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Holiday Hope: Carroll County Food Sunday’s ‘tremendous’ executive director helped strengthen organization’s community involvement

Executive director Ed Leister looks over the distribution of Thanksgiving dinners at Carroll County Food Sunday in Westminster Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. Leister, who has served at the helm of the nonprofit for 10 years, will retire at the end of the year.
Executive director Ed Leister looks over the distribution of Thanksgiving dinners at Carroll County Food Sunday in Westminster Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. Leister, who has served at the helm of the nonprofit for 10 years, will retire at the end of the year. (Dylan Slagle / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Ed Leister has devoted a decade of service to Carroll County Food Sunday as its executive director, with years of experience through fundraising and community involvement.

Leister plans to retire at the end of the year and Caroline Babylon will take over as executive director Jan. 4. Leister will continue to work until March to ease Babylon’s transition to her new role and said he is looking forward to bringing her on board.

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Leister, born and raised in Carroll County, served as senior vice president of Taneytown Bank & Trust Company for 42 years prior to joining the Carroll County Food Sunday executive board. He joined to assist with fundraising in the first year, but became the executive director when the position became vacant that following summer.

Leister said the generosity of people and local businesses in the community are what makes Carroll County a special place to live and he will miss that camaraderie.

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“Our charity couldn’t exist without the generosity of these churches, the organizations, the service clubs, businesses, and individuals,” Leister said. “We run with a core of 70 volunteers, and myself and the food bank manager run the organization as volunteers with a small stipend.

Executive director Ed Leister looks over the distribution of Thanksgiving dinners at Carroll County Food Sunday in Westminster Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. Leister, who has served at the helm of the nonprofit for 10 years, will retire at the end of the year.
Executive director Ed Leister looks over the distribution of Thanksgiving dinners at Carroll County Food Sunday in Westminster Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. Leister, who has served at the helm of the nonprofit for 10 years, will retire at the end of the year. (Dylan Slagle / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

“We don’t really have any paid employees or anything, it’s all volunteer.”

Carroll County Food Sunday is one of five beneficiaries of Holiday Hope, the Times’ annual campaign aimed at driving donations to organizations that help those in need in the Carroll County community. Now in its 22nd year, Holiday Hope raised more than $120,000 for local nonprofit organizations last year. In addition to Food Sunday, the Times and partner NWSB Bank, a division of ACNB Bank, raise funds for Access Carroll, Carroll Hospice, Human Services Programs of Carroll County and The Shepherd’s Staff.

Food Sunday distributes a weekly, nutritionally balanced grocery package based on household size and is meant to last three to four days. These packages include meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, breads, and milk. The organization serves about 450 families per week at locations in Westminster, Eldersburg, and Taneytown.

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Dominic Jollie founded Carroll Food Sunday in 1982. Members of his church would bring in food to be distributed to people in need and Jollie would deliver the items from the trunk of his car after church services. Awareness of Jollie’s efforts continued to grow, and he developed the idea to serve even more families in crisis.

Leister specializes in the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts and works closely with CCFS food bank administrator Dennis Fahey, who has been with the organization for 18 years.

“We’ve become much more efficient,” Fahey said. “Ed started assigning responsibilities to local people on the board who weren’t really involved in the operation, more or less watchdogs. Since then, Ed always assigns board members specific duties, so we’ve got a working board now.

Volunteers, from left, Richard Sperry of Eldersburg, Norman Ravenscroft of Finksburg and Pat Edwards of Finksburg working quickly to prepare bag of groceries for distribution to clients at Carroll Food Sunday in Westminster on Tuesday, June 30.
Volunteers, from left, Richard Sperry of Eldersburg, Norman Ravenscroft of Finksburg and Pat Edwards of Finksburg working quickly to prepare bag of groceries for distribution to clients at Carroll Food Sunday in Westminster on Tuesday, June 30. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

“Everybody has a specific responsibility that’s usually tied to their former job experience.”

Carroll Food Sunday distributed about 560 turkeys to families for Thanksgiving last week, in addition to their weekly grocery package.

“We want everybody to have a nice Thanksgiving dinner, just like I do with my family,” Leister said. “We want people to be able to enjoy that as well, and Holiday Hope has been a godsend to us. We normally receive about $25,000 from it and this has been a tough year.”

Leister said Carroll Food Sunday’s fundraising efforts took a hit because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the organization has done mail-in requests for money and continues to receive support from churches, service clubs, and other local organizations as well.

Food donations have dropped during the pandemic as have the number of people who have come to receive items. Leister said about one-third of people they serve are 60-plus years old and are afraid to return because of the virus.

“We are social distancing, we are servicing them through plastic screens because I need to protect myself, my staff, and volunteers as well,” Leister said. “Most of our volunteers are 70-plus years of age and everybody wears masks and gloves. We take temperatures when they come in … it’s a scary thing.

“We assume the elderly people are getting their food elsewhere or maybe someone is picking it up for them from somewhere.”

Volunteers, from left, John Snavlin of Westminster, Heidi Woods, of Eldersburg and Brian Alles of Taylorsville put together food for clients at Carroll County Food Sunday in Westminster Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.
Volunteers, from left, John Snavlin of Westminster, Heidi Woods, of Eldersburg and Brian Alles of Taylorsville put together food for clients at Carroll County Food Sunday in Westminster Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (Dylan Slagle / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The Maryland Food Bank, where Fahey regularly purchases food for Carroll County Food Sunday, has seen a shortage in certain foods, but Leister said CCFS continues to overcome.

“We’ve improved a lot of things here,” Fahey said. “When I first came here, nothing or very little was palletized … now, everything is palletized. We changed the doors on our refrigeration units so that we can move things in and out with pallet jacks. Since we’re in county space, there wasn’t a lot of capital improvement that we could do other than buying building material and updating the refrigeration units.

“Ed’s really going to be missed. He was a tremendous executive director.”

Norman Ravenscroft of Finksburg places a completed bag into a bin, working with other volunteers to prepare groceries for distribution to clients at Carroll Food Sunday in Westminster on Tuesday, June 30.
Norman Ravenscroft of Finksburg places a completed bag into a bin, working with other volunteers to prepare groceries for distribution to clients at Carroll Food Sunday in Westminster on Tuesday, June 30. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)
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