worldwide pandemic.

UMassFive College Credit Union Offers Financial Resources, Support

HADLEY — As a local nonprofit financial cooperative, UMassFive College Federal Credit Union (UMassFive) is known for playing an active role in supporting and educating members and local communities. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UMassFive has launched a number of initiatives to continue supporting its membership and people in the local community. For example, UMassFive has joined forces with Log Rolling Catering to donate 350 meals to individuals and families in need, as well as those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. The Amherst Survival Center received 150 prepared meals for distribution to those in need, and another 200 meals went to the ER staff at both Mercy Medical Center in Springfield and UMass Medical Center in Worcester. In addition, UMassFive has pledged $1,000 to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and donated another $1,000 to the local farming nonprofit Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, which will use the funds as part of its campaign to raise $50,000 for emergency loans to local farms. Credit-union members can also participate by making charitable donations in support of their local community through the UMassFive Buzz Points program, including options benefiting the Food Bank and the Amherst Survival Center. UMassFive is committed to answering questions and providing financial guidance to its members throughout this ongoing time of economic uncertainty. Members are encouraged to reach out for one-on-one phone consultations with credit union staff to better understand what options are available to them at this time. For instance, UMassFive is offering loan-payment deferral for up to three months on all qualified consumer loans. Members can visit www.umassfive.coop/emergency-relief to learn which loans qualify and to submit their emergency-relief payment-deferral requests through an easy-to-fill-out web form. As a way to make things a little easier for qualified borrowers who decide to take on some short-term debt to address their current needs, UMassFive has temporarily lowered the rate of all new personal loans to 5.99% APR for amounts of $2,000 or less. New and existing members can apply for this loan online at www.umassfive.coop/personalloan. After signing up (for new users) or logging in, applicants should select ‘fixed-term loan,’ then ‘loan special,’ and continue filling out the form until fully submitted. The credit union strongly encourages seeking alternative options before taking on additional debt.

Country Bank Donates $250,000 to Four Hospitals

WARE — Country Bank announced it has donated $250,000 to four local hospitals to help assist with the work they are doing for patients as they fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The hospitals receiving donations include Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Harrington Hospital in Southbridge, UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, and Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester. Paul Scully, president and CEO at Country Bank, noted that “these are challenging and ever-evolving times as we face uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. As a community partner, we care deeply about our communities, and we wanted to support our local hospitals to help ease their financial burden as they continue to offer exceptional care to our friends and neighbors in the region.”

Providence Ministries Services Continue Through Pandemic

HOLYOKE — Providence Ministries will continue to offer essential support services to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement, Executive Director Shannon Rudder shared precautions being made to ensure continuity of services while protecting program participants. Effective immediately, the following program shifts will occur: Kate’s Community Kitchen will provide warm, nutritious takeout meals; dining-room services will be suspended until further notice. Margaret’s Pantry will continue to welcome those in need of supplemental groceries to enjoy its community services. This includes both monthly guests along with anyone impacted by loss of work or simply realizing greater need at this time. Make an appointment by calling Brenda at (413) 536-9109, ext. 119. St. Jude’s Clothing Center will be closed until further notice to contain exposure, while the foodWorks culinary-training program will suspend current classes until further notice; the April 1 graduation will be rescheduled. Providence is taking every precaution to ensure its single-room-occupancy recovery housing spaces maintain cleanliness and overall health. It is difficult to ensure a true quarantine due to shared spaces, such as bathrooms and kitchens. At Loreto House, residents will suspend weekend passes and all planned workshops, no general public will be allowed entrance, a daily temperature check has been instituted, and any resident presenting symptoms and fever will be sent to the hospital or their primary-care provider. At both Broderick House and McCleary Manor, no outside visitors or overnight guests are permitted. No new residents will be admitted to any of these houses during this time. Each home has adequate cleaning products and hand soaps. Volunteers are asked to exercise caution and use their best judgement to continue in their service.

Girls Inc. Receives Grants from Baystate Health, Women Empowered

HOLYOKE — Girls Inc. of the Valley received a community-benefits discretionary grant of $5,000 from Baystate Health to Girls Inc. of the Valley’s “Informed and In Charge” program, which is designed to teach healthy sexuality. Through “Informed and In Charge,” girls acquire the knowledge and skills for taking charge of and making informed decisions about their sexual health. Exploring values, practicing responses in different situations, and thinking about their futures helps girls identify ways and reasons to avoid early pregnancy and prevent sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Meanwhile, Women Empowered, a group that strives to promote body positivity and acceptance for both adult women and future generations of girls, has donated $2,500 in proceeds of its Women Empowered calendar sales to Girls Inc. of the Valley. The receipt of this gift will support Girls Inc. of the Valley’s current research-based program offerings designed to empower girls, and will provide a boost in its annual fundraising efforts. The Women Empowered calendar features a diverse group of everyday women who have embraced their uniqueness, have overcome physical and mental obstacles, celebrate their bodies, and want to share their story to inspire others. This calendar provides the chance to send a message of body positivity and acceptance in order to teach other women and future generations to embrace the totality of who they are, and use their gifts, their beauty, and their stories to change the world. Everyone involved with the production of the calendar and all sponsors are women-owned businesses.

Amherst Area Tip Jar Launched

AMHERST — The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce and the Amherst Business Improvement District (BID) have launched the Amherst Area Tip Jar. Many locals would regularly be patronizing their favorite restaurants, bars, salons, coffeehouses, and other businesses that have been ordered closed or have shifted to take-out only, depending on the type of business, due to the COVID-19 crisis and related health and safety restrictions. The Tip Jar, first established in Pittsburgh, allows people to support local service industry staff and businesses. It allows them to send a ‘tip’ to their favorite business, which will share it with their staff — bartenders, servers, kitchen staff, stylists, aestheticians, mechanics, etc. The Amherst Area Tip Jar offers an option for these businesses and individuals to post their Venmo or PayPal information so that customers, family members, neighbors, and community members, near and far, can continue to support them using this open-source concept — a way to maximize social distancing while supporting these workers and small businesses. E-mail Claudia Pazmany, the chamber’s executive director, at [email protected] or Gould at [email protected]m with any inquiries.

Big Y Announces Support for Five Food Banks

SPRINGFIELD — On March 16, Big Y World Class Markets donated $125,000 to three Massachusetts food banks and two in Connecticut in order to help them respond to the challenges they face in helping to feed others during these challenging times. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Greater Boston Food Bank, the Worcester County Food Bank, Foodshare, and the Connecticut Food Bank will each receive an immediate donation of $25,000. All Big Y stores also now have collection boxes to allow customers to make food donations for local pantries and shelters. As part of its recent 10th annual Sack Hunger/Care to Share program, Big Y also provided more than $11.5 million in food to area food banks, which amounts to a total of 5.7 million meals to help those in need throughout the region. In addition to Sack Hunger, it donates healthy food to these food banks six days a week throughout the year. Two-thirds of those 5.7 million meals include donations of meat and fresh produce, while bakery, non-perishable grocery items, frozen food, and dairy products account for the rest. In fact, these almost-daily donations have become a routine part of Big Y’s operations. These food banks depend upon this steady flow of food to feed those in need. Big Y also encourages support in any amount for area food banks right now. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts estimates that every dollar donated will provide four meals for those in need. Visit foodbankwma.org for more information. Additionally, Big Y donated $50,000 to the COVID-19 Response Fund hosted by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. The fund will provide flexible resources to Pioneer Valley nonprofit organizations serving populations most impacted by the crisis, such as the elderly, those without stable housing, families needing food, and those with particular health vulnerabilities.

Banking and Financial Services

Past Is Prologue

President and CEO John Howland stands by a display commemorating GSB’s first 150 years. I

Greenfield Savings Bank has marked its sesquicentennial in a number of ways this year — from a party with cupcakes in the spring to presenting elm trees to a number of area communities it serves in the summer, to displaying its proud history, something it’s done pretty much all year long. Overall, though, it has celebrated by doing what it has done since it was founded in 1869 — serving as a rock-solid corporate citizen. And a vital partner to its many types of customers.

John Howland jokingly refers to it as his “high-school history project.”

He was referring to the large display of photographs and other materials that trace the 150-year progression of Greenfield Savings Bank. And it’s quite an exhibition.

Indeed, across two walls just off the main lobby and outside the main conference room hang a number of photos, postcards, and framed advertisements and documents that collectively tell the story of an institution that has changed considerably since Ulysses S. Grant roamed the White House — but also hasn’t changed in many ways, as we’ll see.

There are photos of bank lobbies from several different decades, a host of board presidents, groups of employees, Howland himself, who became GSB president in 2015, and many images of the old Mansion House Hotel.

The bank was relocated within the hotel property roughly a decade after its launch — it was one of several ground-floor retail sites — and was still there when the Mansion House was destroyed in a massive fire in January 1959 (there are pictures of that historic moment as well). The bank built its new headquarters roughly where the front lobby of the hotel once stood.

The historic Mansion House Hotel and GSB’s location within that property.

“So we’ve basically operated in the same location since 1880, and that’s very significant to me,” said Howland, adding that this history project is important, for customers and employees alike, because there has been much to commemorate during what has been a year-long celebration, punctuated by a large party in the spring.

Starting with the name over the door. It was Greenfield Savings Bank all those years ago, said Howland, and it still is. This despite the fact that many banks, as they have expanded beyond their original home and added branches in other counties and sometimes another state, have dropped the city or town from their name, opting for something more global and seemingly less defining. Meanwhile, almost every other institution that had ‘Savings’ in its name has dropped that, too, on the theory that it’s anachronistic and doesn’t convey the full line of services.

GSB has done none of that.

“Why would you want to change a name you’ve had for 150 years?” he asked before answering the question himself. “The idea that we’re somehow different because we’ve changed our name and don’t have ‘Savings’ in it anymore is disingenuous to me.”

But the bank is celebrating more than continuity — although that’s certainly important. There has been growth and expansion into other areas, including Northampton, Amherst, and, most recently, the community in between them, Hadley. There has also been a commitment to remain at the forefront of technology, said Denise Coyne, executive vice president and COO (and 41-year employee of the bank), and as evidence, she pointed proudly to the new interactive teller machines, or ITMs, in the drive-through lane, an initiative GSB calls Teller Connect. Customers can speak with a teller based in Turners Falls who can handle a wide range of transactions from that location.

The bank is also celebrating its work within the community, a commitment that manifests itself in a number of ways and on many different levels, including multi-faceted support of Monte’s March, the trek undertaken by radio station WHMP DJ Monte Belmonte to raise money for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts (Howland himself was to be part of the second leg of the march, from Northampton to Greenfield).

Denise Coyne shows off one of the Teller Connect machines at GSB’s main branch in Greenfield.

But it also includes donating 30 elm trees in communities where the bank has a presence to replace just a few those lost to Dutch elm disease decades ago (these gifts, part of the 150th celebration, are resistant to the disease), and creating a foundation to support an ongoing project whereby students learning each of the trades at Franklin County Technical School collaborate to build a house from scratch (more on those initiatives later).

Mostly, though, the bank is celebrating what Howland called its “infinite horizon.” By that, he meant that this institution isn’t going anywhere, and it can act, and operate, accordingly.

“My job is to hand the keys over to someone else and have the company be better than it was when I got here,” he explained. “At the prior two organizations I worked for, and at many other banks, basically the mission was to figure out how to maximize the value for the shareholders in the shortest period of time and sell the organization; to that extent, our business plan is different than that of most other banks.”

For this issue’s focus on banking and financial services, BusinessWest talked at length with Howland and Coyne about GSB’s first 150 years and what will come next for this venerable institution.

Staying on Track

Hanging on a wall inside the conference room is a framed poster hyping the 20th Century Limited — the historic express passenger train on the New York Central Railroad that traveled between New York and Chicago — and its faster time for completing that run: 16 hours.

This might seem like an odd item to find in a bank headquarters building, but Howland offered an explanation that speaks volumes about how this institution celebrates its past but is by no means stuck in it.

“I put that poster up to remind us that we constantly have to be reinventing ourselves, constantly have to be figuring out how to do it better and faster,” Howland explained. “The poster represents the race between the New York Central Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad to attract customers to this high-profile route. When one company dropped their time, the other matched or exceeded it. They conceived idea after idea to improve service, cut down travel time, and maintain schedules. Banking today is just like that — we are all providing the same products. That’s why we continue to provide our customers with exceptional service, the most up-to-date technology, and offer competitive rates.”

And throughout its long history, the bank certainly has operated with that mindset.

Students at Franklin County Technical School work on the framing for a house they constructed in Erving through a program financed by a foundation created by GSB.

Indeed, while the name over the door hasn’t changed and the street address of the main branch has changed by just a few digits, the bank has evolved with the times and advancing technology, all while remaining a hugely important corporate citizen in a region that never had many and has seen those ranks decline over the past several decades.

Coyne, the bank’s longest-serving employee, has certainly seen this blend of change and continuity in her time.

She recalls doing most tasks by hand when she started as a teller at the Turners Falls branch (the only branch at the time) in 1978, and, in fact, she helped lead the institution into the computer age and a succession of improvements, including Teller Connect.

“The technology is so great that we can extend our hours — from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, you can talk with a teller,” she noted, adding that there are extended hours on Saturday as well. “It’s no different than if you go to a drive-up and talk with someone who’s in the building; we can do almost everything you could if you came into the lobby.”

Over the past four decades, Coyne, who has held a number of titles over the years and handled pretty much every assignment other than commercial lending, has seen the bank greatly expand its footprint, first into other communities within Franklin County, then into neighboring Hampshire County.

There are now five branches in Franklin County — in Greenfield, Conway, Shelburne Falls, South Deerfield, and Turners Falls — and the same number in Hampshire County — two in Amherst, two in Northampton, and the latest addition, the branch on Route 9 in Hadley.

That addition to the portfolio wasn’t exactly planned, said Howland, noting that it came about by circumstance — the closing of a credit union — and was viewed as an opportunity to more conveniently serve customers in that area.

Looking ahead, Howland doesn’t see much, if any, additional expansion. But he does see continuous work to improve customer service, take full advantage of ever-improving technology, and, overall, take full advantage of the infinite horizon he mentioned.

“That’s the biggest challenge we face — the non-bank competitors coming in picking off pieces of our business. It’s kind of like Walmart being able to do an MRI for you; it’s large companies picking and choosing where they can make something work.”

And all those qualities will be needed, he said, because, while the pace of consolidation within the banking industry has slowed somewhat, especially in this region, other threats have emerged, especially from what he called “non-bank competition.”

By that, he referred to Apple, Google, Alibaba, PayPal, and a host of other major companies that are chipping away at traditional bank business by creating services of their own in realms ranging from lending to payments to credit cards.

“That’s the biggest challenge we face — the non-bank competitors coming in picking off pieces of our business,” he explained. “It’s kind of like Walmart being able to do an MRI for you; it’s large companies picking and choosing where they can make something work.

“And then we, as an organization, have to provide everything for everyone,” he went on. “And sometimes it can become expensive to provide some products. It’s just capitalism — it’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it’s a challenge for us as an organization to maintain as much as we maintain and be able to provide an array of services for our customers.”

Saving Graces

To counteract these powerful forces, GSB has to focus on what differentiates it from those non-bank competitors and the larger regional banks so prevalent in this market, said Howland.

These differentiators include both a personalized brand of service and a deep portfolio of services, including a trust department, something most area banks no longer have, he went on.

As just one example, he cited the example of a customer entangled in a fraud situation.

“Unfortunately, the bank on the other side is a huge organization that really doesn’t care — they will not help at all, they won’t talk with us, they won’t do anything,” he noted. “I think the way we differentiate ourselves is the personalized service and the fact that our customers know they can count on us — they know they can call someone who cares and is going to do something about their problem.”

Beyond the brand and scope of services, another differentiator is the bank’s long history of involvement in the community and a commitment to continue that tradition, said Howland.

“As an organization, we’re very proud of our position in the community,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re dedicated to being the best corporate citizen we can be, and we’re involved in our community in many, many different ways.

“Obviously, we’re important in terms of the local economy, but it’s not just the economy that we focus on, it’s just the financial aspect of what we do,” he went on. “It’s striving to improve the conditions in our communities as best we can. We’re one of the larger philanthropic organizations in terms of straight dollar donations, but on top of that, our employees are involved in all kinds of stuff at all kinds of levels.”

And by ‘stuff,’ Howland meant much more than time and energy donated to the boards of dozens of nonprofits — although that’s a big part of it. There’s also volunteerism and the many forms it takes, he said, adding that the bank prides itself on backing up such efforts with dollars and other types of support.

“If an employee comes to me and says, ‘I think this is really important, and I have dedicated myself to volunteering time for it,’ more likely than not, we’ll make a fairly significant financial contribution to that charity on behalf of that employee.”

Overall, the bank is keenly aware of its role and its responsibilities within the largely rural areas it serves, particularly in Franklin County, he went on, adding that it is often asked to step up and, when possible, pitch in. Such was the case with the initiative involving Franklin County Tech and a proposal to have its students build houses.

The bank’s response was to go beyond writing a check and instead do something for the long term.

“I got a phone call from the tech school asking if we would make a donation to this program to build a house,” Howland recalled, adding that the bank eventually created the Franklin Technical School Building Society Inc., a foundation with its own board of directors that essentially finances the home-building project and is replenished when the house is sold.

“They earned a lot of money on the first house, and the second house will hopefully be sold in the spring of 2020, and another house will be started after that,” he went on. “The point of it is to create something that becomes self-sustaining, and ultimately, we hope this grows to the point where it can be a benefactor for other programs at the tech school.”

Long-term thinking was also the motivation for the bank’s decision two years ago to create the Greenfield Savings Bank Foundation. Funded with profits from the bank, it’s an initiative in keeping with GSB’s long-term horizon, said Howland.

“We funded it with $200,000, and our expectation is to continue funding it at some amount per year,” he explained. “My vision, and it will not be in the time that I’m president of the organization, is that, at some point, this foundation will be as large as, if not larger than, the bank, and I think we have the opportunity to do that.

“I’m most proud of where we are as a corporate citizen in our community, and my feelings are a reflection of our board of directors,” he added. “Our board is incredibly committed to making us the best business we can be in Franklin County and Hampshire County.”

Time Passages

There’s some additional 150th memorabilia in the main lobby of GSB’s headquarters.

On one wall, the very first passbook sits in a frame. And a glass display case in the center of the room holds everything from a photocopy of the first mortgage document (a loan issued in 1869 to one Jeremiah Eagan for a building on School Street) to news photos of the Mansion House fire, to a box of fountain pen nibs, a symbol of how things were done more than a half-century ago.

This collection speaks to the two qualities that are really being celebrated with this sesquicentennial — needed change and continuity.

There are plenty of other pieces of evidence outside the bank, from the house built by the technical-school students in Erving to elm trees growing in Look Park in Northampton, Montague center, and a host of other locations, to those branches in Hampshire County.

Together, they speak of a 150-year-old success story — and of many chapters still to come.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Departments People on the Move

Douglas Bowen

Douglas Bowen

Thomas Senecal

Thomas Senecal

The PeoplesBank board of directors announced that bank President and CEO Douglas Bowen will retire in July 2016, to be succeeded by Thomas Senecal, currently Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. The board’s leadership-succession plan calls for Senecal to become president at the bank’s annual meeting in February 2016. Bowen will become chairman and CEO at that time. Senecal will be named president and CEO in July 2016 upon Bowen’s retirement. During this transition period, Bowen will remain active in his position and the bank’s management and strategy implementation. Bowen joined PeoplesBank in August 1975 as a teller in the management-development program. He has since worked in almost every department at the bank. In 1986, he started the Commercial Lending department and, in 2002, was named executive vice president and chief lending officer. He was named president and CEO in 2007 and, since that time, has led the bank to its current position in the market, with more than $2 billion in assets and a substantial track record of innovation, community support, environmental sustainability, and employee engagement. Under Bowen’s tenure, PeoplesBank opened six branches, three of which are LEED-certified; has financed more than $80 million in sustainable-energy projects; and has been named a “Top Place to Work” by the Boston Globe three years in a row. The bank was also named a “Top Charitable Contributor” by the Boston Business Journal seven years in a row. The American Bankers Assoc. gave PeoplesBank a Community Commitment Award for its environmental-sustainability efforts in 2013. The Boston Globe also named Bowen a “Globe 100 Innovator” in 2011. In 2009, BusinessWest named Bowen one of its first Difference Makers. Meanwhile, Senecal possesses more than 25 years of progressive financial experience. In his current position, he has managed all accounting, financial reporting, and treasury and facility operations. He has overseen asset growth of the bank from $460 million to $2 billion in 2015. In addition to Senecal’s responsibility for the Finance department, as the COO, he will oversee the Retail, Operations, Internal Control, and Risk Oversight functions. Early next year, he will also be responsible for the Commercial and Consumer Lending, Cash Management, and Human Resources functions. Senecal holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UMass Amherst. He also attended the Tuck Executive Program at Dartmouth College. He is a certified public accountant and a U.S. Coast Guard veteran. He currently serves on the boards of directors of Holyoke Community College, where he is chair of the investment committee; Loomis Communities Inc.; and the Hampshire Regional Chamber of Commerce. He also serves on the advisory council of the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, and is a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank – Boston advisory panel. “Under his leadership, I am confident that our customers, our staff, and our future are in very capable hands,” said Bowen, making a statement on behalf of the bank’s board of directors. “Tom and I believe in our bank’s mutual charter. We will remain a mutual bank going forward — committed to helping our customers achieve financial success and to serving the community. It is our mutual charter that powers our values. It is also the structure that allows us to invest in innovation, to contribute to nonprofit and civic causes, to support environmental sustainability, and, perhaps most important of all, to help our associates grow and succeed. Our mutual charter has served us well for 130 years, and it is the key to our future as well.”
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Carla DiLoreto

Carla DiLoreto

Greg Musante

Greg Musante

Christopher Fager

Christopher Fager

Sean Millane

Sean Millane

Jeffrey Lomma

Jeffrey Lomma

James Hagan, president and CEO of Westfield Bank, announced several recent changes to the bank’s retail and commercial banking staffs:
• Carla DiLoreto has joined the bank as Manager of the Enfield, Conn. office. DiLoreto has nearly 10 years of retail banking experience. Prior to joining Westfield Bank, she was Banking Center manager of the Somers, Conn. office of Webster Bank. While serving there, she was inducted in the Somers Women’s Club, where she helped raise money for its scholarship and charitable-giving programs;
• Greg Musante has been hired as Assistant Branch Manager and Business Specialist in the Holyoke office. Musante has 15 years of banking experience in commercial and mortgage lending. Most recently, he was mortgage bank officer at Webster Bank and also held the positions of cash management analyst and business specialist at Bank of America. A graduate of Greenfield Community College and Plymouth State College, he is an active member of several area chambers of commerce;
• Christopher Fager has joined the bank as Assistant Vice President, Commercial Loan Officer. Fager joins Westfield Bank following a successful six-year career at Citizens Bank, where he served as both branch manager and business banking officer. In his new role, he will be responsible for developing and managing commercial banking relationships. A graduate of UMass Dartmouth, he is active in local chambers of commerce;
• Sean Millane, previously Manager of the bank’s Enfield office, has been promoted to Commercial Loan Officer. Millane has 15 years of banking experience and joined Westfield Bank in 2014 as manager of the Enfield branch. Previously, he was branch manager and business development officer of the Ellington and East Windsor, Conn. offices of Rockville/United Bank. In addition to his professional accomplishments, he is president of the East Windsor (Conn.) Chamber of Commerce and treasurer of the North Central Connecticut PTSD Foundation; and
• Jeffrey Lomma, previously Assistant Manager and Business Specialist in the Enfield office, has been promoted to Branch Manager of the Tower Square office in Springfield. Lomma joined Westfield Bank in 2007. Prior to being named branch manager of the Tower Square office, he served as assistant manager and business specialist at the bank’s Enfield branch. A graduate of Western New England University, he is active in the community, serving as treasurer of the North Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce and board member for both the Springfield Performing Arts Development Corp. (Symphony Hall and CityStage) and the Springfield Hockey Heritage Society.
“I am pleased to announce these exciting changes to our retail and commercial banking staffs,” Hagan said. “At Westfield Bank, we are committed to delivering the best possible banking experience for our retail and commercial customers in Western Massachusetts and Northern Connecticut. In addition to their proven accomplishments, Carla, Greg, Chris, Sean, and Jeff truly epitomize what better banking’s all about.”
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Square One recently announced the addition of two senior-level individuals to its leadership team:
Kristine Allard

Kristine Allard

• Joining the organization as Vice President of Development is Kristine Allard. She will oversee the nearly $10 million organization’s fund raising, communications, and program development. She comes to Square One from the YMCA of Greater Springfield, where she led the fund-development and communications team, as well as family-center operations. In addition to fund raising, grant writing, and special-event planning, she has an extensive background in marketing and media relations. Allard is active on a number of community boards and committees, including Leadership Pioneer Valley and the Baystate Academy Charter School. “We are very pleased to welcome Kris to Square One,” said Joan Kagan, president and CEO. “She brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and talent to our organization. Her enthusiasm, positive energy, and team spirit are contagious, making her a great addition to our team. Kris is a true asset to Square One, and we are fortunate that she has joined us.”
Frank Tate III

Frank Tate III

• Also joining the Square One team is Frank Tate III. As Food Service Director, Tate will develop menus and oversee daily food preparation for the organization’s 400 preschool and after-school program participants, assuring compliance with government regulations and Square One’s commitment to encouraging a healthy lifestyle. Tate comes to Square One following senior-level positions at YSET Academy in Springfield and the Early Childhood Centers of Greater Springfield. “We know that proper nutrition is a critical part of every child’s ability to succeed academically, physically, emotionally, and socially,” said Kagan. “Frank’s extensive experience and expertise make him a perfect fit to help fulfill our mission. Not only does he bring knowledge, creativity, and a diversity of nutritious food to our kitchen, but also a cheerful disposition that our staff and families have come to embrace.”
•••••
Moriarty & Primack, P.C. announced several promotions and additions to the firm. The new hires include Dahimeli Mercado, Associate; Jonathan Normand, Associate; and Laurie Bonano, Associate. Meanwhile, Timothy Provost has been promoted to Manager, and Daniel Duncan has been promoted to Senior Associate.
•••••
Springfield Falcons President Sarah Pompea recently announced five front-office staff promotions:
• Chris Thompson has been promoted to Senior Vice President. Thompson will continue to oversee the team’s corporate sales with an expanded focus on driving ticket sales. In his new role, he will be working closely with Pompea in the day-to-day operations of the organization;
• Cortney Hersom has been promoted to Vice President. Hersom is currently responsible for all Falcons financials and human resources. In addition, she will take a stronger lead in the daily operations of the office;
• Andy Zilch has been promoted to Manager of Communications/Broadcasting. Zilch, the Falcons’ play-by-play broadcaster, also has responsibilities in ticket and corporate sales. He will oversee the team’s communications and community-relations efforts and act as the primary media contact for the Falcons;
• Marija Ward has been promoted to Manager of Ticket Operations. Ward oversees all aspects of the organization’s ticket operations and serves as the box-office liaison. She has been tasked with streamlining the ticket department, increasing efficiency, and enhancing the fan experience; and
• Luke Pawlak has been promoted to Manager of Game Operations/Creative Services. Pawlak spearheads all creative aspects for the organization and will also be able to utilize new technology this season to enhance the fan experience. He has cultivated a positive leadership role with the team’s game-night staff.
•••••
Erika Kaftan

Erika Kaftan

Erika Kaftan has been appointed assistant Director of Educational Services at the Willie Ross School for the Deaf. She succeeds Linda Carfora, who is retiring after more than 20 years at Willie Ross. Kaftan will oversee the Mass. Comprehensive Assessment System Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt) portfolios and the School-to- Work program. She also will assist in supervising and evaluating staff, hiring new staff, and reviewing and approving quarterly progress reports. Prior to joining Willie Ross last month, Kaftan was the individualized education plan (IEP) coordinator at the EDCO Program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Newton. She also worked as a teacher for the deaf at the high-school level at EDCO. Kaftan began her career as a paraprofessional and substitute teacher for elementary-school students at a charter school in California. She received her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from California State University, Northridge, with a focus in American Sign Language, and went on to earn two master of education degrees, from Boston University in deaf education and from Endicott College in organizational management. The Willie Ross School for the Deaf provides a comprehensive educational program stressing academic excellence that focuses on the development of students’ intellectual, social, and emotional growth from the early childhood level through high school. Willie Ross serves students at its main campus in Longmeadow and at its partnership campus located in the East Longmeadow public schools. Mainstreaming opportunities are provided at the partnership campus.
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Burkhart Pizzanelli announced the promotion of Julie Quink to Managing Principal. Quink has more than 20 years serving clients in the public accounting industry along with several years in private industry. She received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Elms College and recently returned to her alma mater as an adjunct professor in the MBA program. She is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Mass. Society of Certified Public Accountants, and the Assoc. of Certified Fraud Examiners. She also serves on the Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School Committee, the finance committee for the East Quabbin Land Trust, and the board of directors for the Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce. In addition to her firm management responsibilities, Quink will continue to actively serve clients, primarily in the accounting and auditing area and as a specialist in forensic accounting. She succeeds Richard Burkhart, who is a co-founder of the firm and has served as managing principal from its inception in 1986. Burkhart will continue to provide his clients with service and expertise as a principal of the firm, sharing his 40 years of experience in public accounting.
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HUB International New England, a division of HUB International Limited, a leading global insurance-brokerage, risk-advisory, and employee-benefits firm, announced that Cynthia Squires has joined HUB International New England as manager of Select Business for small to medium-sized business accounts in the Commercial Lines department. Squires will be responsible for the day-to-day management and servicing of small-business accounts, providing oversight and direction to commercial-lines staff, leading quality-control and product-analysis processes, managing departmental retention and acquiring new-business goals, keeping abreast of the latest industry changes and trends, while providing the highest level of service standards and value to clients. She will be based in the East Longmeadow office. Most recently, Cynthia served as a Commercial Lines account executive for Goss & McLain Insurance Agency, where she had worked for almost 30 years. She started her career in the Personal Lines department as a customer-service representative, then worked her way up the ranks to Personal Lines manager and Marketing manager. She then switched over to the Commercial Lines department, where she worked for five years on small and medium-sized accounts. “HUB International New England is dedicated to building a team of experts with local market specialization and industry experience,” said Timm Marini, president of HUB International New England, formerly FieldEddy. “Cynthia brings a wealth of insurance knowledge with her, which will synergize well with our Commercial Lines team. Her extensive knowledge of the insurance industry and leadership skills will provide our clients with value-added solutions and innovative products that are specific to this market.”

Banking and Financial Services Cover Story

A Community Asset

 

Country Bank president Mary McGovern

Country Bank president Mary McGovern

 

Country Bank, according to its slogan, is “made to make a difference.”

Mary McGovern has taken that as a personal challenge.

“I’ve been at several institutions, public institutions, that run a little differently than mutuals, having to answer to shareholders every quarter,” said McGovern, who recently became Country’s first female president in its 174-year history. “With a mutual bank, we feel we take a different approach with our customers, and our involvement in the community means a lot to them. It’s a differentiator.”

McGovern brings three decades of context and experience — at different types of institutions — to that philosophy.

Prior to her 13-year rise at Country Bank, where she has served as chief financial officer, executive vice president, and chief operating officer, McGovern served in management roles at Danversbank, Capital Crossing Bank, and Boston Private Bank & Trust. Her areas of expertise include finance, operations, information technology, retail banking, commercial lending, financial and credit analysis, compliance, risk, sales, and strategic business and relationship development.

“With a mutual bank, we feel we take a different approach with our customers, and our involvement in the community means a lot to them. It’s a differentiator.”

“I started at Boston Private when it was a de novo with $80 million in assets. I was the 20th or 22nd person they hired. I came in on the ground floor in a finance role, in accounting, and grew with the department,” she recalled.

After that institution went public and was acquired, she left, earned her MBA, and moved to Capital Crossing in the late ’90s, doing a lot of work with distressed real estate. Danversbank, her next stop, was a reunion of sorts with some individuals she had worked with at Boston Private.

“They were like Country Bank is today, a nice, local, mutual community bank,” she said, adding that she served Danversbank as senior vice president and chief accounting officer. “But they went public in 2008 and were sold in 2011, and my position was eliminated.”

So, the same year, she joined the team at Country — and has never looked back.

“The mission is to be the bank of choice in Central and Western Massachusetts,” McGovern told BusinessWest. “I’m excited to lead as the first female president of Country Bank as we approach our 175th anniversary. It’s a good opportunity to get out and talk in the community, talk to our customers, put a new face in front of them. It’s been really exciting.”

Country Bank’s productive partnership with the WooSox

Country Bank’s productive partnership with the WooSox is reflected by its prominent right-field signage.

From a bottom-line perspective, she said, Country is doing well, even showing growth in the mortgage market, despite high rates and higher prices.

“Obviously people still have to buy and sell homes and move different places. The pipeline may not be as robust, but there’s still a lot of activity.”

On the commercial side, the bank is being selective, focusing on building lasting relationships and not targeting huge volume for its own sake, to maintain liquidity. “We’re looking for 5% to 6% growth in loans this year, so we’re keeping busy for sure.”

Geographically, the bank is in a growth mode as well. With a physical footprint that currently stretches from Springfield to Worcester, with the Ware headquarters between those two cities, County is adding two additional locations to the east this year — a second in Worcester and one in Uxbridge — while making plans to add two more branches to the west, in Springfield and another community.

Earlier this year, the board of trustees announced it had full confidence in McGovern to lead that strategy, as well as all of Country’s other operations and activities in the community. Paul Scully, who has been president and chief executive officer since 2004, remains in the CEO role.

“We are thrilled to announce Mary’s appointment as the next president of Country Bank,” James Phaneuf, board chair, said when the selection was announced. “Mary’s proven track record, dedication, and strategic vision make her the ideal candidate for this role.

“In a challenging time of food insecurity and other challenges out there, it’s important to give back to local nonprofits. They need our support to do their important work. That’s valuable to our staff, and I believe it’s valuable to our customers as well.”

“The board is confident that Mary’s leadership will drive the bank’s continued success and growth,” he added. “With her extensive experience, strategic mindset, and dedication to excellence, Mary is poised to lead the bank into a new era of innovation and customer satisfaction while maintaining its position as one of the most highly capitalized financial institutions in the region.”

 

Community Partner

Country is also well-known for its community involvement. Those efforts have focused in recent years on a number of priorities, including food insecurity, health, and education, as well as homeless shelters, senior-serving programs, youth organizations, and more.

To that end, Country reported more than $1.2 million in donations in 2023, with 463 organizations receiving grants. In addition, the bank’s team members volunteered 1,255 hours of community service in 2023, while 37 employees served on a total of 65 nonprofit boards and committees.

“We are a valued piece of the community. We try to give back to all the communities we serve,” McGovern said, adding that the bank’s financial-literacy programs continue to be a priority, as is a partnership with the WooSox — signified by a very prominent Country Bank sign in right field at Polar Park — and the team’s WooStars awards and its teacher-recognition program.

“We’re just continuing to build on a great foundation set by Paul in his 20 years here,” she added. “Being a community bank, we’re really invested in the health of our communities.”

McGovern speaks the language of community-bank presidents in Western Mass. that place a high value on local philanthropy.

“We’ll continue to do a hybrid approach. It seems to be working. The staff seems to be happy. We don’t see that changing — in the foreseeable future, anyway.”

“We’re different from a big commercial bank that’s not as worried about the individual communities that they serve,” she said. “As a mutual bank, obviously it’s important to make money, but making money also allows us to give back. So we’re trying to give back to our communities. In a challenging time of food insecurity and other challenges out there, it’s important to give back to local nonprofits. They need our support to do their important work. That’s valuable to our staff, and I believe it’s valuable to our customers as well.”

Also of value to customers is a physical presence in their communities, even at a time when online banking is dominant.

“There are differences of opinion among financial institutions, some of whom are pulling back from their banking centers,” McGovern said. “But we feel it’s important to support the different ways our customers want to bank.

“There are plenty of the younger generation who don’t want to talk to people, who would prefer to do everything online; self-service is important to them,” she added. “But we have a good component of customers who like to go in and talk to people face to face. Even younger people want to sit down and talk to somebody when they’re buying their first house; it’s an important, life-changing kind of event.”

In addition, she said, “I feel it’s important that we show our presence. It’s hard to say that you’re in Springfield without having signage there. We have a business center in Tower Square, but it’s not quite as visible as having a branch location with a sign.”

Country Bank has consolidated in some cases as well — for instance, it used to have three branches in Ware, but now only houses its headquarters and a digital banking center there. And many branches are staffed with fewer employees than in years past, to reflect how many customers bank online only.

“But while there’s less foot traffic, we’re still there to serve people, allowing customers to bank how they want.”

Other elements of the bank experience have changed over the years as well, including how — and where — employees work.

“Since the pandemic, it’s been a different way of working,” she told BusinessWest. “For some time, we were fully remote. Over time, we went with a more flexible work arrangement. So the average employee works three days in and two days out. There are some with a little more flexibility based on what kind of job it is.”

While some employees prefer to come in five days a week, and do so, McGovern added, for most of them — those who don’t deal face to face with the public, anyway — working remotely at least part of the time is a valued part of their job. “I don’t see how we can be competitive without that. I know different institutions that have lost staff when they requested people come in five days.

“So we’ll continue to do a hybrid approach,” she went on. “It seems to be working. The staff seems to be happy. We don’t see that changing — in the foreseeable future, anyway.”

 

Making a Difference

McGovern also doesn’t want to change a culture at Country Bank that she feels benefits both employees and customers.

“It’s hard to be a differentiator when all banks sell the same products, but I feel we are different,” she said. “Our people are spending a lot of their life doing something they like in an institution they like with peers they like. And we’re trying to keep that culture going.”

The challenge, she said, is understanding that employees want and appreciate hybrid work schedules, while maintaining a positive office culture whether they’re in the office or not.

“It’s a fine line managing both aspects,” she said. “But I think we’ve got a good thing going, and hopefully I can keep it going into the future.”

Company Notebook

Collins Electric Wins Project Excellence Award in Education

CHICOPEE — Collins Electric Co. Inc., an electrical contractor based in Chicopee, was recently recognized by the National Electrical Contractors Assoc. with a NECA Project Excellence Award in Education in the over $1 million category for Smith College Neilson Library. NECA established the Project Excellence Award to showcase the exceptional work that its members perform throughout the country. Collins Electric was recognized along with this year’s other winners during NECA’s 2022 convention in Austin, Texas on Oct. 17. The renovation gutted the historic building with a new focus on the future. Additions to the library in the 1930s, 1960s, and 1980s were demolished along with the entire interior of the original 1909 library. The front and rear brick brownstone façades were the only remaining parts. The project involved 150,000 square feet with 5,000 LED, energy-efficient light fixtures; glass skylights; dimming; and windo- shade controls to deliver the best-quality energy-efficient lighting possible. Strict attention was paid to controlling temperature and humidity, as well as tight security, for the library’s rare-books collection.

 

Breeze Airways to Expand Flights at Bradley in 2023

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority announced that Breeze Airways is launching four new destinations from Bradley International Airport, including non-stop service to Vero Beach, Fla., and Phoenix, Ariz., starting from $79 and $99 one-way, respectively; and one-stop/no-plane-change ‘BreezeThru’ flights to Provo, Utah, and San Bernardino, Calif, starting from $99. The new routes will operate on an A220 aircraft as follows: Vero Beach daily, starting Feb 2; Phoenix and Provo Thursday and Sunday, starting Feb. 9; and San Bernardino Thursday and Sunday, starting Feb. 16. “Partnering with Breeze on their expansion has been transformative for Bradley International Airport,” said Kevin Dillon, Connecticut Airport Authority’s executive director. “Their national growth, ongoing innovation, and expanding local network offer our passengers more opportunities to travel conveniently and affordably. We thank Breeze for their partnership in bringing these exciting new routes to this key market and for their continued commitment to our community.”

 

bankESB Supports Food Pantries with Annual Fundraising Drive

EASTHAMPTON — Matthew Sosik, president and CEO of bankESB, announced the kickoff of the bank’s 2022 Neighbors Helping Neighbors fundraising drive to help support local food pantries. This marks the second year of the bank’s annual appeal, inviting bank customers, employees, and members of the community to donate money toward food pantries throughout the month of November. All donations (up to $2,500 per customer) will be matched dollar for dollar by bankESB, and the total raised will be divided among participating food pantries across Western Mass. in communities the bank serves. In 2021, a total of more than $39,000 was raised, which equated to $3,000 for each participating pantry. Donations of any amount are encouraged, and as an added incentive to give, the bank will offer those who donate the opportunity to win a $25 gift card at each of its locations. Those who wish to participate have until Nov. 30 to make their donations. Checks should be made payable to “bankESB Neighbors” and can be dropped off at any bankESB branch or mailed to Margaret Prendergast, bankESB, 36 Main St., Easthampton, MA 01027. The food pantries to be supported include Amherst Survival Center Food Pantry; Best Life Food Ministry, Agawam; BUCC Helping Hands Cupboard Food Pantry, Belchertown; Chicopee Cupboard; Easthampton Community Center Food Pantry; Easthampton Congregational Church Food Cupboard & Oasis Kitchen; Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Hatfield; Hadley Food Pantry; Hilltown Food Pantry, Goshen; Margaret’s Pantry, Holyoke; Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Inc., South Hadley; Northampton Survival Center; Southampton Community Cupboard; and Westfield Food Pantry.

 

Lee Bank Foundation Distributes $48,600 in Year’s Third Grant Round

LEE — Lee Bank Foundation awarded $48,600 to 16 Berkshire-area organizations in its third round of 2022 community funding. Recipients were awarded grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,600 to support local programming. Included in the awards are a series of Arts Access Grants for arts and culture organizations to expand access to programming for underserved audiences and Food Security Grants for organizations with programs focused on providing food to community members in need. The following organizations received funding from Lee Bank Foundation: Berkshire Innovation Center, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Center for Peace Through Culture, Chabad of the Berkshires, CDCSB, the Christian Center, Dalton CRA, EforAll, Good Work Institute (Alliance for a Viable Future), Housatonic Heritage (the Mastheads), Lee Historical Society, Life Needs Co-Op (Stanton Home), the People’s Pantry, Second Street Second Chances, Volunteers in Medicine, and WAM Theatre. Lee Bank Foundation was established in 2021 to support Lee Bank’s long-standing mission of community reinvestment. In its first year, 2021, the foundation awarded a total of $228,610 in grants, and the bank contributed an additional $84,000 in sponsorships.

 

Berkshire Bank’s Foundation Supports 160 Nonprofits During Q3

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Bank announced more than $660,000 in philanthropic investments from its foundation during the third quarter of 2022. The grants awarded cover a wide range of projects that help foster community DEI-focused programs, support education and youth, and enhance opportunities for individual success in the communities the bank serves. These investments also support the company’s BEST Community Comeback, which includes a planned $15 million in community contributions by the end of 2024. “We are so pleased to support nonprofit organizations once again with philanthropy to sustain vital community services in all the regions that Berkshire Bank serves during challenging economic times,” said Lori Gazzillo Kiely, foundation director. “Since January 2022, the Berkshire Bank Foundation has provided nearly $2 million to support the needs of the community.”

 

 

JimBuddy’s Rec Shop Hosts Grand Opening

CHICOPEE — The Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce celebrated the grand opening of JimBuddy’s Rec Shop at 1269 Memorial Dr. with a ribbon cutting on Nov. 2. It officially opened to the public on Oct. 1. JimBuddy’s Rec Shop is owned by Jim and Lisa Robinson, who opened JimBuddy’s Glass Gallery & Vape Shop next door at 1271 Memorial Dr. in 2015. When the space next door at 1269 became available in 2018 — the year cannabis was legalized by Massachusetts voters — the Robinsons rented the space with hopes to open a dispensary. JimBuddy’s received a special permit from the city of Chicopee in April 2021, making it the third recreational cannabis dispensary approved in the city. As a small family business, JimBuddy’s focus is offering quality products from small, local businesses in the cannabis industry like those based Florence, Whately, and Pittsfield. JimBuddy’s Rec Shop is open to customers who are age 21+ with valid ID.

 

Girl Scouts Receive $10,000 from TD Charitable Foundation

HOLYOKE — The Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts announced that it has received a $10,000 grant from the TD Charitable Foundation in support of On Your Own: Financial Literary for Girls. The grant will provide a free badge program to all Girl Scouts designed to empower them to control their financial futures. All participants complete age-appropriate activities to gain real-world money-management skills. Girl Scouts develop leadership skills and self-esteem as they build a greater understanding of becoming responsible consumers, creating and living by a budget, building and managing credit, increasing their income, and saving and investing for whatever’s next. With the support of contributors such as the TD Charitable Foundation, Girl Scouts is able to help build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place. On Your Own: Financial Literacy for Girls is available to all members in grades K through 12. Learn more and sign up to be a member at www.gscwm.org.

 

Chariot Payments Network Emerges from Reorganization

BOSTON — Chariot Payments has emerged from reorganization with a reconstructed board, a new CEO, and an experienced team poised to launch its bank-compliant, hybrid-payment network to introduce a new way to connect traditional finance and banking to the emerging digital economies burgeoning in the world of decentralized finance. Chariot’s hybrid network is configured for bank and regulatory compliance, enabling trusted, secure transactions between traditional finance and banking and instant settlement across digital currency protocols at a fraction of the cost imposed by the current payment networks. Chariot’s CEO, Benjamin Cavallari, along with Chief Technology Officer Mariana Jbantova, resuscitated the startup. After a long rebuild, Chariot Payments announced that Glenn Hanson, CEO of Colony Hills Capital and co-founder of River Valley Investors, and Jay Como, chief data officer of Silicon Valley Bank, are joining Cavallari on the new board of directors. Chariot also announced the reformation of its board of advisors, which includes prominent compliance leaders Angela Ratliff and Kevin Troxell (both with US Bank) and Brandon Oliver (previously with JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, and the DCU Fintech Center).

 

 

Liberty Bank Supports Habitat for Humanity

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Liberty Bank recently selected Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity (GSHFH) to receive one of its community grants. The foundation aims to help low- and moderate-income families improve their economic situation and quality of life. “We are very grateful to have been selected to receive this grant. It will help us to continue to provide home-ownership and home-repair services in Hampden County,” GSHFH Executive Director Aimee Giroux said. Through Liberty Bank Foundation, Liberty Bank supports nonprofit organizations that its neighbors depend on to build strong families and communities. Grant making is focused on organizations that serve people within Liberty Bank’s market area. GSHFH is a housing ministry dedicated to strengthening communities by empowering low-income families to change their lives and the lives of future generations through home-ownership and home-repair opportunities. This is accomplished by working in partnership with diverse people, from all walks of life, to build and repair simple, decent, affordable housing.

People on the Move

Paul Scully, president and CEO of Country Bank, announced eight recent staff promotions.

Mary McGovern

Mary McGovern

Mary McGovern was promoted to executive vice president, chief financial and operating officer. She joined Country Bank in 2011 as the executive vice president and chief financial officer. She oversees the bank’s finance, operations, electronic delivery, information technology, retail banking, retail lending, facilities, and security. She holds an MBA in accounting and finance from Babson College and recently served on the board of the Baystate Health Foundation.

Miriam Siegel

Miriam Siegel

Miriam Siegel was promoted to first senior vice president, chief Culture and Development officer. She will continue to lead the human-resources and learning and development functions, and serves as the bank’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officer. Joining Country Bank in 2018, she brought 26 years of professional experience as the senior vice president of Human Resources for United Bank. She serves on the board of Behavioral Health Network, the Baystate Wing Hospital board, and the Wilbraham Personnel Advisory Board.

Jennifer Bujnevicie

Jennifer Bujnevicie

Laura Dennis

Laura Dennis

Jennifer Bujnevicie and Laura Dennis, of the Retail Banking division, were promoted to vice presidents. Collectively, they contribute 36 years of experience at Country Bank; each began her professional banking career as a teller and has grown within the organization to oversee the Retail Banking division. Together, they bring a wealth of experience to the banking centers and are focused on providing the bank’s customers with exceptional customer service throughout its network. Both hold associate degrees in business administration and management from the New England College of Business and have attended the New England School for Financial Studies.

Alyson Weeks

Alyson Weeks

Alyson Weeks was promoted to vice president of Human Resources and Professional Development. She has been with Country Bank for 13 years, starting as a teller and working in various other roles in the Retail Banking division, including teller supervisor, Branch Operations manager, and Retail Operations manager, before joining the Human Resources team six years ago. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Worcester State University and a master’s degree in education from American International College.

Erin Skoczylas

Erin Skoczylas, assistant controller, was promoted to assistant vice president, assistant controller. She began her career at Country Bank 25 years ago as a part-time Operations clerk. Before transitioning to Accounting in 2008, she worked in various positions throughout the Operations department. She holds an associate degree in business administration from Springfield Technical Community College and a bachelor of business administration degree from Western New England University. She is also a 2017 graduate of the New England School for Financial Studies.

Tracey Wrzesien

Tracey Wrzesien of Retail Banking, Wilbraham Banking Center was promoted to assistant vice president. She has been with Country Bank for 27 years and previously served as a Retail Banking officer. She is the vice president of the Wilbraham-Hampden Rotary Club and will take over as president in July. She is a graduate of the New England College of Business and holds an associate degree in science and business administration with a concentration in finance and is also a graduate of the New England School for Financial Studies.

Dianna Lussier

Dianna Lussier

Dianna Lussier has been promoted to assistant vice president of Risk Management. She has been with Country Bank for 18 years and previously served as the Risk Management officer. During her tenure with Country Bank, she has worked in various roles, including accounting representative and financial-reporting analyst. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in finance and accounting from Worcester State College and has attended the New England School for Financial Studies. She is currently attending the Graduate School of Banking and Wharton Leadership Program. She was also the recipient of the President’s Platinum Award in 2021.

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Springfield Museums announced that Jenny Powers has been named director of the Springfield Science Museum. A science educator for 20 years and the family engagement coordinator for the Springfield Museums for six years, Powers is ready to take her knowledge of playful learning to the Science Museum in the form of interactive, immersive additions to the museum. She also takes inspiration from the last woman who directed the Science Museum, Grace Pettis Johnson, who led the way from 1910 to 1949. Powers’ dynamic programing has filled the Museums on family-engagement days with exciting features such as bubble parties, high-fives with the Cat in the Hat, and Mount Crumpit derbies during Grinchmas. She has also been a regular guest on WWLP’s Mass Appeal, sharing hands-on science that families could explore together at home.

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Alissa Fuller

Alissa Fuller

Florence Bank is announced that Alissa Fuller joined the bank as assistant vice president, Compliance and CRA manager. She has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking, consumer lending, and compliance. Prior to joining Florence Bank, she was a compliance specialist at a local community bank. Her duties included ensuring that the organization’s operations complied with relevant laws, regulations, and policies. In her new role at Florence Bank, Fuller’s primary responsibilities will include the oversight of programs to ensure compliance with all federal and state laws that govern the bank’s operations. In addition, she will play a vital role in the encouragement and development of the bank’s Community Reinvestment efforts. She graduated from the New England College of Business and Finance in 2016 with an associate degree in business administration with a concentration in management.

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Bulkley Richardson recently welcomed Jeffrey Roberts to the firm as counsel in the Trusts & Estates and Business practices. Roberts has handled many sophisticated estate-planning matters and complex business transactions throughout his career. His practice will continue to focus on estate planning, trusts and estates, taxation, and estate administration, as well as corporate work and business transactions primarily for closely held companies. He also has extensive experience with advice to family-owned companies with respect to business-succession planning and representation of the owner with respect to the sale of a closely held business. Roberts has practiced law at Robinson Donovan P.C. since graduating from Georgetown Law in 1974 and served as the firm’s managing partner for many of those years.

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Chris McMasters

Phillips Insurance Agency Inc. announced the promotion of Chris McMasters to the role of vice president. He is an accredited adviser in insurance and has been with Phillips Insurance for more than eight years. He is a graduate of Springfield College. “Chris has developed a strong clientele within the construction, hospitality, and manufacturing industries throughout New England,” said Joseph Phillips, president of Phillips Insurance. “His strong work ethic and creativity in developing risk-management strategies has set him apart.”

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The Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden Agricultural Society, the nonprofit organization that manages Northampton’s Three County Fair and fairgrounds, has elected two new members to its board of directors, Jessica Dizek of Mapleline Farm in Hadley and Thomas Giles, former owner of Hadley Garden Center. Dizek and Giles join the society’s board, consisting of 21 other members who make up the fair’s agricultural leadership. Dizek is the fifth generation on her family’s farm. Mapleline Farm milks about 125 Jerseys and bottles their milk on the farm premises, while running a distribution business, wholesaling fluid milk products to the local area and Boston market. Prior to her taking over operating the farm full-time in 2018, Dizek held full-time employment off the farm for 20 years, most recently at UMass Amherst. She started at the university working for cooperative extension programs and eventually working in alumni major gifts. During this time, she also earned her MBA from the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. She currently serves as treasurer for the New England Jersey Breeders Assoc. and as a director for the Massachusetts Dairy Promotion Board, and is a member of the Massachusetts Dairy Advisory Board for the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center. Giles is a graduate of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, having majored in landscape operations, and first worked for the Hadley Garden Center in the spring of 1973. In January 1988, Giles and his wife, Janine, purchased the center and ran it for 33 years until selling it to Gardeners Supply Co. of Vermont in January 2020. Giles is an active member of the First Congregational Church of Hadley and is on the board of directors for Easthampton Savings Bank and has also served on the horticulture/forestry advisory committee at Smith Vocational High School.

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Heather Gawron

Annie Celdran

Annie Celdran

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO) announced it has hired Development and Grants Associate Heather Gawron and Audience Development Manager Annie Celdran. Gawron has focused the past 10 years of her career on fundraising for community nonprofits in Western Mass. Most recently, she served as senior director of Development at New England Public Media (NEPM), where she focused on overseeing the nonprofit media organization’s fundraising efforts, including grants, on-air fundraising campaigns, and its planned and major giving programs, contributing to the organization’s overall budget of $10 million. Prior to NEPM, Gawron spent years at American International College as executive director of Institutional Advancement. During her tenure at AIC, Gawron was an engine for growth, strengthening and expanding the college’s alumni-engagement program on a national scale. Her stewardship work with alumni yielded remarkable growth in engagement of the alumni base and landed one of the largest-ever single donations made to AIC. She also worked closely in supporting the grant director to secure Title III funding and developed scholarship funds to help AIC students continue their education. Before AIC, Gawron worked for Alstom University, headquartered in Paris, and helped launch five international corporate university campuses across Europe and Asia. Prior to joining SSO, Celdran most recently worked for New England Public Media as the New Voices Campaign manager. She communicated regularly with donors, visitors, and volunteers and worked closely with the president, chief operating officer, and Marketing and Development personnel on ambitious fundraising campaigns. A Western Mass. native, Celdran spent some of her career in San Francisco, utilizing her client-services skills at Hanson Bridgett, LLP, a Bay Area law firm with a reputation for community engagement. At the firm, she managed the Client Concierge and Office Services departments, also bringing her creativity to various fundraising campaigns such as the firm’s annual Food From the Bar campaign in support of the SF-Marin Food Bank.

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Beth Cohen, professor in Western New England University (WNE) School of Law and former WNE Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, has been named interim dean of the School of Law by Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost Maria Toyoda. Cohen will provide interim leadership following the departure of current Dean Sudha Setty, who will begin her new role as dean of the City University of New York School of Law on July 1. A School of Law professor since 1990, Cohen has also served as director of the Legal Research and Writing Program since 1999. She was the associate dean for Academic Affairs from 2009 to 2020 and the director of the Academic Support Program from 1994 to 2008. She teaches Lawyering Skills, Externship Seminar, Professional Responsibility, and Mindfulness in Law Practice, and has written a number of articles in the areas of legal education, legal writing, civic education, and name-change law. Cohen graduated cum laude from Suffolk University Law School and earned a diploma in Advanced International Legal Studies in Salzburg, Austria, from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge Law School. She also co-founded and co-directed the popular civic-education Mini-Law School Program at WNE. A search committee will be appointed to conduct a national search for a new School of Law dean. Cohen will hold her position until a new dean is appointed.

•••••

Carolyn Martinez

Carolyn Martinez

Shannon Mumblo, executive director of Christina’s House, announced that Carolyn Martinez has joined the organization as program manager. In her new role, Martinez will work closely with Christina’s House human-services professionals and direct service staff to ensure that mothers and their children who were homeless or near-homeless are developing vital life skills and are steadily working through the program with the goal of transitioning to stable housing and self-sufficiency. Martinez brings first-hand experience to Christina’s House as a graduate of the program. She has worked in community healthcare settings for the past several years and has completed certificate programs in child behavioral health and community health. She is currently a student at Cambridge College working toward a bachelor’s degree in human services.

•••••

Milford Federal Bank announced that Jeremy Leap has joined the Bank as senior vice president, Commercial Lending. He will lead a growing team of commercial bankers, joining Anna Case, associate vice president, Commercial Credit officer, and Operations manager; Anita Carroll, Commercial Portfolio manager; and Stephanie Saraidarian, Commercial Credit representative. Leap has 16 years of experience as a commercial lender, including in the Western Mass. region at Country Bank in Ware and People’s United Bank in Springfield, and most recently at Savers Bank in Southbridge. He is involved with the United Way and Habitat for Humanity.

Company Notebook

Point32Health to Acquire Health New England

SPRINGFIELD — Point32Health, the not-for-profit parent company of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan, announced it has signed a definitive agreement with Baystate Health to acquire its subsidiary, Health New England. Health New England, a not-for-profit health plan in Springfield, offers a range of plans in the commercial, Medicaid, and Medicare markets and serves approximately 180,000 members concentrated in Western Mass. Canton-based Point32Health offers employer-sponsored plans, Medicare and Medicaid plans, plans on the state exchange, and plans for those who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. It serves 1.9 million members in Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. The acquisition is expected to improve product offerings and expand access to a broader network with wider geographic reach. Among both organizations’ shared priorities is expanding high-quality programs and services, particularly those that cover underserved populations and seniors, as well as maximizing the benefits that not-for-profit health plans provide to communities. Point32Health aims to harness the strengths of both organizations and bring value to Health New England members and the broader community by providing greater value to consumers by combining complementary strengths, administrative efficiencies, and a broader product offering; expanding access to care for underserved populations and preserving not-for-profit options through extensive experience in serving these populations; and advancing the quality of healthcare members receive through a commitment to addressing behavioral health, health equity, and social determinants of health. The agreement, which was unanimously approved by the board of directors of Point32Health and the board of trustees of Baystate Health, is subject to regulatory approvals.

 

UMass Amherst to Create Center Focused on Offshore Wind

AMHERST — UMass Amherst has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to establish and lead the Academic Center for Reliability and Resilience of Offshore Wind (ARROW), a new, multi-million-dollar national center of excellence to accelerate reliable and equitable offshore wind-energy deployment across the nation and produce a well-educated domestic offshore wind workforce. Led by UMass Amherst with approximately 40 partners, ARROW will receive $4.75 million over five years from the the DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office and has also received a matching commitment of $4.75 million from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. The state of Maryland, the second center of gravity of the proposal with participation from Johns Hopkins University and Morgan State University, is contributing $1 million from the Maryland Energy Administration. Other universities are contributing $1.4 million for a total budget of $11.9 million. Sanjay Arwade, professor of Civil Engineering at UMass Amherst, is director of the new center, with faculty in the university’s Wind Energy Center serving as co-principal investigators and senior personnel of the research team. The center will be a university-led education, research, and outreach program for offshore wind that prioritizes energy equity and principles of workforce diversity, equity, inclusion, and access

 

MountainOne Insurance Acquires G.W. Morisi Insurance Agency

LONGMEADOW — MountainOne Insurance Agency, a subsidiary of MountainOne Bank, announced the acquisition of G.W. Morisi Insurance Agency Inc., a third-generation, family-owned agency that has served Longmeadow and neighboring communities for more than 75 years. The G.W. Morisi staff of four, including President Rory Sullivan, will remain with the agency at its 473 Longmeadow Street location. In time, additional staff will come on board to further support customers’ insurance needs. G.W. Morisi Insurance Agency will now offer customers many enhanced services, including the addition of group employee benefits, life insurance, long-term-care Insurance, Medicare products, and in-house claims services. Customers also have access to many new insurance carriers, widening their options for coverage at competitive rates. MountainOne Insurance is born from the combination of several small, family-owned agencies that have served Berkshire communities for generations. The acquisition of the G.W. Morisi marks MountainOne’s first physical office outside of Berkshire County, expanding its footprint into Longmeadow and neighboring communities.

 

Westfield Bank Donates $12,500 to Shriners Children’s New England

WESTFIELD — Westfield Bank is pleased to announce a $12,500 donation to Shriners Children’s New England in partnership with the Elan Credit Card Charitable Giving Program. Shriners Children’s is dedicated to improving the lives of children by providing high-quality pediatric specialty care for children up to age 18, regardless of their ability to pay or insurance status. “We are proud to continue our support of this wonderful organization,” said James Hagan, president and CEO. “For close to 100 years, Shriners Children’s has done incredible work providing pediatric care, innovative research, and offering educational programs for medical professionals. Westfield Bank is proud to be a long-time partner with Shriners Children’s.”

 

Monson Savings Bank Announces $15,000 in Community Donations

MONSON — The people have voted, and the results are in. In late 2023, Monson Savings Bank asked community members to cast their votes for their favorite local nonprofits. The bank is now announcing the Monson Savings Bank Community Giving Initiative recipients for 2024. This was the 14th year Monson Savings Bank has run its Community Giving Initiative poll. The public’s excitement to cast their vote has grown throughout the years. This year, nearly 7,000 votes were received. Now that the votes have been calculated, Monson Savings Bank is preparing to donate a total of $15,000 among the top 10 recipients, which include I Found Light Against All Odds (Springfield), Shriners Children’s New England (Springfield), Friends of Hampden Seniors (Hampden), Women’s Empowerment Scholarship (Greater Springfield), Whip City Animal Sanctuary (Westfield), Monson Free Library (Monson), Miracle League of Western Massachusetts (Springfield), Halfway Home Cat Rescue (Chicopee), Scantic Valley YMCA (Wilbraham), and ClubOh! (Springfield).

 

Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services Receives $50,000 Grant

SPRINGFIELD — Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services (MLFKS) received a $50,000 grant from the MassMutual Foundation as part of MassMutual’s inaugural Economic Equity Grant program, a collaboration of the MassMutual Foundation with MassMutual’s employee business resource groups (BRGs), which serve as an integral component of the organization’s DEI strategy. MLKFS is one of eight organizations to receive a grant. MassMutual’s employee BRGs support initiatives that drive organizational results; increase employee engagement; and foster awareness, respect, and inclusion within the workplace. More than one-third of MassMutual’s employees participate in its eight BRGs, representing Black/African-American, Asian, and Hispanic/Latino/Latinx communities; members of the LGBTQ+ community; individuals with disabilities and their caregivers; members of the armed forces, veterans, and military family members; young professionals; and women.

 

Big Y Donates 1.5 Million Meals to Food Banks

SPRINGFIELD — Big Y’s annual Sack Hunger campaign provides funds for the four food banks within its two-state marketing area. In turn, these food banks support local soup kitchens, food pantries, senior food programs, day-care centers, and many others of the 2,100-member agencies that they help every day. Their goal is to maximize access to nutritious food and other resources that support food security for those at risk of hunger. The four regional food banks are the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Worcester County Food Bank, the Greater Boston Food Bank, and the Connecticut Foodshare. For $5, customers supported Sack Hunger at Big Y’s supermarkets or Table & Vine Fine Wines and Liquors. Every $5 donation brings 10 meals to those in need of support. Additionally, Big Y has added even more ways to boost this year’s efforts, with specific proceeds from produce, floral, Smart Chicken, USDA choice angus beef, along with a portion of every one of Big Y’s family of brands. Big Y’s Sack Hunger campaign started in 2010, when 740 meals were donated. With this year’s 1.5 million meals, the program continues to grow in support of those in need. Big Y’s Sack Hunger donation is part of its ongoing support of food banks throughout the year, including almost daily donations of meat, fresh produce, and bakery, along with grocery, frozen food, and dairy items.

 

Eversource Submits Roadmap to Achieve Clean-energy Goals

SPRINGFIELD — With a focus on energy equity, environmental-justice communities, and transparency, Eversource submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) its final Electric Sector Modernization Plan (ESMP) to modernize the electric distribution system and help meet the Commonwealth’s decarbonization goals after incorporating feedback from the Grid Mod Advisory Council (GMAC) and dozens of stakeholders. The energy company’s ESMP is a comprehensive roadmap to transform the region’s power grid, enhance its resiliency, and strengthen reliability for customers by increasing renewable-energy production and electrifying the heating and transportation sectors. Focused on achieving both equity and clean-energy objectives, the ESMP also establishes a Community Engagement Stakeholder Advisory Group (CESAG) and expands efforts for proposed clean-energy infrastructure projects to engage all potentially impacted stakeholders. Eversource’s 10-year plan helps meet the Commonwealth’s decarbonization milestones through 2040 by achieving a 180% increase in electrification hosting capacity, which will provide additional capacity to enable 2.5 million electric vehicles statewide, 1 million residential heat pumps within the company’s territory, and an incremental 2.2 GW of additional solar hosting capacity, bringing the total distributed energy resource hosting capacity systemwide to 5.8 GW.

 

Berkshire Bank Foundation Reports on 2023 Philanthropy

BOSTON — Berkshire Bank announced that nearly $2.5 million in philanthropic investments were provided from its foundation in 2023 to support more than 500 nonprofit organizations. During the fourth quarter, more than $642,000 in grants and scholarships were awarded to foster upward economic mobility, support overall well-being, and enhance opportunities for individual success in the communities the bank serves. During 2023, more than 500 local nonprofits received grants to assist with a range of critical projects in the areas of health and wellness, housing, food insecurity, and economic enrichment. The Berkshire Bank Foundation is committed to supporting programs that work toward providing equitable opportunities for economic prosperity. In addition, it supports programs that align with Berkshire Bank’s Center for Women, Wellness, and Wealth.

 

MassDevelopment Issues Bond for MHA Headquarters Project

CHICOPEE — MassDevelopment has issued a $6,543,000 tax-exempt bond on behalf of Mental Health Assoc. Inc. (MHA), which will use the proceeds to buy and renovate a 78,378-square-foot building at 350 Memorial Dr. in Chicopee, where it will relocate its headquarters from Springfield and house its mental-health programs and residential and support services. The building originally housed the Charles River West Psychiatric Hospital and most recently served as the MassMutual Learning and Conference Center. The move will allow MHA to keep pace with growth and locate its staff in one office. Renovations to the building will include interior wall reconfiguration, office construction, HVAC and sprinkler-system updates, added reception-area security, and painting, flooring, and information systems improvements. Construction began in November and is expected to be complete by February 2024. MHA expects to create 45 full-time jobs and 20 part-time jobs over the next three years. Florence Bank purchased the tax-exempt bond, which helped MHA achieve a lower cost of capital. Founded in 1960, MHA provides access to therapies for emotional health and wellness; services for substance use recovery, developmental disabilities, and acquired brain injury; services for housing and residential programming; and more. MHA serves more than 3,000 people, from ages 5 to 90, each year.

 

Local Credit Unions Commit to Solar Financing

PIONEER VALLEY — As local leaders in renewable-energy financing, Franklin First Federal Credit Union and UMassFive College Federal Credit Union announced unprecedented success in solar lending volume in 2023. Reflecting upon a record-setting year for both credit unions, during which UMassFive financed 1,272 installations totaling $50,923,810 and Franklin First financed 86 installations totaling $2,746,489, both organizations are reaffirming their dedication to facilitating sustainable futures through access to affordable financing options for solar-energy projects. Continuing a long-standing commitment to environmental stewardship and community development, both Franklin First and UMassFive have been at the forefront of financing both local and regional solar projects for more than eight years. Offering competitive rates with flexible terms, no loan-origination fees, and personalized service, these financial institutions have empowered individuals and businesses to embrace clean-energy solutions and reduce their carbon footprint. While solar energy continues to gain momentum nationwide, both Franklin First and UMassFive look to remain synonymous with accessible financing options for solar projects of all sizes. In addition to lending solutions, both credit unions are dedicated to raising awareness about the benefits of renewable energy and promoting sustainable practices within their communities. Offering educational initiatives, outreach programs, and community partnerships, the credit unions are working to inspire adoption of clean-energy solutions and take meaningful steps toward a greener future, all while knowing their collective efforts have helped individuals and businesses save on energy costs and contributed to a cleaner, healthier planet.

 

Second Chance Residential Community Composting Program Comes to Pittsfield

PITTSFIELD — Second Chance Composting recently brought its residential community composting program to Pittsfield. Memberships are open and ongoing for the 9 South Atlantic Ave. dropoff location. The program runs continuously all year, through all four seasons. Memberships start at $9.99 per month, offering unlimited dropoff of household food scraps to the location each month. Members simply save their food scraps at home and, at their convenience, bring them to 9 South Atlantic Ave. and drop their material into the tote. Members can come as little or as often as needed each month. All food and food scraps are accepted, including meat, fish, dairy, bones, and shells. Other membership pricing options are available for those who wish to receive finished compost back. In addition to the new Pittsfield location, Second Chance Composting currently has dropoff locations in North Adams, Williamstown, and Adams, which have continuous and ongoing membership signups. Every week, Second Chance Composting picks up the material, which is brought to its MassDEP-certified facility in Cheshire to process the food scraps into compost, which is then distributed back to the community to grow more food, flowers, plants, and trees. Those interested in learning more or signing up for a membership can do so by visiting www.secondchancecomposting.com.

Daily News

MONSON — Monson Savings Bank announced it will donate $100,000 to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts to support people who struggle with food insecurity.

Monson Savings Bank President and CEO Dan Moriarty recently attended the Food Bank’s capital-campaign kickoff at the Chicopee Moose Lodge, where he joined Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and Erica Flores, president of the Food Bank’s board of directors, to present the donation.

Monson Savings Bank was a major charitable donor to the Food Bank’s capital campaign, which is focused on gathering funding for the new Chicopee facility that will serve as its future headquarters. The Food Bank is aiming to raise $22 million to help fund the new headquarters, set to open in 2023. It has surpassed the halfway mark, raising $12 million so far. Monson Savings Bank’s $100,000 contribution to the project helps the Food Bank reach its goal of providing essential services in an area that is most accessible to those facing food insecurity.

“Monson Savings Bank is a proud supporter of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. It is with great pride and happiness that we make this donation to help fund their new facility,” Moriarty said. “The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is a pillar in our communities. They help so many of our neighbors, giving them access to a basic need by providing them with meals. The new facility will help them to expand their reach and better serve those who rely upon them for survival.”

Banking and Financial Services Special Coverage

Pandemic Lessons

Rich Kump

Rich Kump says the pandemic has forced people who had been reluctant to bank remotely to give it a shot.

It’s the wave of the future, Rich Kump said — and the COVID-19 pandemic simply cast that wave in sharper relief.

“We’ve had a goal of moving routine transactions out of the branch,” the president of UMassFive College Federal Credit Union told BusinessWest. “We’ve been educating our members for three years, trying to move them out of the branch, and there’s still a percentage of America who just likes to everything in person. You need to take a thoughtful approach; you can’t force people into it … although COVID did that, to some extent.”

A widely held vision of the bank (or credit union) branch of the future — one shared, to some degree, by other local banking leaders we spoke with — does indeed promote robust online and mobile tools for routine business like deposits and withdrawals, leaving less traffic in branches, but a greater percentage of that traffic given over to more complex or consultative matters.

“We’ve had a goal of moving routine transactions out of the branch.”

And many people who have long resisted online banking are singing a different tune, said Paul Scully, president of Country Bank.

“Customers, just because of the nature of the pandemic, with people staying at home, started exploring technology,” he noted. “An amazing number of people are using technology who, for a number of years, fought it.”

In most cases, it’s just a matter of breaking old habits, Scully said — “and old habits are comfortable habits. But I think people are becoming better acclimated to technology and getting over their fears. There are still people who think, ‘I have to go into the bank to make that transaction because what if the money doesn’t get there?’ But as an industry and as a bank, we’ve been able to alleviate the concerns some people have.”

Florence Bank President Kevin Day agreed.

“Banking in general is going to change. The stuff you need to do is the same, but how you’re going to do it will change,” he said, noting that lobby traffic has been declining for years, and what was already a high adoption rate of mobile tools only accelerated over the past three months as banks closed lobbies to most routine business. “People are starting to realize it’s probably more secure, so they’re getting more comfortable. It’s also way more convenient.”

And gaining momentum in these shuttered times.

“Customers realized they really can do all their banking online,” Scully said. “We’re no different than Macy’s or Amazon. You realize you can sit down with your laptop or phone and purchase something from a retail outlet, and you can also do your banking that way. People are becoming more comfortable with it — so we need to keep upgrading and enhancing it.”

That’s not all they’re doing. Banks and credit unions, despite a much higher reliance on drive-up lanes and mobile platforms lately, never really closed during the pandemic, and while they continued to serve customers — in some cases, helping them navigate sudden financial hardships — they were also learning lessons and conducting internal conversations about where the industry is heading and what the bank of the future should look like.

Some were discussions that had begun years ago but, again, were suddenly cast in sharp relief as the wave known as COVID-19 came crashing down.

Staying Connected

People have been starved for human contact, Kump said. He knows that from UMassFive’s call center, as calls over the past three months are 25% longer, on average, than last year.

“A lot of it is, people just want to talk,” he noted. “Yes, they call for a reason, but then they want to talk. It’s a bit of a community.”

Bolstering the call center was one of the success stories of late March, which he recalls as a tough time.

“I don’t think anyone was ultimately prepared for this; we were scambling,” he said, explaining that many retail personnel in the branches began covering the phones, often from home. “Within two weeks, 70% of our staff was working from home. That’s when the chaos evolved into routine.”

Like the other institutions we spoke with, UMassFive didn’t close completely, staying open by appointment for services that couldn’t be done remotely, from notary signings to certain loan closings to instant-issue debit cards. The week Kump spoke with BusinessWest, the credit union was operating a soft opening of sorts before announcing a shift to walk-in business.

“Financial wellness isn’t just for people with means; it’s everybody, from somebody with an entry-level job to someone doing college planning or estate planning.”

Day recalls a similar experience.

“In that first week, everything was shutting down, and people were saying, ‘you’re a bank. You can’t shut down,’” he said. But Florence transitioned to drive-up service where possible while witnessing an expansion of remote banking — as well as phone-call volume that was up 100% early on.

“We helped a lot of people transition to mobile and computer options. People have used the drive-ups. We opened the lobbies for people who needed to do something in person. We went out to cars in some cases,” he recalled. “You couldn’t come and go as you wanted, but we never really closed. If you called and the only way to do something was in person, we did it in person.”

Kevin Day

Kevin Day says shifting most employees to remote work was one of the smoother transitions necessitated by COVID-19.

Still, the sudden, in many ways forced expansion of remote banking is just an extension of where the industry was already headed, Day explained. “We had already seen trends toward online, mobile, people doing much more on their computers and phones. The pandemic just really accelerated that.”

Scully said the transition to employees working remotely was one of the easier shifts.

“It wasn’t that difficult for us. We had all the technology in place that allowed us to immediately have all our non-branch staff working remotely, literally overnight. So that fell into place nicely for us; we didn’t miss a beat. Business was never impacted.”

For example, he said Country processed about 450 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans remotely, while Zoom calls and Webex meetings became the order of the day. It has worked so well, in fact, that non-branch employees will continue to work from home until Aug. 31, even as branches begin opening up this week, which is a boon for parents still uneasy about — or unable to access — camps and day-care services.

“We closed a day or two before other banks, just recognizing what was happening, and moved people to drive-up or leveraging technology,” he said, noting that lines were sometimes long, but customers were able to access the services they needed, in some cases using interactive teller machines (ITMs) at two locations.

“We’ve walked a lot of people through the technology, and the customer care center reached out directly to help them. We had curbside service at some locations, and we also used that as an opportunity to talk about technology.”

Branch of the Future

All this enhanced technology goes hand in hand with what many banking leaders say is an evolving role for branches.

Branches are certainly needed, said Jeff Sullivan, president of New Valley Bank, which is opening a new branch on the ground floor of Monarch Place in downtown Springfield this summer. Like every other area bank branch, it will stress pandemic safety, with a mask requirement, six-foot distancing, and glass partitions between customers and employees.

But it will also reflect a move toward a role for branches that emphasizes financial wellness and consultative services more than routine business.

“That’s going to be the bigger component of what a community bank does — trying to help people navigate a lot of things,” he explained, before adding that there will be plenty to navigate in the coming year, when more customers than usual will be struggling to achieve stability. “Financial wellness isn’t just for people with means; it’s everybody, from somebody with an entry-level job to someone doing college planning or estate planning.”

The bank of the future will put greater emphasis on this consultative role, through personal interaction that can’t occur online.

Paul Scully

Paul Scully

“Customers, just because of the nature of the pandemic, with people staying at home, started exploring technology. An amazing number of people are using technology who, for a number of years, fought it.”

“Obviously, if it was just about technology, the big-city, money-center banks could meet the needs of every single person,” Sullivan said. “If you don’t have the technology, you’re going to fall behind, but the extra, community-focused efforts are what’s really going to make an impact.”

Kump said UMassFive has eliminated tellers — or, more accurately, it has eliminated branch employees who handle only that role. Instead, employees are trained to be “universal agents,” able to tackle multiple roles, from traditional teller business to loans and other matters.

To achieve that, the credit union has tripled its training budget over the past few years, seeking to identify not only financial skills, but empathetic personalities with a real desire to help people.

“The face of banking is changing permanently. Branches in the future won’t be as critical, with fewer transactions coming in. But they will always be needed for key parts of financial life,” he explained, citing anything from home and auto loans to opening memberships to simply seeking financial advice.

“We won’t need the huge teller line anymore. We won’t need as many branches, and the services we’re providing in the branches are changing, he added, noting that customers are also discovering they can conduct routine business face to face — sort of — through ITMs. “Someone could be at the Northampton drive-thru, talking to someone working from home in Belchertown.”

That raises the question of how many workers need to be on the premises, both while COVID-19 is still a threat and afterward, considering how effectively operations have continued during the pandemic.

Jeff Sullivan

Jeff Sullivan

“Obviously, if it was just about technology, the big-city, money-center banks could meet the needs of every single person. If you don’t have the technology, you’re going to fall behind, but the extra, community-focused efforts are what’s really going to make an impact.”

“From a back-office standpoint, about half are working remotely,” Day said. “Can they continue to do that long-term? Yes, but there’s still the human element, and people can feel isolated. Feeling part of a team is important to some people, while some people are loners. But technology is certainly giving us some options.”

And the bank, which recently broke ground on its third Hampden County branch, this one in Chicopee, has certainly been discussing those options.

“More transactions are going online, but when you want to talk to a person to problem solve, especially with more complex transactions, that can certainly be done over the phone — and has been during the pandemic — but the way we’ve designed our branch of the future, there’s more consulting. If you want to come in and consult, we’ll talk to you — a lot. So frontline people will still need to be there to handle questions and solve problems.”

Getting Through the Pain

In fact, banks and credit unions never stopped solving problems over the past few months. Scully said Country, like other banks, was able to accommodate deferrals of loan payments for individuals who has been furloughed or were generally dealing with greater financial stress.

“I felt like this was a watershed moment,” Day added, noting that more than 200 mortgage borrowers and 200 commercial borrowers took advantage of three-, six, or 12-month deferrals, the latter being the most popular option. “Having been through downturns in my career, I knew that we needed to give people some time. People are resilient, businesses are resilient, but they needed some time. So we worked with residential and business customers on deferred payments.”

Kump said UMassFive issued forebearance on nearly 1,000 loans for people who were “furloughed or just worred,” as well as launching a small-loan program for those who just needed a little cash. “If you were furloughed, that didn’t change the decision to make a loan for you.”

That was in addition to PPP loans, which the credit union approved for members and non-members in the community alike, 96% of those loans issued to employers of five workers or fewer. It also looked for other ways to support community needs, such as donations to food banks and organizations like Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, as well as donating meals to first responders.

Although those needs still exist, banks and credit unions are beginning to get back to normal operations, expanding branch operations under enhanced safety protocols — “it’s a great time to be in the plexiglass business,” Scully said — while considering the lessons learned during the months when most business was conducted remotely.

“Was there frustration at first? Absolutely,” he added. “At first, people were like, ‘what do you mean, a bank is closed?’ But as every industry started to close and people started working remotely, people began to understand.”

After all, a bank that saw a fire ravage its headquarters in 2008 and a tornado rumble through its home region in 2011 has no problem posting social-distancing reminders and directional arrows and getting back to branch business. “This is bigger than a tornado,” Scully said. “The lesson we’ve learned is to always be prepared and remain nimble.”

Even as it moved from a soft-opening week to broader branch service — where walk-in traffic is allowed but appointments are still advised to reduce the wait — Kump marveled at how the credit union’s members have adjusted to remote business. Especially new members, 90% of whom have been joining online, compared to 40% to 50% in a typical year.

“There’s a percentage of customers who will still be reluctant to walk into a business,” he added. “We’re seeing that with restaurants opening and people still not coming.”

It helps, of course, that many have discovered the power of digital banking.

“For a lot of folks, it’s generational; they’ve been intimidated by technology, of depositing a check with a picture on their phone,” Kump continued. “Now they’ve been forced to do it, and they’re asking, ‘why was I taking time out of my day to run over to the credit union to get cash or transfer money? I don’t have to do that.’”

Day also expects people to keep using those tools, but for those ready to return to the branch, even for matters as basic as depositing a check, they’ll do so protected by masks, shields, and any number of other precautions. “The pandemic isn’t over, and people are still going to get sick. We want to keep people safe.”

Bottom Line

Usually, when BusinessWest talks to local banks and credit unions, it’s about their own business outlook for the year ahead, but this is not a typical year, and talk of asset growth and loan portfolios has been pushed aside to some degree by the need to simply stay afloat — and keep customers afloat, as well.

“The outlook is generally positive, but it will not be without pain,” Day said, speaking for both Florence Bank and its customers. “We know it will get better. It’s just a matter of when.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Company Notebook Departments

FamilyFirst Merging with North Brookfield Savings
NORTH BROOKFIELD — North Brookfield Savings Bank (NBSB) in North Brookfield and FamilyFirst Bank (FFB) in Ware have entered into a definitive agreement to combine into a single mutual savings bank. The combined bank will operate under the name and charter of North Brookfield Savings Bank. The transaction is subject to the approval of the corporators of NBSB and the shareholders of FFB as well as the approval of the banks’ regulators. FamilyFirst Bank operates three banking centers in Ware, Three Rivers, and East Brookfield. “These branch locations complement the North Brookfield branch system very well,” said NBSB President and CEO Donna Boulanger. NBSB operates four banking centers in North Brookfield, West Brookfield, Palmer, and Belchertown. All existing FamilyFirst branches will continue to operate, as will all North Brookfield Savings Bank branches. “FamilyFirst has created a customer-first culture with a strong focus on community, making this a natural fit for North Brookfield Savings Bank,” said Boulanger. “We look forward to introducing NBSB’s products and services to FamilyFirst’s customers and to supporting the local communities.” NBSB, founded in 1854, is a mutual savings bank with more than $200 million in assets. NBSB has received the highest Five Star Superior Bank rating from Bauer Financial for 74 consecutive quarters. The combined bank will have in excess of $260 million in assets. “I look forward to working with NBSB to complete this transaction for the benefit of FamilyFirst customers and employees. NBSB has a history of being committed to providing superior products and services delivered with a true personal touch,” said FamilyFirst President and CEO Michael Audette. Both banks use the same core technology providers, so the integration of the banks should be an easy transition for FamilyFirst customers. The transaction is anticipated to close in the late first quarter or early second quarter of 2014.

HMC Welcomes Donation from Holyoke HealthCare
HOLYOKE — Holyoke Medical Center announced a recent donation from Holyoke HealthCare Center in the amount of $4,810. The donation was made possible by the generosity of the center, a member of National HealthCare (NHC) and its philanthropic arm, the Foundation for Geriatric Education (TFGE). The donation will help participants in a five-day ‘boot camp’ for people recently diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF) that will be offered through the multi-agency Cross Continuum Team consisting of Holyoke Medical Center, Holyoke HealthCare Center, the Care Center, the Holyoke Visiting Nurse Assoc., and Renaissance Manor. The funding will provide boot-camp participants with large-number bathroom scales to weigh themselves every day. “Monitoring weight is a very important part of the self-management process for patients with CHF,” said Cherelyn Roberts, Holyoke Medical Center manager for the State Action on Avoidable Rehospitalizations Program. “Any change in weight could signal the need for medical attention, so these scales are crucial and will help patients be a stronger partner in their care. The goal is to help people avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and stay at home, where they want to be.” Holyoke HealthCare Center Administrator Thomas Accomando explained that the funding provided by TFGE was raised locally through events such as car washes, bake sales, and tag sales held at Holyoke HealthCare Center, along with personal donations. “The teams here at Holyoke HealthCare Center and NHC are proud to assist in education-related projects for our community involving the care of our elders, thus continuing the philosophy of our founder, Dr. Carl Adams,” said Accomando. Funding was also provided to Holyoke Medical Center for the purchase of a Resusci Anne QCPR torso mannequin with wireless skill recorder and carrier, a special training IV arm for intravenous insertions into elderly patients with thinner skin, and video equipment for recording educational sessions provided to Cross Continuum Team partners.

Big Y Nets 126,000 Pounds of Food for Area Needy
SPRINGFIELD — In a chain-wide effort to help the hungry within their local communities, Big Y’s fourth annual Sack Hunger/Care to Share Program brought 15,741 bags of food to local charities. Sack Hunger bags are large, brown, reusable grocery bags filled with staple non-perishable food items for local food banks. Customers purchase a Sack Hunger bag of groceries for $10, and Big Y distributes the food to that region’s local food bank. In turn, the food banks distribute the filled sacks to area soup kitchens, food pantries, senior food programs, day-care centers, as well as many other member agencies. All of the donated sacks are distributed within the supermarket’s marketing area, so every donation stays within the local community. Since its inception four years ago, more than 55,000 bags have been donated to the area’s needy via the Sack Hunger Program. This year’s endeavor ran from Oct. 31 through Dec. 31. All five food banks within Big Y’s marketing area are participating in Sack Hunger. These food banks represent more than 2,100 member agencies throughout the region. They include the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Greater Boston Food Bank, the Worcester County Food Bank, Foodshare of Greater Hartford, and the Connecticut Food Bank.

Uncategorized
Moira Maguire

Moira Maguire

Holyoke Community College recently welcomed Moira Maguire as its new dean of Social Sciences. Maguire most recently served as dean of Liberal Arts at Schenectady County Community College in New York. Before that, she spent 12 years as a professor of history at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, where she was a tenured faculty member and served as a department chair and course coordinator. She holds a Ph.D. in history from American University, a master’s degree in history from Northeastern University, and a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from George Washington University. As a teacher and scholar specializing in 20th-century Irish history, Maguire spent more than 10 years at the University of Ireland Maynooth, where her research on infanticide and the Irish government’s care of unwed mothers and their children led to many articles and a book, Cherished Equally? Precarious Childhood in Independent Ireland. She has also worked as a consultant for the BBC on documentaries related to her research. As dean of Social Science, she will oversee six academic departments: Education, Criminal Justice, Human Services, Critical Cultural Studies (Economics, Geography, History, Philosophy, Political Science, and Women’s Studies), Psychology, and Sociology/Anthropology.

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Sonya Stephens, the acting president of Mount Holyoke College, has been named the college’s 19th president, effective July 1. The Mount Holyoke College board of trustees announced its decision to appoint Stephens on April 23 after an extensive presidential selection process that began in January. A formal inauguration will be held in September. The decision was unanimous. Stephens was made acting president in July 2016. During her tenure, she has overseen the implementation of the Plan for Mount Holyoke 2021 and been focused on ensuring the college’s long-term financial stability. Other key efforts include the creation of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiative, which led to the annual BOOM! (Building on Our Momentum) learning conference and to the hiring of the college’s first chief diversity officer. Stephens led the development of the college’s comprehensive self-study for re-accreditation by the New England Assoc. of Schools and Colleges, and launched the Community Center construction and the opening of the Dining Commons. She is also overseeing the college’s commitment to reach carbon neutrality by its bicentennial in 2037.

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Elissa Langevin

Elissa Langevin

Lee McCarthy

Lee McCarthy

Shelley Daughdrill

Shelley Daughdrill

Lori Jarrett

Lori Jarrett

Celia Alvarado

Celia Alvarado

Alicia Pare

Alicia Pare

Florence Bank has promoted three employees to oversee the management of branches within their designated regions. Elissa Langevin has been named vice president and area manager for the bank’s main office in Florence, Lee McCarthy will serve as vice president and area manager for the King Street office in Northampton, Shelley Daughdrill and will hold the role of vice president and area manager for the Belchertown branch. Langevin is a 10-year employee of Florence Bank. Formerly, she was vice president and branch manager of the main office in Florence. During her tenure at the bank, Langevin has been the recipient of Florence Bank’s Community Service Award, which provides recognition to employees who are actively involved in community organizations. She serves as the current treasurer of the Belchertown Day School and has served as a board member for Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts. She has also served as board member and president of the East of the River Five Town Chamber of Commerce. McCarthy is a 15-year employee of Florence Bank. Formerly, she was vice president and branch manager of the King Street office. During her tenure at the bank, McCarthy has served as consumer lending officer and branch manager. She is a volunteer for the United Way of Hampshire County and serves on its Community Allocation Committee. In 2015, she was recognized by the United Way as an honoree for the Community Champion Award, presented to a community member who has made a significant contribution to the organization’s mission of creating positive and lasting change in Hampshire County. Daughdrill is a 12-year employee of Florence Bank. Formerly, she served as vice president and branch manager of the Amherst and Belchertown offices. She has been the recipient of the bank’s President’s Award and Community Service Award. She is a board member, attendance chair, and auction committee member for the Amherst Rotary Club, and she also serves on the development committee for the Amherst Survival Center. Meanwhile, Florence Bank has also hired three new employees to serve in various positions. Lori Jarrett will serve as assistant controller in the Finance Department in the main office in Florence, Celia Alvarado was named portfolio officer/commercial loan origination, and Alicia Pare was named to the position of cash management relationship officer. Jarrett holds a master’s degree in accounting from Western New England University. She volunteers for area nonprofits, including Riverside Industries, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County, and Safe Passage, and she runs in the Apple-a-Day 5K, which benefits the elementary schools of Easthampton. Alvarado joined Florence Bank in February with nearly 10 years of banking experience. She currently studies at the New England College of Business, where she’s working on a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance. She volunteers for Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts and has served on its board in the past. Pare earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from Assumption College in Worcester. In 2014, she received Florence Bank’s prestigious President’s Club Award, an annual tradition that recognizes outstanding performance, customer service, and overall contribution to Florence Bank.

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Mark Fuller, current dean and Thomas O’Brien Endowed Chair at Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, has been appointed the new vice chancellor for Development and Alumni Relations by UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. Fuller will succeed Michael Leto, who announced his upcoming retirement last fall. As the university’s chief advancement officer, Fuller will serve on the chancellor’s leadership team and be responsible for short- and long-term plans to improve private support as well as cultivate strong relationships with UMass alumni and supporters. UMass Amherst, the Commonwealth’s flagship campus, has more than 200,000 living alumni. Fuller has led UMass’s Isenberg School of Management since 2009. Under Fuller’s leadership, Isenberg has generated a four-fold increase in annual gift performance since 2010; received a $10 million endowment to create the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship; increased student giving ten-fold; secured private support for the new, $62 million Business Innovation Wing; and created 12 new endowed faculty positions. Prior to coming to UMass Amherst, Fuller was a professor and chair of the Department of Information Systems and holder of the Philip L. Kays Distinguished Professorship in Management Information Systems at Washington State University. He received his master’s degree in management and his Ph.D. in management information systems from the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management. His research focuses on virtual teamwork, technology-supported learning, and trust and efficacy in technology-mediated environments. Prior to Washington State, Fuller was an associate professor at the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University.

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Maureen “Maura” Guzik

Maureen “Maura” Guzik

Casey Cusson

Casey Cusson

Erin Tautznik

Erin Tautznik

Janet Rosenkranz

Janet Rosenkranz

Michael Tucker, president and CEO of Greenfield Cooperative Bank, announced one new hire as well as three promotions. Maureen “Maura” Guzik joined Greenfield Cooperative Bank as vice president, Commercial Loans. She will be responsible for developing new commercial business in Hampshire County with the Northampton Cooperative division of the bank. She will be based in the bank’s Triangle Street branch in Amherst. She has more than 34 years of commercial banking experience. Guzik is a board member of the Northwestern District Attorney’s Children Advocacy Center and chairperson of the Belchertown Council on Aging. She is also active with the Amherst Area and Greater Northampton chambers of commerce. She earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Anselm’s College and her MBA from American International College. Casey Cusson has been promoted to assistant vice president and branch manager of the bank’s Shelburne Falls location. He has more than 15 years of management experience and joined Greenfield Cooperative Bank in June 2017. He is a board member on the Shelburne Falls Area Business Assoc. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business from UMass Amherst and will attend the New England School of Banking at Babson College beginning in May. Erin Tautznik was promoted to branch officer. With more than 13 years of banking experience, she is responsible for managing the bank’s 67 King St., Northampton office. She joined Northampton Cooperative Bank in 2004 and has attended Holyoke Community College and numerous banking seminars and courses. She is also a volunteer with the JFK Middle School’s after-school program. Janet Rosenkranz, credit officer, has additionally been named the Credit Department manager, and is now responsible for the bank’s Credit Department staff and coordinating its activities. She joined the bank in 2016 and has more than 18 years of experience in banking. She is a volunteer with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. She received her bachelor’s degree at UMass Amherst and will attend the National School of Banking at the Wharton School beginning in June.

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Brian Kapitulik has accepted the position of dean of Business, Information Technology, Professional Studies, and Social Sciences at Greenfield Community College (GCC). “After a thorough search, we were excited to offer the position of dean to Brian,” said Catherine Seaver, chief Academic Affairs officer. Kapitulik has 18 years of professional experience in the Massachusetts public higher-education system and, in particular, during the last decade, in community college. Before his current role, he was chair of the Department of Social Sciences and professor of Sociology at GCC. He has also taught at UMass Amherst and Quinsigamond Community College. During this time, he evaluated and developed curriculum, assessed and reviewed programs, created new courses, and hired and mentored new faculty, all while teaching students, publishing papers, organizing professional-development workshops in his field, and serving the college in a number of leadership capacities ranging from search committees to faculty mentor for online pedagogy.

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The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts’ newly launched arts initiative, ValleyCreates, announced the appointment of five community advisors to support the initiative’s core mission to address underserved communities’ access to arts and culture funding and resources. Gina Beavers, Arts and Culture editor for the Valley Advocate, will serve as a liaison to arts and culture organizations in Hampshire and Hampden counties. Vanessa Pabón-Hernandez, director of Community Engagement and Education for WGBY, will serve as the initiative’s liaison to arts organizations in Hampden County. Matthew Glassman, co-artistic director ensemble of Double Edge Theater in Ashfield, will serve as a liaison to rural arts and culture organizations with a focus on Franklin County. Rosemary Tracy Woods, executive director and chief curator of the nonprofit Art for the Soul Gallery in Springfield, will serve as the ValleyCreates events curator. Finally, Kent Alexander will serve as the initiative’s diversity, equity, and inclusion facilitator. He brings with him years of experience conducting anti-racism and social-justice-focused workshops for various local organizations. Each community advisor will contribute up to eight hours per month for one year and will receive a stipend. ValleyCreates is supported by the Barr Foundation, through the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts’ participation in the Creative Commonwealth Initiative.

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Jeanne Hardy, associate professor of Chemistry, whose research focuses on a key protein linked to neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, is being recognized with the inaugural Mahoney Life Sciences Prize at UMass Amherst. A panel of expert judges from the life-sciences sector observed that the “biomedical implications are significant” and “this could turn out to be one of ‘the’ pivotal studies in the effort to combat Alzheimer’s.” Hardy will receive the prize and present her research with life-sciences experts and UMass officials and scientists at a breakfast ceremony on Tuesday, June 19 at the UMass Club in Boston. Established by UMass Amherst alumni Richard, Robert, and William Mahoney, the $10,000 prize is intended to recognize scientists from the university’s College of Natural Sciences whose work significantly advances connections between research and industry. The prize will be awarded annually to one faculty member who is the principal author of a peer-reviewed paper about original research. Eligible papers can be on any topic in the life sciences that focuses on new research with translatable applications to industry and society. Hardy’s research paper, “Multiple Proteolytic Events in Caspase-6 Self-activation Impacts Conformations of Discrete Structural Regions,” was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in September 2017.

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Baystate Franklin Medical Center announced that two interim leaders have accepted permanent positions at the community hospital. Ron Bryant has been named president, Baystate Franklin Medical Center/Northern Region, in addition to his continued role as president, Baystate Noble Hospital. Deb Provost has been named chief nursing officer and chief administrative officer, Baystate Franklin Medical Center/Northern Region, in addition to her continued role as chief regulatory officer, Baystate Health. Both have been serving in these roles in an interim capacity. Since Bryant’s interim appointment in January, he has held many open forums focusing on employee engagement and the need for a strong collaborative culture, advancing system integration and re-emphasizing the health system’s mission from a patient and employee perspective. Provost has been serving in the interim role of vice president of Patient Care Services and chief nursing officer at Baystate Franklin since November. Since her appointment, she has worked collaboratively with Baystate Franklin Medical Center’s leaders and team members to help ensure safe, high-quality care to the residents of Franklin County. Provost has been with Baystate Health for 41 years and has served as vice president, Surgery and Anesthesia and as interim chief nursing officer at Baystate Medical Center.

Departments People on the Move
Moira Maguire

Moira Maguire

Holyoke Community College recently welcomed Moira Maguire as its new dean of Social Sciences. Maguire most recently served as dean of Liberal Arts at Schenectady County Community College in New York. Before that, she spent 12 years as a professor of history at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, where she was a tenured faculty member and served as a department chair and course coordinator. She holds a Ph.D. in history from American University, a master’s degree in history from Northeastern University, and a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from George Washington University. As a teacher and scholar specializing in 20th-century Irish history, Maguire spent more than 10 years at the University of Ireland Maynooth, where her research on infanticide and the Irish government’s care of unwed mothers and their children led to many articles and a book, Cherished Equally? Precarious Childhood in Independent Ireland. She has also worked as a consultant for the BBC on documentaries related to her research. As dean of Social Science, she will oversee six academic departments: Education, Criminal Justice, Human Services, Critical Cultural Studies (Economics, Geography, History, Philosophy, Political Science, and Women’s Studies), Psychology, and Sociology/Anthropology.

•••••

Sonya Stephens, the acting president of Mount Holyoke College, has been named the college’s 19th president, effective July 1. The Mount Holyoke College board of trustees announced its decision to appoint Stephens on April 23 after an extensive presidential selection process that began in January. A formal inauguration will be held in September. The decision was unanimous. Stephens was made acting president in July 2016. During her tenure, she has overseen the implementation of the Plan for Mount Holyoke 2021 and been focused on ensuring the college’s long-term financial stability. Other key efforts include the creation of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiative, which led to the annual BOOM! (Building on Our Momentum) learning conference and to the hiring of the college’s first chief diversity officer. Stephens led the development of the college’s comprehensive self-study for re-accreditation by the New England Assoc. of Schools and Colleges, and launched the Community Center construction and the opening of the Dining Commons. She is also overseeing the college’s commitment to reach carbon neutrality by its bicentennial in 2037.

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Elissa Langevin

Elissa Langevin

Lee McCarthy

Lee McCarthy

Shelley Daughdrill

Shelley Daughdrill

Lori Jarrett

Lori Jarrett

Celia Alvarado

Celia Alvarado

Alicia Pare

Alicia Pare

Florence Bank has promoted three employees to oversee the management of branches within their designated regions. Elissa Langevin has been named vice president and area manager for the bank’s main office in Florence, Lee McCarthy will serve as vice president and area manager for the King Street office in Northampton, Shelley Daughdrill and will hold the role of vice president and area manager for the Belchertown branch. Langevin is a 10-year employee of Florence Bank. Formerly, she was vice president and branch manager of the main office in Florence. During her tenure at the bank, Langevin has been the recipient of Florence Bank’s Community Service Award, which provides recognition to employees who are actively involved in community organizations. She serves as the current treasurer of the Belchertown Day School and has served as a board member for Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts. She has also served as board member and president of the East of the River Five Town Chamber of Commerce. McCarthy is a 15-year employee of Florence Bank. Formerly, she was vice president and branch manager of the King Street office. During her tenure at the bank, McCarthy has served as consumer lending officer and branch manager. She is a volunteer for the United Way of Hampshire County and serves on its Community Allocation Committee. In 2015, she was recognized by the United Way as an honoree for the Community Champion Award, presented to a community member who has made a significant contribution to the organization’s mission of creating positive and lasting change in Hampshire County. Daughdrill is a 12-year employee of Florence Bank. Formerly, she served as vice president and branch manager of the Amherst and Belchertown offices. She has been the recipient of the bank’s President’s Award and Community Service Award. She is a board member, attendance chair, and auction committee member for the Amherst Rotary Club, and she also serves on the development committee for the Amherst Survival Center. Meanwhile, Florence Bank has also hired three new employees to serve in various positions. Lori Jarrett will serve as assistant controller in the Finance Department in the main office in Florence, Celia Alvarado was named portfolio officer/commercial loan origination, and Alicia Pare was named to the position of cash management relationship officer. Jarrett holds a master’s degree in accounting from Western New England University. She volunteers for area nonprofits, including Riverside Industries, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County, and Safe Passage, and she runs in the Apple-a-Day 5K, which benefits the elementary schools of Easthampton. Alvarado joined Florence Bank in February with nearly 10 years of banking experience. She currently studies at the New England College of Business, where she’s working on a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance. She volunteers for Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts and has served on its board in the past. Pare earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from Assumption College in Worcester. In 2014, she received Florence Bank’s prestigious President’s Club Award, an annual tradition that recognizes outstanding performance, customer service, and overall contribution to Florence Bank.

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Mark Fuller, current dean and Thomas O’Brien Endowed Chair at Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, has been appointed the new vice chancellor for Development and Alumni Relations by UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. Fuller will succeed Michael Leto, who announced his upcoming retirement last fall. As the university’s chief advancement officer, Fuller will serve on the chancellor’s leadership team and be responsible for short- and long-term plans to improve private support as well as cultivate strong relationships with UMass alumni and supporters. UMass Amherst, the Commonwealth’s flagship campus, has more than 200,000 living alumni. Fuller has led UMass’s Isenberg School of Management since 2009. Under Fuller’s leadership, Isenberg has generated a four-fold increase in annual gift performance since 2010; received a $10 million endowment to create the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship; increased student giving ten-fold; secured private support for the new, $62 million Business Innovation Wing; and created 12 new endowed faculty positions. Prior to coming to UMass Amherst, Fuller was a professor and chair of the Department of Information Systems and holder of the Philip L. Kays Distinguished Professorship in Management Information Systems at Washington State University. He received his master’s degree in management and his Ph.D. in management information systems from the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management. His research focuses on virtual teamwork, technology-supported learning, and trust and efficacy in technology-mediated environments. Prior to Washington State, Fuller was an associate professor at the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University.

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Maureen “Maura” Guzik

Maureen “Maura” Guzik

Casey Cusson

Casey Cusson

Erin Tautznik

Erin Tautznik

Janet Rosenkranz

Janet Rosenkranz

Michael Tucker, president and CEO of Greenfield Cooperative Bank, announced one new hire as well as three promotions. Maureen “Maura” Guzik joined Greenfield Cooperative Bank as vice president, Commercial Loans. She will be responsible for developing new commercial business in Hampshire County with the Northampton Cooperative division of the bank. She will be based in the bank’s Triangle Street branch in Amherst. She has more than 34 years of commercial banking experience. Guzik is a board member of the Northwestern District Attorney’s Children Advocacy Center and chairperson of the Belchertown Council on Aging. She is also active with the Amherst Area and Greater Northampton chambers of commerce. She earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Anselm’s College and her MBA from American International College. Casey Cusson has been promoted to assistant vice president and branch manager of the bank’s Shelburne Falls location. He has more than 15 years of management experience and joined Greenfield Cooperative Bank in June 2017. He is a board member on the Shelburne Falls Area Business Assoc. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business from UMass Amherst and will attend the New England School of Banking at Babson College beginning in May. Erin Tautznik was promoted to branch officer. With more than 13 years of banking experience, she is responsible for managing the bank’s 67 King St., Northampton office. She joined Northampton Cooperative Bank in 2004 and has attended Holyoke Community College and numerous banking seminars and courses. She is also a volunteer with the JFK Middle School’s after-school program. Janet Rosenkranz, credit officer, has additionally been named the Credit Department manager, and is now responsible for the bank’s Credit Department staff and coordinating its activities. She joined the bank in 2016 and has more than 18 years of experience in banking. She is a volunteer with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. She received her bachelor’s degree at UMass Amherst and will attend the National School of Banking at the Wharton School beginning in June.

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Brian Kapitulik has accepted the position of dean of Business, Information Technology, Professional Studies, and Social Sciences at Greenfield Community College (GCC). “After a thorough search, we were excited to offer the position of dean to Brian,” said Catherine Seaver, chief Academic Affairs officer. Kapitulik has 18 years of professional experience in the Massachusetts public higher-education system and, in particular, during the last decade, in community college. Before his current role, he was chair of the Department of Social Sciences and professor of Sociology at GCC. He has also taught at UMass Amherst and Quinsigamond Community College. During this time, he evaluated and developed curriculum, assessed and reviewed programs, created new courses, and hired and mentored new faculty, all while teaching students, publishing papers, organizing professional-development workshops in his field, and serving the college in a number of leadership capacities ranging from search committees to faculty mentor for online pedagogy.

•••••

The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts’ newly launched arts initiative, ValleyCreates, announced the appointment of five community advisors to support the initiative’s core mission to address underserved communities’ access to arts and culture funding and resources. Gina Beavers, Arts and Culture editor for the Valley Advocate, will serve as a liaison to arts and culture organizations in Hampshire and Hampden counties. Vanessa Pabón-Hernandez, director of Community Engagement and Education for WGBY, will serve as the initiative’s liaison to arts organizations in Hampden County. Matthew Glassman, co-artistic director ensemble of Double Edge Theater in Ashfield, will serve as a liaison to rural arts and culture organizations with a focus on Franklin County. Rosemary Tracy Woods, executive director and chief curator of the nonprofit Art for the Soul Gallery in Springfield, will serve as the ValleyCreates events curator. Finally, Kent Alexander will serve as the initiative’s diversity, equity, and inclusion facilitator. He brings with him years of experience conducting anti-racism and social-justice-focused workshops for various local organizations. Each community advisor will contribute up to eight hours per month for one year and will receive a stipend. ValleyCreates is supported by the Barr Foundation, through the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts’ participation in the Creative Commonwealth Initiative.

•••••

Jeanne Hardy, associate professor of Chemistry, whose research focuses on a key protein linked to neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, is being recognized with the inaugural Mahoney Life Sciences Prize at UMass Amherst. A panel of expert judges from the life-sciences sector observed that the “biomedical implications are significant” and “this could turn out to be one of ‘the’ pivotal studies in the effort to combat Alzheimer’s.” Hardy will receive the prize and present her research with life-sciences experts and UMass officials and scientists at a breakfast ceremony on Tuesday, June 19 at the UMass Club in Boston. Established by UMass Amherst alumni Richard, Robert, and William Mahoney, the $10,000 prize is intended to recognize scientists from the university’s College of Natural Sciences whose work significantly advances connections between research and industry. The prize will be awarded annually to one faculty member who is the principal author of a peer-reviewed paper about original research. Eligible papers can be on any topic in the life sciences that focuses on new research with translatable applications to industry and society. Hardy’s research paper, “Multiple Proteolytic Events in Caspase-6 Self-activation Impacts Conformations of Discrete Structural Regions,” was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in September 2017.

•••••

Baystate Franklin Medical Center announced that two interim leaders have accepted permanent positions at the community hospital. Ron Bryant has been named president, Baystate Franklin Medical Center/Northern Region, in addition to his continued role as president, Baystate Noble Hospital. Deb Provost has been named chief nursing officer and chief administrative officer, Baystate Franklin Medical Center/Northern Region, in addition to her continued role as chief regulatory officer, Baystate Health. Both have been serving in these roles in an interim capacity. Since Bryant’s interim appointment in January, he has held many open forums focusing on employee engagement and the need for a strong collaborative culture, advancing system integration and re-emphasizing the health system’s mission from a patient and employee perspective. Provost has been serving in the interim role of vice president of Patient Care Services and chief nursing officer at Baystate Franklin since November. Since her appointment, she has worked collaboratively with Baystate Franklin Medical Center’s leaders and team members to help ensure safe, high-quality care to the residents of Franklin County. Provost has been with Baystate Health for 41 years and has served as vice president, Surgery and Anesthesia and as interim chief nursing officer at Baystate Medical Center.

Daily News

BOSTON — Bank of America announced a $275,000 donation to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Greater Boston Food Bank, Lovin’ Spoonfuls, and the Worcester County Food Bank to help address food insecurity in the state. The donation is part of a unique program to encourage bank employees to support the health and safety of their teammates and help address one of the most critical needs facing communities: food insecurity.

As part of this program, Bank of America donated $50 to local hunger-relief organizations on behalf of employees who got their annual flu shot and an additional $50 donation for those who received and recorded their coronavirus vaccine booster before Nov. 23.

An estimated 15.9% of households were food-insecure in Massachusetts at the end of 2021, according to Project Bread. Hunger-relief organizations in the state and around the country are facing a set of increasing challenges as they confront an ongoing pandemic and rising food prices.

The $275,000 donation builds on the bank’s first phase of the vaccine campaign, which resulted in $575,000 raised earlier this year. Along with other financial support, Bank of America has given more than $1,175,000 to help fight hunger in Massachusetts in 2022.

The overall commitment is part of the bank’s longstanding efforts to address hunger relief and support the health and safety of its employees and community. As a result of these efforts, Bank of America has committed nearly $19 million to local hunger-relief organizations across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, as well as to the World Central Kitchen and World Food Programme globally.

“Households facing food insecurity know they can turn to their local food pantry or meal site to help them get through challenging times,” said Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. “Behind the constellation of frontline emergency feeding sites across the Commonwealth is a network of regional food banks that supply most of the food and in turn depend on the greater community for support, including corporate leaders like Bank of America.”

Miceal Chamberlain, president of Bank of America Massachusetts, added that “individuals and families throughout our community are coping with financial hardship this holiday season. Food banks, in turn, are experiencing a surge in need, in many cases from people who’ve never relied on their services. Our employees are devoted to giving back and making a difference to improve their communities.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) has become the first college in Massachusetts to join the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts as a member agency. Starting this month, STCC will be a part of the region’s food-assistance network.

STCC was also the first college in Massachusetts to join the Stop & Shop School Food Pantry Program, which provides donations to support the college’s food pantry, known as the Ram Mini Mart. Students who qualify can visit the on-campus Center for Access Services (CAS) to pick up free meals, groceries, and other necessities stored in the Ram Mini Mart.

Stop & Shop offers a school-based food-pantry program to help reduce hunger among students in communities served by the company’s more than 400 stores in the Northeast.

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts provides healthy food to 173 members of the network in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties. These independent pantries, meal sites, and shelters are on the front lines, providing food and other resources to individuals, families, seniors, children, college students, people with disabilities, and veterans.

Vice President of Student Affairs Darcey Kemp said CAS is an invaluable resource for STCC students, providing them with support and resources including free school supplies, food, and household goods. “STCC values its partnerships with community organizations like the Food Bank and companies like Stop & Shop. We sincerely appreciate their support.”

José Lopez-Figueroa, director of CAS at STCC, added that “we are thrilled to partner with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and continue our partnership with Stop & Shop. They are helping in our effort to ensure that no student is sitting in class hungry or goes home with nothing to eat.”

Samantha Plourd, dean of Enrollment, Retention and Completion, said STCC is grateful to have the Food Bank as a new resource. “Becoming a member agency of the Food Bank is a great help to our students facing food insecurity. As a member, STCC can access thousands of pounds of healthy food for our pantry, almost entirely for free.”

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts expanded its operations in September with a move to Chicopee. At more than 60,000 square feet, the new headquarters is double the size of its former building in Hatfield.

“The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is excited to welcome our first campus pantry to our member agency network,” said Michelle Geoffroy, the organization’s Agency Relations manager, noting that more than one in three college and university students faces food insecurity, and only 20% utilize Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. “This partnership will allow us to support STCC’s established food pantry and help us both to reach more of our neighbors experiencing food insecurity in Springfield and surrounding communities.”

Jennifer Barr, director of Community Relations at Stop & Shop, added that “Stop & Shop is so proud to continue its support for STCC’s on-campus pantry, and we congratulate the school on its continued success in doing groundbreaking work to ensure its students have access to the food and resources they need to succeed in the classroom. As a longtime partner of the Food Bank for Western Massachusetts as well, we love seeing these groups come together to help put an end to student hunger.”

Daily News

HATFIELD — For the 13th consecutive year, Monte Belmonte, radio personality at WRSI 93.9 the River, led a 43-mile, two-day march on Nov. 21-22 to benefit the mission of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts to feed neighbors in need. This year’s event has raised $494,742 so far and will help provide nearly 2 million meals to neighbors in need across Western Mass.

Belmonte pushed an empty shopping cart, as a metaphor for hunger, from Springfield to Greenfield while broadcasting live on WRSI to raise awareness about food insecurity, while inviting listeners to donate funds to provide emergency food assistance across Western Mass. The march kicked-off at Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services in Springfield, a member of the region’s emergency food network, providing healthy groceries through its food pantry and hosting a biweekly mobile food bank site. Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, presented Patricia Bernard, MLK’s vice president of Finance and Operations, with a plaque honoring the late Ronn Johnson for his passion and work to end food insecurity in Springfield.

“Folks are really struggling, so the role of the Food Bank is to provide healthy food to 164 food pantries and meal sites across all four counties,” Morehouse said.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern added that “this is the richest country in the world. There are nearly 40 million Americans that don’t know where their next meal is going to come. We all can do something to end hunger. And Monte and this crew are doing something today.”

PeoplesBank presented the Food Bank with a $5,000 contribution. U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and state Sen. Jo Comerford offered their encouragement to the marchers as they began their 17-mile trek to Northampton for day one of the event. Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia welcomed the marchers at Gateway City Arts, and Chicopee Mayor John Vieau welcomed the marchers to Chicopee, where the Food Bank will build its future food distribution center and headquarters.

Along the way, the group, including state Rep. Pat Duffy, also stopped at Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen in Chicopee and Kate’s Kitchen in Holyoke, both partners with the Food Bank. Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle spoke with Belmonte as the march entered her city.

Day two of Monte’s March began in front of McGovern’s Northampton district office. Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra joined the march in Northampton, and state Reps. Lindsay Sabadosa and Paul Mark joined dozens of marchers for 26 miles through Hampshire and Franklin counties. Stops included the Amherst Survival Center and, later, Berkshire Brewing Co., which has been a generous supporter of the Food Bank for decades. Belmonte thanked Atlas Farm, the largest donor of fresh produce to the Food Bank, before concluding in Greenfield. Hawks & Reed hosted the marchers for a pay-what-you-can finish-line feast for the community.

Gateway City Arts hosted and provided lunch on Monday, and Berkshire Brewing Co. hosted Tuesday’s lunch, provided by Holyoke Hummus, for almost 200 marchers.

Key sponsors, including Alekman DiTusa LLC, Boston Mutual Life Insurance Co., CoBank, Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee, Fallon Health, Greenfield Savings Bank, Instacart, PeoplesBank, and Talcott Resolution Life Insurance help make it possible for Monte’s March to reach its fundraising goals.

“People rose to the challenge to make nearly 2 million meals happen by raising over $492,000 for the Food Bank of Western Mass.,” Belmonte said. “I’m extremely grateful and humbled by the generosity of this community.”

There is still time for people to donate to help the Food Bank reach its $500,000 goal this year. Donations can be made online at montesmarch.com.

Opinion
Hunger Does Not Discriminate

Recently, the nation observed National Hunger Awareness Day. The Food Bank of Western Mass. — the region’s hub of public emergency and privately donated foods — and local partners hosted public education events. This year’s theme was The Face of Hunger May Surprise You, and it was quite appropriate.

That’s because it regularly surprises me. Last month, a corporate volunteer at our 30,000-square-foot warehouse in Hatfield shared with me that when she was a child, her mom struggled to put food on the table. Or, I’ll never forget the time a successful businessman approached me after a presentation at a local civic club to confess that his wife secretly collected food stamps after he was laid off from work early in their marriage.

More and more Americans are vulnerable to income and, in turn, food insecurity due to job insecurity, stagnant wages relative to the rising cost of living, high levels of debt, divorce, or a sudden accident. One out of three households that receive food from the Food Bank has at least one working adult. Hunger does not discriminate.

The term “hunger” — the recurrent and involuntary access to food due to lack of resources — conjures up images of starving children in the Third World. Yet, 10 million people in the United States experienced “very low food security” in 2005 according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last fall. Hunger, simply put, has become a permanent feature in United States, despite our being one of the richest and most productive countries on the planet. Worse still, another 17 million people are food-insecure — at risk of hunger due to difficulties putting adequate food on the table on any given day.

The good news is that 3 million fewer people were food-insecure nationally in 2005. The bad news is that food insecurity has increased in many high-cost states like Massachusetts. This seemingly intractable feature of our societal landscape is both an urban and rural phenomenon.

Chronic food insecurity is on the rise as evidenced by a growing demand for emergency food from the Food Bank. Last year, almost 6 million pounds of food — or approximately 4.5 million meals — went to 400 frontline nonprofit programs: food pantries, meal sites, shelters, day care centers, after-school programs, and councils on aging. Half of this food travels to Hampden County.

Our economic system may not ensure that everyone is guaranteed adequate food. Our society should. It’s the right thing to do on moral and economic grounds. We know that food insecurity is a leading cause of poor health and educational achievement among children. Healthier, well-fed families are more productive on the job and at home.

The Food Bank is committed to making food available to those who need it now. We are equally committed to reducing the need for emergency food tomorrow. To do this, the public must embrace public policy that can achieve this end. Right now, Congress is considering the Feeding America’s Families Act (H.R. 2129), the nutrition title in the U.S. farm bill. Co-sponsored by Mass. Rep. Jim McGovern, this act, if approved, will improve access to food stamps and raise the minimum monthly household benefit level from $10 to $32, among other things. The unrealistic $10 benefit level was set decades ago, and today, the average benefit equals one dollar per person, per meal.

Just as food stamps assist families with accessing food by supplementing earned income, so, too, public policy can improve the quality of food available and the choices that families make about the food that they consume. Improved public health will reduce public costs elsewhere. On Beacon Hill, the Legislature is considering Protect our Children’s Health: An Act to Promote Proper School Nutrition (H.B. 2168). Soda and junk food are feeding an epidemic of obesity and diabetes among our children. This bill will require public schools to provide nutritious food options to help children learn good eating habits and reduce the risk of health problems. Supporting these two public policies are crucial steps to ensuring a hunger-free Western Mass.

Andrew Morehouse is executive director of the Food Bank of Western Mass Inc.; (413) 247-0312.

Company Notebook

ShopOne Acquires Heritage Park Plaza

EAST LONGMEADOW — ShopOne Centers REIT Inc., a fully integrated, grocery-anchored shopping center investment, management, and operating platform, together with its joint venture (JV) partners, Pantheon and a leading global institutional investor, announced their entry into Massachusetts with the acquisition of Heritage Park Plaza in East Longmeadow, a 117,337-square-foot shopping center anchored by Stop & Shop. Heritage Park Plaza, which is 98% occupied, is strategically located along Route 83, a heavily traveled thoroughfare, and is serviced by three major highways, Interstates 90, 91, and 291. More than 202,300 people reside within five miles of the center, with an average household income of $88,500. Heritage Park Plaza has benefited from strong and consistent sales from its diverse tenant mix, which includes a variety of leading national retailers and regional brands such as Petco, Orangetheory Fitness, Panera, Dollar Tree, Pure Barre, 99 Restaurant and Pub, and H&R Block.

 

Country Bank Receives Two Marketing Awards

WARE — Country Bank announced it has received two marketing awards from the New England Financial Marketing Assoc. for its 2022 marketing efforts. Country Bank achieved first place with a gold award for its “Made to Make a Difference” rebrand. In May 2022, Country Bank introduced the rebrand in partnership with the bank’s advertising agency, Financial Marketing Solutions. The new tagline was created from focus groups that consisted of Country Bank team members, board members, consumer and business customers, non-customers, and community nonprofits throughout the bank’s marketplace. Since 1850, Country Bank has been a part of the fabric of the communities it serves, so it was deemed essential to include the community in the process. The common theme of how the bank makes a difference became a clear indicator of how its stakeholders received the brand in the market. In addition, the bank received a silver award for its Police vs. Fire Baseball Game in association with the WooSox Foundation. This game was a century-old tradition brought back to life on Sept. 26, 2022. Part of the game is giving back to the community, something the WooSox Foundation and Country Bank are passionate about. The teams chose the Manny 267 Foundation, which received a $15,000 donation.

 

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampden County Honored with Gold Standard Award

WEST SPRINGFIELD — For the tenth year in a row, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampden County (BBBSHC) has been recognized for its quality of service by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA). This time around, BBBSHC has been named a Gold Standard Award winner. Every year, the BBBSA Nationwide Leadership Council, made up of local Big Brothers Big Sisters agency leaders and board members, selects agencies for excellence in the organization’s signature one-to-one youth-mentoring program. Out of 225 agencies across the country, BBBSHC is one of 26 organizations to receive this top honor. The Gold Standard Award recognizes agencies that have increased their revenue and grown the number of mentors (‘bigs’) and youth (‘littles’) who are matched through the program, year over year. In the past year, BBBSHC has served approximately 300 youth and grown its local services by 10%. For more than 100 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been dedicated to igniting potential for at-risk youth, making a lasting impact on the lives of young people. Today, the organization creates and supports one-to-one mentoring relationships, helping to build self-confidence and emotional well-being and empowering young people on a path to graduate with a plan for their futures and a mentor whose impact can last a lifetime. The Gold Standard Award winners will be formally recognized at the 2023 Big Brothers Big Sisters Bigger Together National Conference, held June 26-29 in California.

 

State Awards $1.37 Million for Fintech Incubator at WNE

SPRINGFIELD — The Healey-Driscoll administration and MassTech recently awarded Western New England University (WNE) a $1.37 million Tech and Innovation Ecosystem grant to establish an incubator that will drive innovation in financial technology, or fintech. WNE’s new Springfield-based fintech incubator will bolster talent development in the growing tech sector; fund new, on-campus computing infrastructure for hands-on learning opportunities; and allow faculty and students to work directly with private-sector companies and other financial-sector organizations on real-world challenges. The new incubator, a two-year, $2,125,000 project, will become a technical resource for fintech startups across the state, with an initial focus on those located in Western Mass. The $1.37 million state grant comes from the state’s Technology & Innovation Ecosystem Awards program. The incubator will be managed by a team of WNE faculty who are deeply entrenched in the fintech space.

 

Davis Foundation Supports Surgical Care at Baystate

SPRINGFIELD — The Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation made a generous donation to Baystate Health Foundation in support of the new surgical and interventional procedural rooms at Baystate Medical Center. A portion of this 82,000-square-foot space, which opened in March, is located in what is now known as the Robert S. Davis Wing. It was formally dedicated on May 30 with a celebration that included the Davis family and members of the Baystate Health team. Robert Davis was the second of four Davis children, including his siblings John, Jane, and Steve. He passed away in 2021, and, as a way to celebrate his memory, the family chose to name the former South Wing in his honor. The Robert S. Davis Wing also houses the Pediatric Procedure Unit, the Sadowsky Center for Children, the Baystate Medical Center inpatient pharmacy, and two floors of patient rooms. The tribute is fitting, as he spent time at Baystate Medical Center during his final year receiving care and dialysis treatment.

 

Greenfield Cooperative Bank Supports RiverCulture Events

GREENFIELD — Greenfield Cooperative Bank announced its sponsorship of the 2023 Summer Event Series organized by RiverCulture, the creative-economy program of the town of Montague. The series features a variety of cultural events happening in the five villages of Montague and the Turners Falls Cultural District, including live music, outdoor movies, theater, family activities, and festivals. The series aims to showcase the rich and diverse cultural offerings of the region and to foster community engagement and enjoyment. As a community bank, Greenfield Cooperative Bank is committed to supporting local arts and culture and to enhancing quality of life for its customers and neighbors. Paper copies of the calendar of events are available at local retail stores and restaurants, or can be downloaded at www.riverculture.org.

 

LightHouse Signs Agreement for Possible New Home

HOLYOKE — LightHouse Personalized Education for Teens in Holyoke announced it has signed a purchase-and-sale agreement for the historic Congregation of the Sons of Zion building at 378 Maple St. in downtown Holyoke. The agreement establishes a 120-day inspection and planning period to determine the viability of the move. LightHouse is a personalized, competency-based middle and high school now in its eighth year in its current location in the STEAM Building at 208 Race Street in Holyoke. LightHouse’s tagline is “changing what school can be.” Current renovation estimates are being drawn up and are expected to run well into the millions of dollars, so LightHouse is in the beginning stages of applying for grants and preparing for a capital campaign to fund all the work that needs to be done. LightHouse has grown strategically during its eight years, from a program serving 36 students in its first year, 2015, to its current enrollment of 75 students. Students come from towns and cities across the Pioneer Valley, including Holyoke, and as far away as New Haven, Conn. Almost half of the student body are Holyoke public-school students who attend LightHouse full-time through a public-private partnership, a model for innovation for school districts everywhere.

 

Food Bank Honored with Lauren Arms Ledwith Award

BOSTON — The Healey-Driscoll administration announced that the Lauren Arms Ledwith Award for 2023 has been awarded to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and its outstanding Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach team. The Food Bank was awarded this honor at the Department of Transitional Assistance’s (DTA) annual meeting with more than 100 local SNAP community-outreach partners. The award was presented to Christina Maxwell, Beth Ziemba, Megan Schuck, Stephanie Gibbs, and Luis Perez Jr. for continuously demonstrating a commitment to creating a better tomorrow for their communities by helping to eliminate hunger. At the meeting, acting DTA Commissioner Mary Sheehan recognized the outstanding work done during the past year to connect residents with SNAP. Currently, almost 656,000 households receive SNAP benefits, a 45% increase from pre-pandemic levels. Since 1982, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts has been a pioneer in the community by providing food to individuals and families located in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties. It has addressed food insecurity by meeting people where they are, conducting outreach at food pantries, meal sites, shelters, colleges, senior centers, correctional facilities, libraries, and veteran-serving agencies.

 

 

Cedar Chest Partners with Grow Food Northampton

NORTHAMPTON — For the second year in a row, Cedar Chest, the anchor store in Thornes Marketplace on Main Street in downtown Northampton, will partner with food-justice organization Grow Food Northampton to ensure that community members grappling with food insecurity and hunger are able to access healthy, local farm foods all year long at Grow Food Northampton’s farmers markets, Tuesday Market, and Winter market. The Grow Food Northampton SNAP Match program allows community members who use SNAP (formerly called food stamps) to more than double their purchase of nutritious local produce and other farm products at the weekly Tuesday Market farmers market behind Thornes Marketplace, and in the winter at the Winter Market at the Northampton Senior Center. The ‘give $10, get $10’ promotion allows Cedar Chest customers to donate $10 to Grow Food Northampton’s SNAP Match program and, in turn, receive a $10 gift card to spend at Cedar Chest.

Daily News

HATFIELD — The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts announced the successful sale of its Hatfield building and property to Myers Produce, a woman-owned regional produce distributor and trucking company offering farmer-focused distribution, freight, and warehousing services.

The strategic decision to sell the building marks a significant milestone for both businesses. The Food Bank will move to its new location at 25 Carew St., Chicopee, during the last week of August, and Myers Produce will move into its new Hatfield facility in October.

“We are thrilled that Myers Produce has purchased the Food Bank’s Hatfield building,” said Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. “The Food Bank board of directors decided that an extension of our mission is to sell our Hatfield facility to Myers Produce to help expand markets for local farmers and strengthen our region’s farm economy. The Food Bank relies heavily on local farmers for a large portion of the fresh produce it provides for free every year to households who otherwise would not be able to afford it.”

Myers Produce has a long-standing commitment to bolster access to regionally grown food and to support farmers in Western Mass. and Vermont. With this strategic move, Myers Produce is taking a significant step to expand the purchasing of food from local growers and producers and transporting and reselling it to food retailers throughout the region and beyond.

“We are excited to embark on this new chapter as we celebrate 10 years of operation,” said Annie Myers, owner of Myers Produce. “Our mission has always been to support our region’s agricultural communities by increasing farmers’ access to wholesale markets within the Northeast. This acquisition allows us to take our efforts to the next level. In addition to allowing for the expansion of our distribution and freight operations, this facility will enable us to offer short-term storage and cross-docking services to farmers, producers, distributors, and carriers throughout our region.”

Moving to Hatfield will generate employment opportunities and place Myers Produce close to farmlands, near highways, and at a central crossroads for serving growers, customers, and fellow distributors in Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Both the Food Bank and Myers Produce are looking forward to sharing resources at their respective new facilities, including cross docking and temporary storage. This arrangement will facilitate Food Bank deliveries to its member food pantries and meal sites in Hampshire and Franklin counties. For Myers Produce, this arrangement will contribute to its current ‘donation transportation’ program, facilitating the free transportation of donated food to the Food Bank for distribution to the local community.

“The planning board voted unanimously to approve the Myers Produce project,” said Stephanie Slysz, Hatfield Planning Board chair. “We are sad to see a landmark organization such as the Food Bank go, and we wish them well. We’re thrilled to welcome Myers Produce, which is a great fit for the parcel, and for Hatfield, with their commitment to local agriculture and farms in our town and in the region.”

Foreseeing it was running out of space many years ago, the Food Bank purchased 16.5 acres of vacant land in the Chicopee River Business Park in 2020. In 2021, it launched a successful, $26 million capital campaign to raise funds to build a larger facility, with support from individual and business donors, state and federal governments, and volunteers. In 2022, construction began on its new distribution center and headquarters, which is nearing completion.

Cover Story
Area Farmers Benefit from a Changing Landscape

Ryan Voiland, owner and manager of Red Fire Farm

Ryan Voiland, owner and manager of Red Fire Farm, awaits customers at the weekly farmers market at Springfield’s Forest Park.

Joe Shoenfeld calls it “an attitudinal shift.”

That’s how he chose to describe a movement, for lack of a better term, that has made terms like ‘fresh,’ ‘healthy,’ ‘organic,’ ‘sustainable,’ and especially ‘local’ not just adjectives that dominate the lexicon — and also the marketing materials — of those who grow, sell, and prepare food, but also part of this region’s culture.

“I think we’ve definitely moved beyond something that could be called a fad or a trend regarding local purchasing and local food,” Shoenfeld, associate director for the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment in the College of Natural Sciences at UMass Amherst, told BusinessWest. “Cynics may think it will fall away, and maybe interest will decline from where it is now. But what we’re seeing is a real shift, especially in Western Mass. There’s been a shift in attitudes about the local economy and about food, especially among the younger generations.”

And this shift is having a rather profound impact on the region’s agricultural sector, one that has manifested itself in countless ways. These include the rapidly growing number of farmers markets in area parks, downtowns, bank parking lots, and on the grounds of major employers like MassMutual and Baystate Medical Center; the buying habits of UMass Dining, the largest operation of its kind in the country, serving more than 45,000 meals a day; the ranks of restaurants loudly boasting a farm-to-table operating philosophy; the number of students in the Sustainable Food and Farming program at UMass (there were five in 2003 and 150 this past spring); and the number of acres Ryan Voiland is devoting to kale, that leafy green vegetable that has seen its popularity skyrocket in recent years.

“Kale has really taken off — as have many other things,” said Voiland, 37, owner and manager of Red Fire Farms, operating in Granby and Montague, and one of a sharply rising number of people who are considered new to the profession — and finding opportunity in that aforementioned attitudinal shift.

Joe Shoenfeld, right, and John Gerber

Joe Shoenfeld, right, and John Gerber both say that students at UMass Amherst reflect what they call an attitudinal shift toward buying local and eating healthier food.

Voiland, who said it would take less time to list what he doesn’t grow, now sells at many of those farmers markets, offers CSA (community-supported agriculture) shares, supplies several area restaurants and co-ops with fresh produce, and recently inked a roughly half-million-dollar contract with the Wegmans supermarket chain, which is expanding its reach in the Bay State.

“They approached us because they heard we had pretty good stuff, it’s certified organic, and in Massachusetts,” Voiland explained, adding that the first deliveries will begin in a few weeks. “They really wanted to link up with a farm that could provide enough volume to supply their Massachusetts stores, and they also want to promote that they’re making organic local produce available in their stores.”

Such motivations help explain why sales at nearly all of the farm’s various outlets have grown, and also why the Red Fire story is typical of what’s happening locally, both with relative newcomers like Voiland and individuals whose families have been working the land for generations.

This shift didn’t come about quickly or easily, and in many ways it is still evolving, said Phil Korman, executive director of Communities Involved in Sustainable Agriculture (CISA), which advocates for area farmers, engages the community to build the local food economy, and has launched, among other initiatives, the ‘Be a Local Hero’ program that now boasts more than 400 members, meaning those who grow products locally and those who buy them.

The new attitude came about through hard work on the part of CISA, other industry groups, and individual farmers themselves to generate far greater appreciation for the foods being grown and those tilling the soil, he explained.

“Part of what the problem has always been is that there’s been a lack of respect for the people who are growing our food and other farm products,” he said, adding that this is another attitude that is changing. “We’ve created an environment in this region where people love their farmers and they want to buy from their neighbors who are farmers.”

For this issue, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at how the landscape is changing, figuratively and quite literally, for area farmers, and why many believe, as Shoenfeld does, that this is not a trend or a fad, but a change with staying power and vast potential for growth of a proud industry.

Root Causes

Gideon Porth says farmers in Western Mass. probably have a different working definition of ‘drought’ than their counterparts in many other regions — especially those toiling in California, for example, which is experiencing a dry spell of epic proportions.

“In New England, we go two weeks without a drop of rain, and we start screaming ‘drought,’” Porth, owner of Atlas Farms in Deerfield and another newcomer to this profession, explained in a voice that blended sarcasm with a large dose of seriousness. “But we’re at about the one-month mark now, which is totally unheard of in April and May; we never seen that long a dry stretch, and the farm’s about as dry now as I’ve ever seen it.”

Gideon Porth, owner of Atlas Farm in Deerfield

Gideon Porth, owner of Atlas Farm in Deerfield, is one of many individuals who would be considered new to the profession.

And on the day he talked with BusinessWest, there was no end to this dry patch in sight. Indeed, the showers that visited early that morning did little more than make the dust more settled, he said with a laugh.

But while area farmers are looking at the blue skies with some apprehension (things were still quite dry at press time), there are fewer storm clouds in a figurative sense as well, and that development bodes well for a sector that was in sharp decline and defined by serious questions only 20 years ago.

Indeed, CISA was created out of concern for the future of this sector and a desire to advocate for it, said Korman.

“CISA started amid conversations among farmers and farm advocates who, in the mid-’90s, were concerned about the challenges to agriculture in Western Massachusetts,” he explained. “And some of those challenges still exist today — the challenge of accessible farmland, the loss of farmland to development, competing in a global economy, and public policy favoring very large industrial farms.”

Out of those conversations, a grant was obtained from the Kellogg Foundation to basically use marketing for social issues, he went on, adding that CISA began to promote local farms to their neighbors. And two decades later, it’s clear that these efforts have been quite successful.

Indeed, the 2015 edition of CISA’s Locally Grown, a farm-products guide covering the Pioneer Valley, now boasts more than 400 busineses, including more than 250 farms that grow products and a host of restaurants, co-ops, supermarkets, colleges, hospitals, retirement homes, and other businesses that sell or buy them.

“Every single year, that number goes up,” said Korman, adding that there are now more than 60,000 copies of the guide published, putting information in the hands of those who want to buy local and buy healthier foods — a rapidly growing constituency.

How this attitudinal shift described by Shoenfeld, Korman, and others came about is largely a function of changing priorities and growing concerns about health and the environment. And while this movement is cross-generational, in many respects, it is younger people who are leading this charge and who also have the power — and the inclination — to ensure that this isn’t a fad.

“This change has been evolving for a long time,” said Shoenfeld. “And I think it goes all the way back to basic understandings about ecology that started with Silent Spring [the Rachel Carson book credited by many with igniting the environmental movement in the ’60s], and moved on from there to climate change and personal human health and the unexplainable new health problems that our culture seems to be coping with.

Phil Korman

Phil Korman says one of CISA’s goals is to expand economic opportunities for farmers, which it does through initiatives ranging from its ‘Local Heroes’ program to winter farmers markets.

“People are concerned and want to see what they can do themselves to control those aspects of their life that they can,” he went on. “And one of the aspects of your life that you can have a little more control over is what you eat and where it comes from. Perhaps not total control, at least at this point, but more. I think that’s where this is coming from.”

John Gerber, a professor of Sustainable Food & Farming at UMass Amherst, agreed, and referenced students at the university as examples of those espousing what might be considered new thinking.

“There’s both fear and opportunity,” he said with regard to current events and daily headlines. “Every time you open the newspaper, you see an egg recall or a cantaloupe recall, or a processed-food recall, and that leads to question marks. And then, these students see opportunity; they go to the dining commons and see that their potatoes are coming from a farm almost within eyesight of that dining commons.

“And there’s a connection there — a meaningful connection to something that’s real,” he went on. “The processed foods — things that come in a can or a box — don’t feel real, and a lot of people, especially young people, are searching for meaning in their lives. And food is something you can actually do something about.”

But there is much more to the buy-local and eat-healthier movements than college students looking for meaning, said those we spoke with, adding that society in general is trying to get healthier and paying more attention to the notion of supporting the local economy.

The trend, or shift, hasn’t caught on everywhere, said Gerber, but there are some hot spots, and the Bay State — especially Western Mass. — is certainly one of them. (Washington and Oregon would constitute another, while Southern California would be a third.)

“From a production perspective, we’re seeing a lot of young farmers getting involved in what they consider to be a meaningful life, producing something real — food for a population that seems to demand it,” he explained. “There are many places in this country where this is not on the radar, but we’re seeing it grow.”

Experts in Their Field

Since arriving at UMass Dining more than a decade ago, Ken Toong, who now leads Auxiliary Enterprises at the university, has implemented a number of initiatives that have made that operation one of the nation’s leaders, a program that schools across the country are trying to emulate.

Steps have ranged from spending tens of millions of dollars to modernize and upgrade the dining commons, to the introduction of sushi as a staple on the menu (the school now serves roughly 3,000 pieces a day); from the implementation of food trucks that roam the sprawling campus and bring a new layer of convenience to students, to use of so-called ‘trash fish’ to both broaden students’ palettes and provide new opportunities to the region’s beleaguered fishing industry.

But arguably his most impactful initiative has been a campaign to buy local, a program not only supported by students, but, in many ways, demanded by them.

“As we survey our students, more than 80% of them think buying local is important to them, and they want to see more of it,” said Garett DiStefano, director of Residential Dining at the Amherst campus. “And that number’s been going up steadily over the past five years as well.”

This is a far-reaching plan, one with several goals, including healthier eating, support of the local economy, and conversion of the Hampshire Dining Commons, the largest on the Amherst campus, into an eatery “dedicated to healthy, local, sustainable, and great-tasting foods and to providing a defensible and cost-effective example for all campuses to emulate.”

That’s wording from one of the slides in a PowerPoint presentation called “Diving into the Numbers: A Local Food Data Analysis,” which, as that title suggests, uses hard nunbers, and lots of them, to explain the UMass Amherst program.

Mike Cecchi

Mike Cecchi says the buy-local movement has created new opportunities for E. Cecchi Farms, started by his grandfather in 1946.

The buy-local initiative is measured in a number of ways, but especially the figure $3.25 million, which represents the number spent in FY 2015 (which ends in a few weeks) on what would be considered local or sustainable produce. That includes roughly 100 vendors, said Toong, and encompasses everything from pizza dough from Angie’s Tortellini in Westfield to honey supplied by the Hadley Sugar Shack, to milk purchased from Mapleline Farm in Hadley. And it includes several kinds of fruits and vegetables grown by Joe Czajkowski on land in Hadley that his family has tilled since 1916.

The university spent nearly $500,000 with Czajkowski, who farms a total of 400 acres, 162 of them certified organic, during FY ’15, on everything from tomatoes and carrots to french fries and blueberries. The contract is one of the the more visible examples of that attitude shift described by Shoenfeld, and one that has helped open many new doors for the operation.

“Ken Toong had a lot of interest in buying local, and we were already there,” said Czakjkowski, who said he was supplying a small amount of produce to the university’s Top of the Campus restaurant (part of University Enterprises) when the university decided to escalate its local buying in a significant way.

“It’s like having an anchor store in a mall — this helps us do a better job with other customers,” Czajkowski said of the UMass contract, adding that it has, in many ways, inspired and facilitated contracts with the Worcester and Chicopee school systems, other members of the Five College system, Baystate Health, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, and other institutions. “We’re out getting things for one school; now it’s possible to get things for the Chicopee schools and the Worcester schools and pull the orders together because we’re already doing it.”

In many ways, Czajkowki’s story is typical of many of the established farmers in the region, who have found new outlets for their crops in restaurants, schools, supermarket chains, and businesses that now buy local for many reasons, including the fact that their customers are expecting and even demanding it.

Mike Cecchi would fall in that latter category. His grandfather started working some land in Feeding Hills not long after emigrating from Italy in 1946, and the tradition has continued since.

The 90-acre operation is known for its corn, but grows everything from asparagus to zucchini, with most of the letters of the alphabet covered by Cecchi crops.

Like other farmers we spoke with, he has customers that come in many forms — from individuals visiting the huge farmstand on Springfield Street to the Geisler’s supermarket chain and Big Y Foods, to restaurants ranging from Lattitude to ABC Pizza — and he’s seeing more interest in all those products.

“The buy-local, buy-healthier trend is having an effect on both the retail and wholesale sides,” he explained. “There’s just a lot more demand for what we grow.”

Beet Reporters

But maybe the more compelling change to the region’s agricultural landscape is the number of newcomers to the industry — people choosing to enter the field not because their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather did, but because it’s a profession they believe has many different kinds of rewards.

Porth is one of these individuals. He started a dozen years ago, taking a passion for agriculture that he developed while working on a farm in college and turning it into a career.

Joe Czajkowski

Joe Czajkowski says his contract with UMass has facilitated other sourcing of his many crops.

“I wanted to start my own operation, but I didn’t have land or equipment or money,” he explained. “I had an opportunity to go back to school at UMass and got a master’s degree in plant and soil science. I had an opportunity to stay at UMass and teach, but had the bug to get going.”

And he did, starting with three acres — “it was like a big market garden” — and accumulating additional pieces of land over time. He now farms 85 acres in two locations in Deerfield, half of which he owns, and the rest he leases.

Lettuce and leafy greens are the specialty at Atlas — yes, kale is a big part of that mix — but there is a wide variety of crops. And they’re sold in many different ways, from company-operated farmstands to farmers markets; from a form of CSAs to wholesaling efforts involving outlets ranging from the Whole Foods chain to the River Valley Co-op in Northampton.

Porth entered the business as the buy-local movement was gaining steam, and he’s watched it create a number of new opportunities.

“The whole buy-local trend has really benefited the farm,” he explained. “The farm started in 2004, just as this was gaining traction, and it’s just grown from there. Each year that goes by, we’re seeing more and more from the restaurant world, but grocery stores are really getting on board as well; their customers want local, and at the farm store and farmers markets, business keeps increasing with people demanding foods that are healthy and local.”

Voiland, who would also be considered part of this new breed, agreed.

He started virtually from scratch, with a tiny roadside stand he opened when he was in middle school, selling items from the family garden and various wild berries he picked. By the time he was in college, he was renting 10 acres from an “old timer.” Soon after graduating, he acquired land in Granby and, well, put down roots.

The operation, which employs 80 to 100 people during peak seasons, now boasts roughly 30 acres in Granby and 70 in Montague, and recently expanded into Belchertown with a variety of fruit trees.

“If you can grow it in this climate, we probably grow it,” said Voiland, adding that Red Fire produces everything from arugula and baby kale to a host of root vegetables, including potatoes, carrots, and radishes. It is perhaps best known for its tomatoes, and stages a one-day festival at the Granby facility on the fourth Saturday in August focused on that versatile vegetable and featuring more than 150 varieties.

As he talked with BusinessWest at a weekly farmers market in Springfield’s Forest Park at which Red Fire is now a regular, Voiland, like Porth and others, made heavy use of the word ‘diversified,’ and used it to describe not only what he grows, but how he sells those crops.

Indeed, in addition to several farmers markets — in this region but also in Greater Boston — he also sells CSAs, through which households pay a set amount ($550 to $600 annually in this case, depending on which option the customer chooses) for weekly distributions of all those aforementioned vegetables and fruits, starting later this month. There are also pick-your-own fields, farm stands in both Granby and Montague that operate from May 1 to at least Halloween, and wholesale business to restaurants such as Alvah Stone in Montague and others in Boston; co-ops, including the Greenfields Market & Co-op in Greenfield; and supermarkets such as Fresh Acres, operated by the Big Y chain, and now Wegmans.

While the CSA movement has essentially peaked and business is flat in that realm due to oversaturation, Voiland said, the needle continues to move up with those other revenue streams.

“With restaurants, and consumers in general, there is more awareness of food and wanting to eat good food, both in terms of one’s health, but also the flavor,” he told BusinessWest. “The stuff we grow can help in both ways. We’re focused on freshness, and we grow varieties that taste good; we’re not so concerned about varieties that ship well and keep forever in the truck like some of the stuff that shows up in supermarkets.”

Yield Signs

While the outlook for the region’s agricultural sector certainly looks promising, this remains an ultra-challenging profession, said Shoenfeld, Gerber, Korman, and the farmers we spoke with.

The competition is truly global, margins are generally quite thin, and there are many factors simply beyond the farmer’s control — especially the weather.

“Farming is not for the faint of heart — whether you’re a new farmer or you’ve done it for multiple generations in your family,” said Shoenfeld. “It’s hard work, and there’s a lot of problem solving to be done. But it’s interesting to think about all the new energy being brought by those new farmers, most of them young, but not all them — we’ve seen a number of career changers moving into farming.

“And it’s interesting to wonder how this energy from the new farmers, and the smarts that they might be bringing from other sectors of the economy, might affect some of these seemingly very difficult issues facing farmers,” he went on.

Overall, to succeed in this environment, farmers have to be well-trained and highly skilled, said Korman, adding that many in this profession are now receiving the respect they deserve.

“This is a highly skilled position, and people are now realizing that,” he explained. “The person has to be able to understand quite well the strength of the soil and what needs to be added to it; they have to be a really good business person, understanding which parts of their business are profitable and not as profitable; they need to be able to communicate what they grow and what they’re selling to hundreds of thousands of people; they need to compete globally; and they need to deal with totally unpredictable work conditions, which most of us don’t have to do.”

CISA provides help to farmers coping with these challenges in the form of technical assistance that covers basically everything but growing practices, he said, such as education in how to write a press release or to how to construct a business plan.

And much of CISA’s work involves opening up new markets and avenues for sales, said Korman, citing, as just one example, winter farmers markets.

“Five years ago, there were none of them in Massachusetts,” he said. “The first one was a one-day market in Greenfield launched by the community, and we did one in Northampton in 2010 that had 2,000 people come in four hours.

“Now, there is an ongoing winter farmers market in seven different towns in Western Massachusetts,” he went on, adding that participating farmers sell everything from root vegetables to cheese; from maple syrup to preserved foods like jams and jellies.

Another example of new markets is a trend toward selling at various workplaces, he went on, adding that MassMutual now has what amounts to its own farmers market, and Baystate Health hosts CSA distributions at several of its facilities.

Manwhile, CISA stages what Korman called “meet-and-greets” between farmers and a range of potential customers that could use their goods, including restaurant owners, co-op managers, nursing-home operators, college food-service administrators, and hotel managers.

“We’re always trying to expand economic opportunities for farmers, and also make more connections in the community,” he explained. “And when one takes a look at national statistics, they’ll see that Massachusetts ranks third in the nation in terms of direct market sales for operations, and we’re first in the nation in the percentage of farms with CSAs.”

Those statistics and others result from farmers responding to their challenges and opportunities with diligence and creativity, said Shoenfeld, adding that they are finding new and intriguing ways to essentially bring the farm to consumers — including those who live 100 miles away in Boston — and make healthier foods available and affordable to those in all income classes.

“We’re seeing attention paid to how good, fresh, locally grown food can get into the hands of those who traditionally seemed like they couldn’t afford it,” he explained. “One refrain heard over the past 10 years is that this is just for people who have spare dollars to spend on food. Increasingly, we’re understanding that fresh, local food is one of the keys to improving some of our health issues, like obesity, and we’re finding that fresh, local food in elementary schools and junior high schools, with the farmer coming in to talk about it once or twice a year, is something that prompts kids to take home information about healthy eating and exercise. And that’s a pretty powerful idea.”

Looking ahead, Gerber said there is promise of continued growth for this sector. Indeed, while Western Mass. is among the nation’s leaders in the percentage of food bought locally — the number is at or just over 15% at present — that still leaves 85% that is not purchased from area producers.

That number can’t reach 100% in this climate for obvious reasons, he told BusinessWest, but it can go considerably higher, and he expects that it will.

“Food Solutions has a target of 50% local food by 2060 — ‘50 by 60’ is their campaign, and that’s driven by climate change, energy costs, and especially health concerns,” he said.

“If I was going to predict the future, I would project continued growth. Not without difficulty, not without pain, and not without disruption, but certainly continued growth.”

Till Tomorrow

Returning once again to the dining commons at UMass Amherst to get his points across, Shoenfeld said students there will not be abandoning their philosophies about eating healthier and buying local when they get their diplomas.

“As they emerge from a place like UMass, where they’re eating this fabulous local food in their dining commons and start cooking for themselves … they’re already interested in and wanting local, healthy food that supports local farmers,” he told BusinessWest. “And I think that’s going to stick with them.”

If he’s right, then the attitudinal shift that he and others described will become even more pronounced, and that will generate even more opportunities for area farmers, who are already sowing seeds for a brighter future, in every sense of that phrase.


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

CHICOPEE — MassDevelopment has issued a $9.5 million tax-exempt bond on behalf of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts Inc., which will use proceeds to build and equip a 63,000-square-foot building at 25 Carew St. within the Chicopee River Business Park in Chicopee that will serve as the Food Bank’s new headquarters beginning in the summer of 2023.

Since 1986, the Food Bank has been operating from a 30,000-square-foot facility at 97 North Hatfield Road in Hatfield. Relocating to the new building will more than double the organization’s available space to store and distribute healthy food, increasing its capacity to serve community members facing food insecurity. PeoplesBank purchased the bond, which will complement funds raised for the project through New Markets Tax Credit equity and the organization’s capital campaign.

“The Baker-Polito administration is committed to working with nonprofits like the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts to end food insecurity across the Commonwealth,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, who serves as chair of MassDevelopment’s board of directors. “We’re pleased that the city of Chicopee and the Food Bank were able to strategically utilize state funding sources, such as the MassWorks Infrastructure Program and MassDevelopment’s tax-exempt financing, in order to advance a project that will make a profound difference in the lives of people across Western Massachusetts.”

In February 2022, the Baker-Polito administration awarded a $1.6 million grant from the MassWorks Infrastructure Program to the city of Chicopee to support the relocation of the Food Bank’s headquarters to the Chicopee River Business Park.

“We are excited the Food Bank of Western Mass. has chosen the Chicopee Business Park to relocate their operations and headquarters,” Chicopee Mayor John Vieau said. “I can think of no better place in terms of access, efficiency, and accessibility than right here in Chicopee, at the crossroads of New England.”

In 2021, the Food Bank provided 11.6 million meals and reached an average of 103,000 individuals per month. The organization also provides other forms of food assistance, such as nutrition workshops, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enrollment assistance, and education, public policy advocacy, and engagement around issues of food insecurity.

“With severe space constraints at our current facility, forcing us to turn away food donations, this critically important financing enables us not a moment too soon to build our future home and move into it,” said Andrew Morehouse, the Food Bank’s executive director.

Daily News

CHICOPEE — The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts celebrated the grand opening of its new facility on Dec. 14, which was attended by hundreds of donors and community partners, including U.S. Reps. Richard Neal and James McGovern. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, along with Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, sent their congratulations via video.

“The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts’ new, state-of-the-art facility will allow their dedicated team to provide greater access to healthy, nutritious foods to thousands more of our neighbors in need and expand service routes to partners throughout the area,” McGovern said. “I’m proud of the Food Bank’s 40 years of history serving our community and their continued leadership on the national stage in our movement to end hunger now.”

The new, larger, greener food-distribution center, located at 25 Carew St. in Chicopee, is twice the size of its previous Hatfield location, with an additional 18,000 square feet (about four times the area of a basketball court) in the warehouse alone. Floor-to-ceiling warehouse racks and expanded refrigeration and freezer sections enhance efficiencies and enable the Food Bank to store and distribute more healthy food than ever before to 175 member food pantries, meal sites, and emergency shelters of the food-assistance network across all four counties of Western Mass.

“The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is at the forefront of efforts to combat food security amongst low-income families and communities throughout our region,” Neal said.” I am thrilled to join [Executive Director] Andrew Morehouse and his team as we celebrate the next chapter in what has been the remarkable story of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

“This project is also a reminder of the critical role the New Markets Tax Credit Program plays in incentivizing community development and economic growth in underserved communities,” he added. “Ensuring continuity of this program has been one of my top priorities on the Ways and Means Committee, and the Food Bank is just one of the many success stories that have been the benefactor of the New Markets Tax Credit.”

The new site also features a dedicated community space with a working kitchen for cooking and nutrition classes and other educational events. Other efficiencies include electric charging stations, an expanded member pick-up area, and ample parking for staff and volunteers. In 2024, the Food Bank will add a solar array on the roof and a canopy over part of its parking, along with backup battery storage that will fully support all electricity needs of the building.

“I want to express my gratitude to our incredible community of supporters and donors who made our vision a reality,” Morehouse said. “For the first time in many years, we now have the capacity to provide more healthy food to more people facing food insecurity when and where they need it.”

In January 2021, the Food Bank launched its “Feed, Lead, and Strengthen” capital campaign to raise funds to build and equip a larger, greener distribution center in Chicopee. More than $30 million dollars was raised through the generosity of government, corporate, and individual donors.

Banking and Financial Services Special Coverage

Cloudy Forecast

Paul Scully

Paul Scully says loan demand was strong in 2022 despite the interest-rate hikes.

A constant flow of interest-rate increases didn’t exactly make borrowers happy in 2022, Paul Scully said, but it didn’t keep them from participating in the economy.

“I think, coming out of the pandemic, there was a pent-up desire to reconnect, within business circles and in communities. We had a terrific year for lending,” said Scully, president and CEO of Country Bank, which opened a new business production office in Tower Square in downtown Springfield last year. “That’s worked out beautifully for us. Our loan production in 2022 was the greatest level ever — we originated over $400 million in loans, almost $170 million in net growth.”

A broadening of the focus made a difference, Scully said. “Country Bank has been known as a commercial real-estate lender; that was our niche. We’ve gotten more deliberately into C&I lending from 2021 going into 2022, and have done some significant C&I deals: $10 million, $20 million, $30 million deals. We have the expertise in house to be able to do that. And based on our capitalization — we’re one of the highest-capitalized banks in the Commonwealth — it gives us the opportunity to be able to grow along with businesses and customers.”

bankESB’s holding company, Hometown Financial Group, continued to grow in 2022 as well, with the acquisition of Randolph Bancorp and its subsidiary, Envision Bank, which was merged into Abingdon Bank, another Hometown holding, more than doubling its presence on the South Shore.

“The most interest-sensitive customers are residential borrowers, and as residential mortgage rates rose throughout 2022, we saw the volume of residential lending, especially refinances, drop dramatically. Commercial lending is definitely impacted as well, though not to the same extent.”

“We’re in a very low-margin industry,” said bankESB and Hometown President and CEO Matt Sosik, explaining why growing geographically to create scale is an important part of the company’s strategy. “Any business person will tell you costs are rising, whether it’s insurance, utilities, fuel oil, you name it — and, of course, wages. It’s the same for us, and if we’re not growing, we’re going backward.”

That said, “we had our best earnings year ever in 2022, and it wasn’t even anywhere near second place,” Sosik noted.

Part of that was the fact that interest rates for borrowers rose so quickly that the lag between those rates and the rates paid to depositors generated income for banks. But heading into 2023, margins are again shrinking as deposit costs rise, and a slowing economy has some people worried about a possible recession, which would further soften the loan market.

“The most interest-sensitive customers are residential borrowers, and as residential mortgage rates rose throughout 2022, we saw the volume of residential lending, especially refinances, drop dramatically,” Sosik said. “Commercial lending is definitely impacted as well, though not to the same extent.”

Tony Worden, president and CEO of Greenfield Cooperative Bank, agreed.

“Obviously, the residential market became soft because of what’s going on with rates as the year progressed,” he told BusinessWest. “And frankly, the commercial lending market became softer because people don’t know what the economy is going to do going forward; they’re keeping their powder dry, as they say. They don’t want to make big decisions if they don’t know how the economy will turn out.

Matt Sosik

Matt Sosik says fundamentals like low inventory have kept housing prices high.

“This year, everyone is holding their breath to see what the outcome will be,” he went on. “Will the Federal Reserve be able to engineer a soft landing? Last year, we thought we were in for a couple of rate increases, but the rates went much higher than everyone thought they would. When you do strategic planning, you make assumptions about what the rate environment will be, and we were all wrong last year.”

This year, economic projections include not only the rate issue, but whether unemployment will rise, what the impact of energy costs will be, and much more. On the topic of energy, Worden said the region has seen a mild winter so far, so that could help people weather the still-high costs.

“I guess if people knew what was going to happen, they could make a lot of money. From a banking standpoint, a lot of loan customers don’t want to make decisions until they know where we’re all situated.”

 

Saving and Spending

Worden lend some recent historical perspective to what banks are seeing when it comes to consumer and business behavior, starting in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For a few months, Americans were saving at a rate that hadn’t been seen in 80, 90 years. They were saving money, they weren’t going anywhere, there was a lot of stimulus, both federal and state, and banks saw their deposits increase tremendously because people were sitting on a lot of cash.”

While that’s generally not a bad thing for banks, he said, cooperative banks not only pay for FDIC insurance, but also pay premiums on the private Depositors Insurance Fund, which covers deposits beyond the $250,000 the FDIC covers. “All the deposits coming in but no loan demand cost us money in a way; we were paying insurance on all the deposits, but couldn’t put the deposits to work.”

In the second year of the pandemic, people were starting to spend again, take vacations, and work on their homes, while most stimulus had ended, so deposit levels crept toward a more typical environment, and loans picked up as well. And while the current interest-rate environment has made some potential borrowers skittish, Worden said it’s important to note that those rates are still historically low — yes, a fixed 30-year mortgage rate is north of 5% right now, but a generation ago, it was 17% or higher.

“I think it’s a mental thing with borrowers,” he went on. “Rates were so low for an extended time, you get used to that mentally, and it’s hard to readjust when they start going up again.”

“Last year, we thought we were in for a couple of rate increases, but the rates went much higher than everyone thought they would. When you do strategic planning, you make assumptions about what the rate environment will be, and we were all wrong last year.”

Still, Sosik said, the housing market remains strong due to the fundamentals of low inventory levels and those still relatively low interest rates. But especially with remote work taking hold, “people who may be inclined to think about moving may not want to give up their 3% mortgage.’

“And there’s not a flow of new inventory, so we have this interesting dynamic where rates are rising, but it’s not impacting home prices materially,” he added — especially for a class of higher-income cash buyers who aren’t interest-sensitive.

“There’s a lot of liquidity in the economy, a lot of it funneled toward the residential market,” he said. “Volume is still good, but inventory is still low. Everything is still working; it’s just more expensive to borrow.”

Scully said Country continues to see significant loan demand early in 2023 — “not at the level of 2022, but we are seeing good pockets of business on the commercial side.” Meanwhile, to help customers purchase homes, the bank kicked off a homebuyers’ program in the fall featuring no money down and no private mortgage insurance in select areas.

“We’re still seeing a decent residential market, not as robust as it had been, but still decent,” he said. “On the commercial side, we’re still looking at some interesting deals. But everyone is holding their breath when it comes to construction lending for large projects.”

That said, investors are seeing positive signs, he added, including a comeback for retail and hospitality. “The restaurant industry is starting to have workers come back.”

Meanwhile, Scully added, “unemployment is still pretty low, and we’re not hearing much of layoffs, so hopefully we’ll see the Fed reach its level, see that interest-rate changes have impacted inflation, and we may be starting to see the other side of this sometime in 2023.”

Tony Worden

Tony Worden says everyone is hoping the Fed helps the economy to a “soft landing” with its rate policy aimed at reversing inflation.

Worden said no one really knows where the economy will turn, though there are hopeful signs. “As we see inflation numbers coming down, we’ll start to get an idea whether what the Fed is doing is starting to work. And maybe they’ll start pulling back on rate increases. If they can pull off that soft landing, we might see people reinvesting in business, buying equipment, buying new properties. But I think everyone is waiting a little bit.

“When you have a good economy, banks do well; people are out investing, buying, selling, doing things,” he added. “When the economy is bad, banks struggle because no one’s out doing anything.”

 

Community Counts

The higher-than-usual heating costs that impact every homeowner affect bank employees as well, Scully said, which is why Country recently gave a $750 stipend to all its employees to mitigate those impacts, and other inflationary pressures.

But Country isn’t taking its focus off the community at large, recently adopting the tagline “made to make a difference,” which applies not only to customers and business clients, but to the community as well, where the bank has focused much philanthropic energy over the years to needs like healthcare and food security. In 2022, the bank donated close to $1.3 million, a year after donating a total of $1 million to two major food banks on top of its other giving.

Scully said the pandemic shed a spotlight on basic human needs, not only for banks, but their employees, who, at least in Country’s case, have been more engaged in recent years.

“We’re still seeing a decent residential market, not as robust as it had been, but still decent. On the commercial side, we’re still looking at some interesting deals. But everyone is holding their breath when it comes to construction lending for large projects.”

“We learned a lot about ourselves and humanity during the pandemic, and we have a lot of staff members who really flourished in the sense of being able to volunteer and give time to the community,” he explained. “This what our brand us all about.”

Worden said Western Mass. is fortunate to be home to numerous locally owned banks that are active in their communities by supporting nonprofits through direct donations and volunteer efforts.

“In other parts of the country, this isn’t a thing,” he said. “But up and down 91 are all these good, local, community banks, and we’re all doing what we can do for the community. Obviously, we want to make money; that’s how we stay in business and give raises to our employees and hire new employees. But when Western Mass. does well, we all do well.”

bankESB recently announced that a fundraising drive raised $35,000 for local food pantries, part of its robust charitable giving program known as the Giving Tree, which reflects the bank’s commitment to making a difference in the neighborhoods it serves.

“We try to give back to all the communities we’re in, and we pointedly give back to those in need, things like food insecurity, for both children and older folks,” Sosik said. “The objective of the Giving Tree campaign is around $1 million a year — giving that back to the communities we serve and trying to make a difference for those who truly need it.

“Food insecurity is a year-round problem,” he went on, “but we turn our focus on it a little more at the end of the year and make that the key part of our campaign.”

Looking out his window, Scully noted a $35 million project the bank financed. “That makes a difference for the property owner, but we want to make a difference for everyone in our community,” he told BusinessWest. “All community banks do a tremendous job with community giving, and we’re not cutting back on our giving. Our earnings may change, but we’re committed to our level of philanthropy.”

Banking and Financial Services Special Coverage

Open for Business

Romika Odedra says the branch’s layout emphasizes the customer experience.

Holyoke-based PeoplesBank recently expanded its presence in Connecticut with a branch in West Hartford. The new location is projected to help the bank grow its already considerable portfolio of consumer and commercial business from south of the border, especially in an ongoing climate of mergers and acquisitions.

 

When PeoplesBank opened its newest branch in West Hartford on August 30, it wasn’t exactly its first foray into Connecticut’s capital region. Far from it.

“This is a retail opening in West Hartford, but half of our commercial business is in Connecticut already — actually, about 60%,” said Matt Bannister, the bank’s senior vice president of Marketing & Corporate Responsibility.

“Some is up in the Granby-Windsor-Suffield area,” he went on, alluding to PeoplesBank’s first three Connecticut locations, in East Granby, Suffield, and West Suffield. “Some is down here in the Hartford region, and it actually goes all the way down to the shore. We’re kind of catching up with this retail storefront because the commercial customers want a presence here. They’ve been saying to us, ‘come down to Connecticut.’ And West Hartford just makes sense; it’s a great community, and a good place to be.”

Aleda De Maria, executive vice president of Consumer Banking and Operations, said a growing commercial presence in Hartford County cried out for a full-service physical branch.

“The banking centers are there for when they need a little more contact, when they have a little more complexity, or they just want to expand their relationship. We need to make sure we have everything.”

“We absolutely need it. The majority of our new accounts are still opened at brick-and-mortar locations. For more complex conversations, customers want to talk to a person, and they want to have that live interaction. There still is a need for that face-to-face contact.

“I think what the industry is trying to do with the self-service channels — with online, with mobile, with video bankers — is give people the ability to do the quick, day-to-day transactions when they want to, without having to park and go in and talk to somebody, and get it done quickly,” she went on. “The banking centers are there for when they need a little more contact, when they have a little more complexity, or they just want to expand their relationship. We need to make sure we have everything.”

Michael Oleksak, executive vice president and chief lending and credit officer, said all those Connecticut dollars in the bank’s commercial portfolio have not come mainly from the Granby-Suffield area, but predated those physical locations.

Matt Bannister with one of the West Hartford branch’s two interactive video teller machines.

Matt Bannister with one of the West Hartford branch’s two interactive video teller machines.

“We have a significant amount of business in the Greater Hartford area, specifically in the Farmington, Glastonbury, West Hartford communities and downtown Hartford, but we also go as far as New Haven and Greenwich. So our tentacles are fairly long when it comes to our Connecticut presence.

“Most of that is in commercial real estate, which tends to be more transactional,” he went on. “We are able to do a lot of full-service banking for these commercial real-estate customers because of our cash-management expertise and the different products we have, but without a branch presence, it’s really difficult to do business banking.”

The branch presence in West Hartford allows the team to do more commercial and industrial (C&I) lending, and complements a recent expansion of the bank’s C&I team with former TD Bank veterans, Oleksak noted.

“We have a very strong following now, and I think by having a physical presence there, we’ll become a more visible part of the community,” he went on. “We do support our current borrowers, including with a lot of their philanthropic initiatives, but it’s kind of behind the scenes because we don’t have a presence there. But with a physical presence, and with the disruption in the market with the M&T acquisition of People’s United, it will really open the door for us to be a bigger part of the community.”

De Maria agreed. “We’ve already created such a solid foundation with our name and then with the physical presence from the acquisition we did in Suffield in 2018,” she told BusinessWest. “And now, with our West Hartford presence, I think we have a solid opportunity to bring the service we provide for our commercial customers to our retail-customer world, and really marry those two sides together and make an impact.”

 

Making Contact

Many visitors to the new branch will first notice the interactive video tellers, one in the entry and one in the drive-thru lanes, bringing the bank’s total number of such machines to 22 at 17 locations. Users can call up a live teller in Holyoke who manages four or five machines at once.

“That way, we can be open seven days a week and have extended hours and not have to have people physically in the branch. And the video banker can do almost any transaction,” Bannister said, noting that Peoples is the only bank in the Hartford to offer the service. “Part of our technology story is good, consumer-facing technology.”

Romika Odedra, vice president and regional manager, said customers appreciate face time with a live person rather than interacting with a machine and the more limited options available at an ATM. And Bannister added that, with the pandemic still raging, many customers appreciate being able to conduct complex transactions in a contactless way.

“We are able to do a lot of full-service banking for these commercial real-estate customers because of our cash-management expertise and the different products we have, but without a branch presence, it’s really difficult to do business banking.”

“Video tellers are something we’re proud to bring to the market,” De Maria said. “It brings seven-day-a-week banking to West Hartford and our surrounding areas.”

Once inside the branch, customers will see pods instead of traditional customer lines — a model Peoples and other banks have been implementing for years. Customers can stand beside the teller and even see what he or she is looking at on the computer screen, if necessary. “In the beginning, people were like, ‘where do I go?’” Odedra said. “But it’s so easy — it’s warm, it’s welcoming, it’s not ‘there’s the line.’ It’s nice to have that one-on-one experience.”

The branch also employs a ‘universal banker’ model, Bannister said. “Any bank employee you see out here can do all the transactions. You can go to a teller pod or pop into an office if it’s more convenient or you just want privacy to have a conversation.” In other, more specialized offices down the hallway from the main area, he added, the bank will offer a mortgage expert, a wealth adviser, and other ancillary services.

And in front, at the main entrance, is a high table, couch, and coffee bar. “We’re trying to say to people, ‘come on in and hang out; get to know us a little bit,” Bannister said. “The thought is, we want to have sort of an open storefront.”

That’s partly to reflect the neighborhood the branch is in, with restaurants and small shops lining the streets and the shopping and dining mecca Blue Back Square just down the road.

“This area really is hopping with foot traffic,” he said. “And if you’re a bank with a retail storefront, you want foot traffic.”

Those who drive to PeoplesBank will appreciate the free parking lot the bank shares with the town’s Post Office.

“I used to work at a different bank, and that was the biggest issue we had, the parking,” Odedra said. “I’m so glad we have the parking we have. We don’t have to rush the customer out; we have time to have that one-on-one with them and invite them to have a cup of coffee.”

Bannister said West Hartford has been an enthusiastic town to work with, from its Chamber of Commerce to local economic-development leaders.

“Right from the start, when we were saying we wanted to come down, they were like, ‘how can we help?’ We’re in a lot of communities, and some of them are very welcoming, and some are maybe not so much. This one has been great to work with.”

 

Opportunity Knocks

The branch is fully staffed as well, with a mix of on-site and hybrid workers, reflecting the current makeup of the entire PeoplesBank organization. Some are West Hartford natives who know the market, Bannisher said, while some were attracted by working near all the nearby restaurants and other neighborhood amenities.

Aleda De Maria

Even in an age of mobile banking, Aleda De Maria says, people still want face-to-face interaction at branches for many services.

There’s room to expand in Hartford County, he added, with plans to open at least two more branches in the next couple of years.

“We’re coming in with a message of ‘we’re here, and we’re here to stay, and we can do everything the big banks do, but with a local feel and local decisions,’” De Maria said. “And I think that’s what’s missing in banking in general nowadays — being able to bank how you want to bank but also at a community bank where you don’t have to worry about who’s going to buy them.”

That presence means civic involvement and philanthropy as well, Bannister said, noting that PeoplesBank plans to give close to $60,000 in the first month alone to local organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Hands on Hartford (which assists with food pantries and the homeless population), the United Way, Foodshare, and even two West Hartford community events the bank will sponsor this fall and next summer.

“Right from the start, when we were saying we wanted to come down, they were like, ‘how can we help?’ We’re in a lot of communities, and some of them are very welcoming, and some are maybe not so much. This one has been great to work with.”

“We feel like we’re leading with the values we want to be known by in the community, which are innovation, technology, customer service, and the community support.”

De Maria agreed with Bannister than broadening the bank’s footprint in Connecticut is a must. “We will continue to actively look for physical locations, primarily in Hartford County,” she said. “We’re not opposed to outside Hartford County should it make sense, but in Hartford County, we feel we have an opportunity for our brand to really make an impact in the community.”

And that means expanded business, including commercial lending, Oleksak said. “I think there’s tremendous opportunity in this market for us, given our size and the experience of our lending staff. We’re very diverse, and between small business, large commercial real-estate loans, and now C&I expertise, I think we bring a lot to the table. It’s a great opportunity for us.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — On March 16, Big Y World Class Markets donated $125,000 to three Massachusetts food banks and two in Connecticut in order to help them respond to the challenges they face in helping to feed others during these challenging times. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Greater Boston Food Bank, the Worcester County Food Bank, Foodshare, and the Connecticut Food Bank will each receive an immediate donation of $25,000. All Big Y stores also now have collection boxes to allow customers to make food donations for local pantries and shelters.

As part of its recent 10th annual Sack Hunger/Care to Share program, Big Y also provided more than $11.5 million in food to area food banks, which amounts to a total of 5.7 million meals to help those in need throughout the region. In addition to Sack Hunger, it donates healthy food to these food banks six days a week throughout the year. Two-thirds of those 5.7 million meals include donations of meat and fresh produce, while bakery, non-perishable grocery items, frozen food, and dairy products account for the rest. In fact, these almost-daily donations have become a routine part of Big Y’s operations. These food banks depend upon this steady flow of food to feed those in need.

Big Y also encourages support in any amount for area food banks right now. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts estimates that every dollar donated will provide four meals for those in need. Visit foodbankwma.org for more information.

Additionally, Big Y donated $50,000 to the COVID-19 Response Fund hosted by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. The fund will provide flexible resources to Pioneer Valley nonprofit organizations serving populations most impacted by the crisis, such as the elderly, those without stable housing, families needing food, and those with particular health vulnerabilities.

Banking and Financial Services Special Coverage

Seeking a Return

Paul Scully says customers are feeling more optimistic about the future.

Paul Scully says customers are feeling more optimistic about the future.

While year one of the pandemic taught banks how to constantly pivot — to remote work, new modes of serving customers, and multiple phases of PPP loans — year two has brought more stability, even normalcy, but also new challenges, particularly inflation and supply-chain disruption that has made it more difficult for customers to save, borrow, and invest. That they’re doing all these things, to some degree, lends a healthy sense of optimism to 2022.

 

There’s nothing wrong with normalcy, Paul Scully said.

And if nothing else, the business of banking in 2021 was more stable than in 2020. That doesn’t mean all the economic issues individuals and businesses are dealing with have gone away, just that banks, and businesses in general, had to do less pivoting. Or at least have learned to roll with the punches.

“With vaccination rates increasing — or at least the availability of vaccinations up — we saw business picking up and customers feeling more confident coming into the banking centers,” said Scully, president and CEO of Country Bank. “And with commercial business picking up, people were feeling a little more optimistic with what the future has in store for them — where 2020 was all about trying to figure out what the heck was going on.”

What was going on last year were the early throes of a pandemic with no vaccines available, widespread shutdowns of economic activity, and banks more involved in PPP loans than normal commercial activity. “But we started to see, probably by the second quarter of this year, a normalizing, with customers feeling more confident and feeling more optimistic about the future and for their business.”

“With commercial business picking up, people were feeling a little more optimistic with what the future has in store for them — where 2020 was all about trying to figure out what the heck was going on.”

That’s a positive trend for commercial lending. Glenn Welch, president and CEO of Freedom Credit Union, was on an economic-outlook call with Visa recently, which projected a 7% uptick in 2022 in business investments in fixed assets, which means more borrowing. “That’s pretty healthy growth,” he told BusinessWest. “People are looking to borrow out there. Corporations’ financial statements are looking pretty strong the last couple of years, and a lot of consumers are sitting in pretty good financial shape; we’ll see whether they want to pull the trigger or not.”

On the consumer side, they have, with 2021 being the second straight year of double-digit growth on the mortgage-lending side at Freedom, along with healthy business in auto and home-equity loans. “And last year, deposits were up over 20%; this year, it was 10%. Our balance sheet, like many institutions, has grown pretty significantly since COVID hit.”

Tony Liberopoulos, Liberty Bank’s senior vice president and regional manager for Commercial Banking, said the bank’s new commercial-lending push in Western Mass. — it opened a loan-production office in East Longmeadow in June and has added three more employees since then — has gone well.

“We’ve been very happy. We had a very strong year; we’ve been very busy,” he told BusinessWest, noting that much of that success can be attributed to customers craving normalcy — in this case, face-to-face dealings with a stable team.

“With the amount of market disruption between mergers, community lenders leaving their jobs for other opportunities, and, in many instances, competitors still working from home, we’ve had opportunities to meet prospects and clients to grow our business,” he explained.

Tony Liberopoulos

Tony Liberopoulos says borrowers want access to digital tools, but mainly prefer face-to-face interactions.

“We’re firm believers that, while businesses have been struggling with things like COVID and supply chains, things will bounce back,” he went on. “And we’re seeing a lot of opportunities just by being in front of the clients. They want to see familiar faces; they don’t want to deal with just Webex and phone calls.”

Liberty’s lending numbers have borne that out, with 2021 figures close to what they were pre-COVID, Liberopoulos added. “That’s all we can ask for at this point. We’ve found customers and prospects still want face-to-face meetings; they want a normal relationship with banks.”

With that in mind, “I think the trend is toward more confidence in 2022 than there was in 2021,” he went on. “I think companies have seen their business come back since late May, early June, when a lot of COVID restrictions were lifted. We’re seeing businesses thrive again, and now they’re starting to invest in 2022. That’s what we’re counting on.”

 

Into the Digital Age

While many customers do, indeed, prefer to bank in person, Scully said, one of the big industry stories of the pandemic was how customers who had avoided digital banking options embraced them when they had to — and then stuck with them.

“More and more people developed a comfort level with technology,” he explained. “Many had a fear of the unknown — ‘will my money be safe?’ But the last 20 months allowed people to recalibrate a little bit, and we’re seeing more and more reliance on technology, which is great.”

Country even converted a small branch in the Ware Walmart to an interactive banking office with two interactive teller machines (ITMs). “They can absolutely do anything on the machine. The customer response has been really positive.”

Technology has helped banks in other ways — including combating a workforce shortage that has affected every industry and has not spared banks and credit unions.

“The fact that there aren’t a lot of employable people out there is taking its toll on businesses. Anyone in a customer-service business is looking for people; it doesn’t matter whether if you’re running a bank or a local coffee shop.”

“Honestly, it doesn’t matter what business you’re in these days, the fact that there aren’t a lot of employable people out there is taking its toll on businesses. Anyone in a customer-service business is looking for people; it doesn’t matter whether if you’re running a bank or a local coffee shop.

“But that customer expectation still exists for us, so technology has helped quite a bit,” Scully went on. “Customers during the pandemic became more familiar with doing their banking through technology, and their reduced reliance on coming into the branch reduced some of our traffic.”

At Country, while the banking centers operate five or six days a week with in-person staff, in the back-office areas, employees remain on a hybrid schedule, three days in the office, two remote — with Wednesdays mandatory for everyone to come in. “That’s more of a cultural thing for us, so folks would still be connected to one another.”

And the hybrid model has worked well, he noted. “We recognized early on, as we started to look at the reopening process, there are a lot of benefits to having a hybrid workforce. It’s like 2020 allowed us all to recalibrate, and ask why you’re spending an hour twice a day commuting to the office just to do work you were able to do at home for a year. We decided, ‘let’s rethink this.’”

Staffing has also been a challenge for Freedom, Welch said, which had to close down a branch or revert to drive-up only on occasion to deal with it.

Glenn Welch

Glenn Welch says workforce issues have not only affected staffing for banks and credit unions, but have begun to put pressure on wages.

“We’ve seen other institutions have the same issue. We’re certainly trying to hire people, but it’s been difficult. People leave, and it’s hard to get people interested in coming in and working. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a retail environment — that’s where most of our openings are, in branches — or it’s just people retiring or finding other things they want to do.”

The crunch has started to put pressure on wages, Welch added, which not only affects the banks themselves, but often doesn’t do enough to balance surging inflation for those earning the paychecks.

Liberopoulos said the shift toward digital banking options is a good one, and even though many of his commercial clients have wanted to do business in person, they, too, also want to be able to access the same digital experience — with its speed, flexibility, and personalization — that consumer clients have.

“Innovation is always the key to growth and sustainability. To survive, you need to invest not only in talent, but in products and services,” he said, noting that there’s certainly a need for both online options and a bricks-and-mortar presence.

 

Back to the Street

Communities and nonprofits saw their needs soar during the pandemic, too, and that’s one area community banks and credit unions continued to focus on in 2021. For example, over the summer, Country Bank — which has traditionally focused its giving on basic needs like food insecurity, homelessness, and healthcare — donated a total of $1 million to two regional food banks.

“To be a healthy community, residents in the community need to be in good health. Nutrition should be a right and not a privilege,” Scully said, noting that needs became more dire due to the pandemic, job losses, inflation, and an increase in addiction.

“If you have a heartbeat, you enjoy giving back, and it doesn’t have to be a certain size,” he said, turning the topic around as a challenge to others. “You may be able to donate only a dozen boxes of pasta, but that’s a dozen more boxes of pasta available for someone in need. What we like to do is partner with organizations and get their stories out there, so other people can jump on the bandwagon and be a part of it too.”

That speaks to Liberty’s priorities as well, Liberopoulos said. “We’re very in tune with our community and helping out the non-for-profits; we’ve done a lot of good things so far and continue to do that. That’s very important to us. We live, work, and lend in this area, and we want to support this area as well.”

Welch said Freedom has not only supported nonprofits, but gotten others involved by choosing a charity each month — A Bed for Every Child, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and Unify Against Bullying are just three recent examples — and involving members in the giving.

“We have been advertising that on our website and trying to get donations not only from the credit union, but from members who find the causes worthwhile and have the ability to donate,” he explained.

As for member business in the coming year, Welch knows inflation remains a drain on savings and assumes interest rates will rise at some point in an attempt to slow it down. “That could have an impact on people being able to borrow. Student-loan payments are starting up again, too, so people will have $300 or $400 coming out of their pocket for that in addition to increased prices and increased rates.”

These are problems that affect businesses, too, Scully said.

“With inflation and the cost of goods going up, and so many businesses looking at inflated utility expenses, now, with the shortage of qualified, available help, payroll tends to go up as well,” he noted. “Clearly there are a lot of challenges for folks in the business arena — which is why you really want to encourage people to shop local and keep Main Street storefronts occupied.”

Many businesses struggling with higher costs are still looking to borrow and invest, he added. While the PPP loans of 2020 were about keeping the lights on and keeping employees paid, for more traditional loans going forward, borrowers need to show a continuation of revenue streams without the PPP revenue to bolster them.

“For the most part, that’s exactly what happened. Businesses have returned to a good level,” Scully said. “Certainly, some are still taking their hits — hospitality was one of the hardest-hit, whether it’s food services, hotels, or entertainment venues. They had tough restrictions put on them last year. Those restrictions were lifted for the most part, but now they can’t rehire enough workers.”

These are all factors that might cause individuals and businesses to pull back from borrowing, he added.

“What will the impact of inflation be? When will interest rates start to rise a little? The big piece that looms for me is employment: where is the workforce going to be? Will there be enough employable people for all of the jobs? We’ve heard about this Great Resignation. It’s real.”

Still, like other financial leaders we’ve spoken with recently, Scully remains optimistic. “All indications suggest 2022 should be an OK year from a business perspective.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

People on the Move

Greenfield Savings Bank (GSB) recently announced six employee appointments and promotions.

Jocelyn Alvord

Jocelyn Alvord

Jocelyn Alvord was promoted to manager at the Shelburne Falls branch office. She will be responsible for overseeing the operations of the branch. She has been with GSB since 2015, starting as a teller and then quickly moving up to super banker in the new GSB office in Hadley. She was promoted to assistant manager in the Hadley branch before moving back to Shelburne Falls, where she has been serving as assistant branch manager. Alvord actively participates in civic and charitable events such as Moonlight Magic and the Bridge of Flowers Road Races in Shelburne Falls and Monte’s March for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. She has volunteered at the Shelburne Falls Visitor Center and helped coordinate the Giving Tree Program with the Mary Lyons Foundation to provide holiday gifts to local educators.

Sherie Lewis

Sherie Lewis

Sherie Lewis has been named vice president and Operations officer. In her new role, she oversees the Deposit and Loan Operations teams including deposit processing, operations administration and quality control, digital, and loan operations. She is leading a variety of projects to enhance the bank’s use of technology, improve automation, and increase efficiency. In addition, she works closely with other departments of the bank to ensure seamless operation and regulatory compliance. She joined GSB with more than 20 years of banking experience.

Lisa McKenna

Lisa McKenna

Lisa McKenna has been promoted to assistant vice president and Conway branch manager. She has worked at GSB for more than 30 years, starting as a teller in 1988 at the main office in Greenfield. She then worked in GSB’s Customer Service department and was previously manager of Greenfield and South Deerfield. She was most recently assistant vice president and the branch manager for South Deerfield and Conway before shifting exclusively to Conway’s branch manager. McKenna is very active in the local community, volunteering for the Franklin County chapter of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, the Greenfield Kiwanis Club, and the South Deerfield Women’s Club.

Josh Mozeleski

Josh Mozeleski

Josh Mozeleski has been named investment officer and Infinex investment executive. In his role as Infinex investment executive, he will be able to offer access to insurance and investment products through Infinex Investments. He joins GSB as a securities registered investment executive with more than nine years in the banking industry. He obtained a Massachusetts individual producer license as well as both the FINRA Series 6 and Series 63 registrations, plus a Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry license. He is also a Massachusetts notary public. An active volunteer in the community, he has previously helped organize a food drive at Open Pantry Community Services in Springfield. Most recently, he helped run his local Toys for Tots program.

Vyeluv “Mpress” Nembhard

Vyeluv “Mpress” Nembhard

Vyeluv “Mpress” Nembhard joined Greenfield Savings Bank (GSB) in May as a CRA analyst and Community Outreach officer. She assists the vice president of Compliance/CRA officer in creating and updating financial aid outreach presentations to a wide range of community partners, businesses, schools, and customers, focusing on low- to moderate-income applicants and minority/women-owned businesses. Nembhard is active in the local community, including being a commissioner of Greenfield’s Human Rights Commission, a member of the Greenfield Cultural Council, and CEO of her nonprofit, UACSAM. She also produces the “Moving Mountains Media” program on Greenfield Community Television. She most recently organized Greenfield’s first annual Juneteenth cultural and youth event celebration.

Kimberly Zabek

Kimberly Zabek

• Finally, Kimberly Zabek has been promoted to Greenfield Savings Bank’s South Deerfield branch manager and officer. In that role, she oversees the branch’s daily responsibilities, focusing on local business development. She has been in banking for more than 25 years and with Greenfield Savings Bank for more than 10 years, most recently serving as the assistant branch manager in Hadley. In addition to her managerial role, Zabek has been featured in many of the bank’s advertisements, including voicing certain radio spots, in GSB Teller Connect/ATMs and e-statement promotional videos, and on the Teller Connect/ATM welcome screens. Recently, she voiced animated videos for a GSB career fair. She also represents the bank at community events around the Pioneer Valley, such as the Northampton and Greenfield Pride events, the Hot Chocolate Run in Northampton, and Moonlight Magic in Shelburne Falls.

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Molly Gray, president and chief administrative officer of the Baystate Health Eastern Region, has announced her retirement, effective Oct. 9. Ronald Bryant, president of Baystate Noble Hospital and Baystate Franklin Medical Center – Northern Region, will extend his role to become president of Baystate Health Regional Hospitals, which also includes Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer, which Gray currently serves as president and chief administrative officer of the Baystate Health Eastern Region. Gray has served Baystate Health and the community for 34 years. She has held seven roles with progressive responsibility, culminating in her role as president and chief administrative officer for the Baystate Health Eastern Region, including Baystate Wing Hospital and Baystate Mary Lane Outpatient Center. She joined Baystate Health in 1988 as a professional nurse and transitioned to a managerial role as a level IV nurse manager, a unit manager, and then Women and Infants’ manager. An advocate for children’s health issues, Gray assumed the role of director of Women’s Services and Baystate Children’s Hospital in 2003. In 2013, she was promoted to vice president of Baystate Health Children’s Hospital, Women’s Services, Behavioral Health, Observation and Emergency Services. In 2016, she assumed the role of vice president and chief Nursing officer for the Baystate Health Eastern Region and was promoted in 2019 to her current role. Bryant joined Baystate Health in 2015 as president of Baystate Noble Hospital. Previously, he was executive vice president and CEO for the Noble Hospital Health System. In 2018, he was promoted to president of both Baystate Noble Hospital and Baystate Franklin Medical Center. He brings a wealth of leadership experience and a passion for positive change within the Western Mass. healthcare community. During his time as president of Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield and Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, he successfully developed the strategic and operational plans for the two hospitals, comprised of 200 combined beds and nearly 1,800 team members. He will now oversee three hospitals with nearly 300 combined beds and more than 2,300 Baystate team members.

•••••

Christina Royal

Christina Royal

Holyoke Community College (HCC) President Christina Royal will retire from the college after the 2022-23 academic year, she announced today. Her last day will be July 14, 2023. Royal, 50, said she is not leaving HCC for another job and has no specific plans. Royal started at HCC in January 2017. She is the fourth president in the 75-year history of HCC and not only the first woman to hold the position, but the first openly gay and first bi-racial person to serve HCC as president. Presidential search plans will begin immediately. Before coming to HCC, Royal served as provost and vice president of Academic Affairs at Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights, Minn. Prior to that, she was associate vice president for E-learning and Innovation at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland and director of technology-assisted learning for the School of Graduate and Continuing Education at Marist College. She holds a PhD in education from Capella University and a master’s degree in educational psychology and a bachelor’s degree in math from Marist. In her announcement, Royal cited some of the milestones of her tenure: working collaboratively to develop HCC’s first strategic plan, advancing equity across the institution, and investing in programs to support students’ basic needs, such as creating the President’s Student Emergency Fund (to provide grants to student facing immediate financial needs), opening Homestead Market (the first campus store in Massachusetts to accept SNAP benefits), partnering with Holyoke Housing Authority (to help students find affordable housing), and launching the Itsy Bitsy Child Watch Program (to provide HCC student-parents access to free, short-term care for their children). Other highlights include opening the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Race Street; reopening the HCC Campus Center after a two-year, $43.5 million renovation; establishing El Centro, a bilingual center dedicated to the needs of Latinx students; weathering a global pandemic; and celebrating HCC’s 75th anniversary as the oldest two-year college in Massachusetts.

•••••

With 22 years of experience as a certified safety professional (CSP), Scott Smith has joined Tighe & Bond as director of Safety and Health. Smith has worked on a global scale facilitating hazard analysis, reducing costs, risks, and recordable injuries for companies across North America, Canada, and Asia. As director of Health and Safety for Tighe & Bond, Smith will develop and maintain programs, procedures, policies, and training to mitigate safety and health hazards and risks to personnel. He will work closely with the firm’s safety steering committee and lead a team of safety representatives across Tighe & Bond’s business lines and 12 offices. Smith has an advanced education in environmental health and safety, receiving a master’d degree in industrial hygiene from UMass Lowell and a doctor of law and policy degree in occupational safety from Northeastern University. Additionally, he continues his education on the latest policies and practices by active involvement in the American Society of Safety Professionals, the American Industrial Hygiene Assoc., and the National Safety Council. Smith has been an active participant and change leader on corporate boards and worked with global industry groups to develop integrated safety and health-management frameworks. He has published multiple peer-reviewed articles addressing safety integration, adult education, and hazards assessment, and continues to perform original research.

•••••

John Sieracki

John Sieracki

The office of Institutional Advancement at Holyoke Community College (HCC) recently welcomed John Sieracki as its first leadership gift officer and manager of campaign initiatives. Sieracki joins HCC after nearly 19 years at Mass Humanities, where he started in 2003 as director of Development. In that role, he built a multi-faceted Development office from scratch that now has a thriving major donor program, a robust and engaged volunteer group, a prestigious awards dinner, and multi-platform annual appeals. He also managed a portfolio of major gift prospects resulting in five- and six-figure donations and oversaw capital campaign planning. Prior to that, he served as director of Development for the Northern Forest Center and Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust. His 30-year career also includes stints in development at Landmark College, New York Law School, New York Academy of Sciences, and Children of Alcoholics Foundation. He has also been active in the Western Mass. community as a volunteer, serving as a board member and president of the Amherst Committee for a Better Chance program, and treasurer of Blues to Green, producer of the annual Springfield Jazz and Roots Festival. In his new role, Sieracki will manage a portfolio of donors and prospects and seek new major gifts and deeper philanthropic relationships. He will also manage and support the efforts of HCC’s capital-campaign steering committee, work closely with the college’s board of trustees and HCC Foundation’s board of directors on fundraising involvement, and organize and lead other campaign-related initiatives. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Delaware and a master’s degree in fine arts in creative writing and poetry from UMass Amherst, where he received the Best New Poets Award from the Department of English.

•••••

Bacon Wilson, P.C. announced that eight of its attorneys have been named to Best Lawyers in America for 2023. They are: Kenneth Albano, recognized in the category of business organizations (including LLCs and partnerships); Gary Breton, banking and finance law; Gina Barry, elder law; Hyman Darling, elder law; Mark Tanner, litigation – real estate; Michael Katz, bankruptcy and creditor debtor rights/insolvency and reorganization law; Peter MacConnell, real-estate law; and Stephen Krevalin, family law. Daniel McKellick was also recognized in Best Lawyers’ Ones to Watch in America for his work in real-estate law. The firm was also recognized in Best Lawyers’ Best Law Firms in U.S. News & World Report. The firm is regionally ranked in tier 1 in banking and finance law, tier 2 in business organizations (including LLCs and partnerships), tier 2 in elder law, and tier 2 in family law.

•••••

Bulkley Richardson partners Mark Cress and John Pucci were named 2023 Lawyer of the Year in their respective practice areas by Best Lawyers, in partnership with U.S. News Media Group. Cress was named the 2023 Lawyer of the Year for bankruptcy and creditor debtor rights/insolvency and reorganization law and was also recognized in 2022 as Lawyer of the Year for his work in the area of corporate law. He leads the firm’s banking, finance, and bankruptcy practice group and has significant experience representing banks and other financial institutions, for-profit and not-for-profit entities, and individual clients in connection with all forms of financing and business transactions. He also represents parties in creditor-debtor relationships and appears on behalf of creditor parties in proceedings before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Pucci was named the 2023 Lawyer of the Year for white-collar criminal defense and has held that title for 10 of the past 13 years for his success as a litigator. He co-chairs the firm’s independent investigations practice and represents individuals and companies in complex civil and criminal litigation of all kinds in both state and federal court, as well as in responding to government investigations and in conducting corporate internal investigations. He has particular experience in the areas of white-collar criminal defense and state and federal regulatory agency matters. Lawyer of the Year rankings are awarded to one lawyer per practice area and region. Honorees receive this award based on their high overall peer feedback within specific practice areas and metropolitan regions.

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Flying Cloud Institute (FCI) has hired Angela Parker as a science and art educator. In this role, she will lead the summer program, vacation camps, classroom residencies, and family STEAM challenge events, and work with the FCI team to inspire the next generation of artists and engineers. She brings multifaceted K-12 educational experiences to the organization as it continues to partner with local school districts to bring meaningful experiences to students. Parker’s past experience includes initiating a multi-site STEAM museum program for the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in collaboration with the Connecticut Science Center. She also launched a tour titled “STEAM: Sketch Like a Scientist!” that drew connections between the skills used by artists and scientists. While at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, Va., she worked with teaching artists to plan school tours that incorporated studio art activities, ranging from bookmaking to ceramics. As a classroom teacher at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy, she created interdisciplinary learning experiences for K-12 students, and at Capital and Asnuntuck community colleges, she trained and supported adult students.

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Nicole Skelly

Nicole Skelly

Berkshire Bank announced the promotion of Nicole Skelly to first vice president, regional financial center manager for the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts. She will manage the daily operations of financial centers in the Pioneer Valley, which includes Springfield and surrounding towns. Skelly brings more than 25 years of banking experience to her new role at Berkshire Bank. Most recently, she was vice president and senior branch officer of the Springfield offices, which include multiple sites at Berkshire Bank. Before joining Berkshire, she was a personal banker for United Bank. Outside of work, Skelly is a 2014 Graduate of Leadership Pioneer Valley, where she learned how to address the challenges and opportunities of this region. She also volunteers at events such as the Springfield Pride Parade, the Springfield Boys and Girls Club, and the Irish Cultural Center of New England.

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Jeremy Payson

Jeremy Payson

Tony Worden, president and CEO of Greenfield Cooperative Bank and its Northampton Cooperative Bank division, announced that Jeremy Payson has joined the bank as the new senior vice president – controller, based out of its King Street, Northampton location. Payson comes to Greenfield Cooperative Bank with many years of financial-planning and analysis experience, most recently with Northern Bank and Berkshire Bank, and was previously the treasurer for Big Y Foods Inc. He holds an MBA from Western New England University.

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The Peace Development Fund announced the addition of two new foundation associates, Sophia Trifone and Sonya Epstein, in its Amherst office. Trifone will oversee the organization’s communication work, including social media, newsletters, press outreach, and annual publications. Epstein will be focused on donor data management, ensuring accurate accounting of donations, grant requests, and support for fiscally sponsored organizations. After earning her associate degree from Holyoke Community College, Trifone began her career with a prominent local nonprofit focusing on arts and culture in Holyoke’s Puerto Rican cultural district. In her time there, she notably fundraised for signature events and projects, hosted walking tours of the city’s artwork, collaborated with other community organizations, and aided in weekly food distribution. Epstein is a community organizer who has been deeply involved with student activism around restorative justice, free public higher education, and LGBTQ liberation for many years. They are an immigrant from Belarus and studied social thought & political economy and sociology at UMass Amherst.

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John Bechtold

John Bechtold

Eggtooth Productions announced that board member and frequent collaborator John Bechtold has been appointed to the role of creative director for the company. Working closely with founder and Artistic Director Linda McInerney, Bechtold’s role will be to help guide the creative vision for Eggtooth’s original works. Following award-winning experiences at Eggtooth’s Double Take Fringe Festivals in 2011-2013, Bechtold’s first full-length production with Eggtooth came in 2016 with an immersive version of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, taking over the entirety of the then-vacant Arts Block (now Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center) in downtown Greenfield. With an emphasis on site-inspired design, he has been dubbed the “Valley’s genius of immersive theater” by the Valley Advocate, with a list of immersive works including Sam’s Place (Shea Theater), Stagehand (Shea Theater and Academy of Music), Before You Became Improbable (Emily Dickinson Museum), and Gem of the Valley (Chester Theatre).

Company Notebook Departments

Tighe & Bond Honored for Advancing Women in Engineering Field

WESTFIELD — The Connecticut chapter of the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS CT) honored Tighe & Bond as Employer of the Year during its recent annual awards dinner on April 14 at St. Clement’s Castle in Portland, Conn. The recognition applauded the firm’s support of WTS, and for providing ongoing opportunities to advance women in their engineering and transportation careers. “It’s an honor for our firm to receive this award, and we are thrilled that WTS CT selected us,” said David Pinsky, president and CEO of Tighe & Bond, who accepted the award on the firm’s behalf. “Our firm takes recruiting, retaining, and advancing women in engineering seriously. More than 30% of Tighe & Bond’s 270-plus employees are female, and approximately 14% of these women hold key management and/or leadership positions at our firm. Last year, more than 30% of Tighe & Bond’s new hires were female, and this year the number is even higher.” For more than 18 years, WTS CT has been dedicated to advancing women in transportation. It provides a forum for transportation professionals to meet and interact, sharing experiences and expertise. Member benefits include professional development, career support, mentorship, and student outreach.

Country Bank Sponsors Financial Literary Fair at WPI

WARE — Recently, Country Bank sponsored its first Financial Literacy Fair for college students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester. This program was a partnership with WPI’s Student Aid and Financial Literacy Department. The event featured the Next Step, a financial-literacy exercise where college students are asked to step into their very near future by visiting 10 financially informative booths to make real-world decisions. “Students learn about many of the next steps that they will encounter after they graduate from college,” said Jodie Gerulaitis, the bank’s financial education officer. “They learn that the decisions they make today will affect their finances in the future, such as the unexpected expenses of owning a vehicle, saving for retirement, renting an apartment, or owning a home, and how location can be a deciding factor in their finances.” The booths the students visit include credit, housing, student loans, insurance, budgeting, fraud prevention, transportation, savings and investing, career development, and employment benefits. The goal is for students to have a better understanding of their future fiscal responsibilities. They learn about balancing a budget and making educated choices about their finances. They also learn how one financial choice can greatly impact another.

Chamberlain Group Named 2016 Exporter of the Year

BOSTON — The Small Business Administration (SBA) has named the Great Barrington-based Chamberlain Group the 2016 Exporter of the Year for Massachusetts and New England. “Lisa and Eric Chamberlain are saving lives with the products they create in the medical-simulation industry,” said Robert Nelson, SBA Massachusetts district director. “They are connecting with new customers all over the globe and establishing an international distribution network throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Mexico.” Founded in 1999, the Chamberlain Group designs and builds mimetic organs for surgical and interventional training. Working in close collaboration with medical-device companies and teaching hospitals, the company creates models that address training needs for clinicians, sales, marketing, device research, and development. In 2000, Lisa Chamberlain became a client of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center (MSBDC), and her business plan for the Chamberlain Group won first prize in the UMass Five College Business Plan Competition. In 2003, the company was recognized with the Governor’s Entrepreneurial Spirit Award for spurring job creation and economic development.
Today, after 17 years in business, the company has grown to 21 employees, and it exports more than 500 products directly from its Great Barrington office to more than 50 countries worldwide. “We’re honored and delighted to be recipients of this year’s Exporter of the Year awards in the Commonwealth and the New England region,” Chamberlain said. “Eric and I have been well guided by the advice and encouragement we have received from the MSBDC and the Mass Export Center. It’s made the process of growing our business and our international reach viable, knowing we have subject experts to consult with who have our best interests at heart.” The company was nominated by Ann Pieroway, regional director of the Massachusetts Export Center.

44 Business Capital Becomes Division of Berkshire Bank

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Bank completed its asset purchase transaction with 44 Business Capital, LLC of Blue Bell, Pa., and Parke Bank of Sewell, N.J., under which Berkshire Bank has acquired the business model of 44 Business Capital and certain other assets of Parke Bank’s Small Business Administration (SBA) 7(a) loan program operations. 44 Business Capital is now operating as a direct small-business lending division of Berkshire Bank, reporting up through the bank’s already-established small-business line, and originating SBA loans for Berkshire Bank. 44 Business Capital has consistently been one of the top SBA originators and a market-leading provider and facilitator of SBA-guaranteed loans to small businesses in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C. 44 Business Capital’s entire team, along with its leadership — Greg Poehlmann, Phil Rapone, Jeff Sherry, and Joe Dreyer — have joined Berkshire Bank. “We’re pleased to welcome the employees and customers of 44 Business Capital,” said Berkshire Bank CEO Michael Daly. “This combination increases the client offerings for both companies, diversifies our loan portfolio, and provides a valuable future growth channel.” Added Poehlmann, senior vice president of Business Banking for Berkshire Bank and former president of 44 Business Capital, LLC, “as a division of Berkshire Bank, 44 Business Capital will continue to leverage our staff’s experience to build out an exceptional SBA lending platform that will serve the SBA’s mission on a larger scale. We are extremely excited to become part of Berkshire Bank, and look forward to establishing ourselves collectively as a major player in the SBA-lending market.”

Circle K Convenience Store Opens in Holyoke

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce President Kathleen Anderson, and Circle K franchisee Yasser (Sunny) Hussain gathered on May 5 for the grand opening of the new Circle K convenience store at 337 Appleton St. in Holyoke. Hussain, the site’s owner, took a vacant and abandoned building in the downtown area and completely renovated the space into a new, state-of-the-art Circle K convenience store. The store is open 24 hours a day and carries everything from morning coffee to late-night snacks, as well as a wide selection of cold drinks, fresh roller grill items, and staples like milk and eggs.

Comcast Spotlight Leases Space at Agawam Crossing

AGAWAM — Comcast Spotlight has signed a lease for a new, 3,157-square-foot space in Agawam Crossing, located at 200 Silver St. in Agawam. This is the final space at Agawam Crossing, a class A professional office building. Comcast Spotlight recently moved into its new home alongside Baystate Rehabilitation, Life Laboratories, and Associates in Women’s Health, among others. Comcast Spotlight is an advertising sales company that provides video solutions to local, regional, and national businesses through television and digital advertising. It provides local market coverage across multiple platforms (cable TV, satellite, telco, online, VOD) and can target customers geographically, demographically, and by message to reach specific audience segments. Development Associates of Agawam was the leasing agent and project manager for the construction of Comcast Spotlight’s new offices. The tenant was represented by Bob Peterson, managing broker at REAL Partners, LLC, and Daniel Moore of NAI Plotkin of Springfield.

Friendly’s Sells Retail Ice-cream, Manufacturing Division

WILBRAHAM — Friendly’s Ice Cream announced it has sold its retail ice-cream and manufacturing business to Texas-based Dean Foods Co. for $155 million in cash. “We are thrilled at the prospects the Friendly’s Ice Cream acquisition brings to Dean Foods,” said Dean CEO Gregg Tanner. “Coupled with the momentum of Dean Foods’ current regional brands, the Friendly’s brand will be a catalyst in our strategy to grow our existing ice-cream business and branded portfolio. Friendly’s is an ideal complement to our other heritage brands across the country and fills a manufacturing and retail ice-cream void in our nationwide footprint.” Dean Foods is the largest processor and direct-to-store distributor of fresh fluid milk and other dairy and dairy-case products in the U.S., the company said. Friendly’s Ice Cream had $166 million in net sales of ice cream to supermarkets in 2015. After the transaction closes late in the second quarter of 2016, Dean Foods plans to continue producing ice cream at the current Friendly’s plant in Wilbraham, which employs about 200 people. “Friendly’s ice cream strongly resonates with consumers throughout the Northeast,” Tanner added. “Very similar to the traditions shared by consumers who grew up enjoying our existing regional milk and ice-cream brands, such as Mayfield or Dean’s, we believe the Friendly’s Ice Cream brand represents and promotes what Dean Foods has built itself around and is a great fit in our branded portfolio. Dean Foods is rooted in the traditional goodness of dairy, making Friendly’s more than just a good business and financial opportunity.” Added Friendly’s President and CEO John Maguire, “today marks a new chapter for Friendly’s retail and manufacturing ice-cream business. Dean Foods Company has recognized the growth momentum that Friendly’s retail ice cream has experienced over the last five years, and I am thrilled that Dean Foods will be the ongoing steward of the retail ice-cream business, led by the current experienced retail and creamery teams.” Friendly’s Restaurants, which boasts 260 locations in the U.S., will continue to be owned and operated by an affiliate of Sun Capital Partners Inc. and will license use of the Friendly’s trademark to Dean’s under a license agreement entered into as part of the transaction.

Keller Williams Pitches in at Springfield Boys & Girls Club

SPRINGFIELD — On Thursday, May 12, Keller Williams Realty associates around the globe donated hundreds of thousands of hours to their local communities during RED Day. Introduced in 2009, RED Day, which stands for renew, energize, and donate, is Keller Williams Realty’s annual day of service. Each year on the second Thursday of May, associates spend the day away from their businesses serving worthy organizations and causes in their communities. As part of the RED Day effort, Keller Williams Realty – Pioneer Valley chose to spend the day with the Springfield Boys & Girls Club at 481 Carew St. to paint the inside and outside of the facility, paint parking-lot lines, and landscape. The Springfield Boys & Girls Club provides, in a safe environment, programs that inspire, educate, guide, enable, and support all young people to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, respectful citizens and leaders. “RED Day is built on the belief that people can and should come together to achieve extraordinary things to help others,” said Mike Dombrowski, associate partner of Keller Williams Realty – Pioneer Valley. “It just happens to be a one-day expression of the constant state of the Keller Williams culture. We see a need, and we take action to help the Springfield community.” Since the first RED Day in 2009, Keller Williams associates have given almost a half-million hours of community service through activities ranging from food and blood drives to cleaning up trash in public parks; from revamping gardens at nursing homes to rebuilding homes and schools for community members in need. For more information about RED Day, visit www.kw.com/kw/redday.

Country Bank Supports Palmer Celebrations

PALMER — Representatives from Country Bank presented the Palmer 300th Anniversary Committee and the Celebrate Palmer Committee with donations totaling $5,000. “We are so pleased to be a major sponsor of both of these meaningful events,” said Shelley Regin, senior vice president, Marketing at Country Bank. “We look forward to celebrating with the town of Palmer, and we commend both committees for their tireless effort to make them a success.” For more information on these events, visit palmer300th.org or townofpalmer.com. For more information about Country Bank, call (800) 322-8233 or visit countrybank.com.

Daily News

HATFIELD — The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts received a community-impact grant from KeyBank Foundation in the amount of $225,000, payable over three years. The funding will support the Food Bank’s goal of increasing the availability of culturally appropriate food at its 25 Mobile Food Bank distribution sites.

The Mobile Food Bank delivers a truck full of free fresh and non-perishable groceries from the Food Bank’s warehouse directly to a community site for immediate distribution to residents. The program reaches underserved populations throughout Western Mass. that do not have access to healthy foods, including families, seniors, and children. Much of the Food Bank’s culturally appropriate inventory for underserved communities must be purchased with funding raised from private foundations, businesses, and individuals.

“KeyBank is committed to partnering with community organizations whose mission it is to improve the lives of underserved populations and neighborhoods where we do business,” said Matthew Hummel, KeyBank Connecticut and Western Massachusetts market president. “The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts works tirelessly to reach the populations having the highest rates of food insecurity and poverty, including some of the most culturally diverse areas in the state. We are proud to support their Mobile Food Bank program to help reach all residents in need with nutritious and culturally sensitive food supplies.”

KeyBank Foundation grants are made under Key’s National Community Benefits Plan established in 2017, which has already delivered more than $29 billion in lending and investments across the bank’s national footprint supporting affordable-housing and community-development projects, home and small-business lending in low- and moderate-income communities, and philanthropic efforts targeted toward education, workforce development, and safe, vital neighborhoods.

Daily News

WARE — Country Bank donated more than $130,000 to local food pantries throughout the year to assist with supplying food to its communities.

The Greater Boston Food Bank recently reported that food insecurity in Massachusetts reached an all-time high in November. The state has experienced a 59% increase since 2018, representing more than 1 million people in need of food assistance. Most people are using food pantries for the first time, and food insecurity is projected to increase to 81% for children.

As part of Country Bank’s “Season of Giving” campaign, it donated additional funds to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the Worcester County Food Bank. The donation was to honor its banking customers and partners in place of traditional holiday gifts. “This was such a great idea and so wonderful to help others at this difficult time,” said Therese Rakouskas, owner of Five Star Gardens in Palmer.

Added Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, “we’re so grateful to Country Bank for its social investment of $20,000 in the Food Bank’s mission to feed our neighbors in need at this critical time. With this support, we’ll be able to provide 40,000 meals to households struggling to make ends meet and put healthy food on the table. For every dollar donated, we provide the equivalent of four meals,.”

Jodie Gerulaitis, vice president, Community Relations at Country Bank, noted that “the pandemic has undoubtedly placed a strain on our local food pantries. As a community partner, we are fully committed to helping those in need throughout this pandemic.”