Person of the Week
Continuing a Family Legacy by Serving Feed Branford Kids
As treasurer of Feed Branford Kids (FBK), Renee Pantani hopes to help grow local support provided by the non-profit founded by her late mother-in-law, Johanne Pantani. She invites supporters to help by purchasing tickets to Onofrio Total Construction’s annual FBK benefit, a Murder Mystery Fundraiser, set for Friday, Sept. 20 at Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club. (Photo courtesy Renee Pantani )
Back to school is a busy time for Feed Branford Kids (FBK), but this year, the Branford non-profit hopes to serve more kids than ever before, says Renee Pantani.
It’s an especially important mission for Renee, who is continuing a family legacy by serving as treasurer of FBK, an organization founded by her mother-in-law, the late Johanne Pantani.
On Friday, Sept. 20, Renee invites supporters to come out to FBK’s annual fundraiser: an elegant Murder Mystery Fundraiser at the Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club. The swanky dinner party will recall halcyon days of Hollywood’s high glamour, with Renee and the FBK team hoping attendees will join them in dressing the part for a night of fun.
The night kicks off with cocktails (open bar) at 6:30 followed by a murderously good time and a delicious dinner at 7:30 p.m.
“Last year was so much fun. It was set in the ‘20s; we had people who came dressed up, and it was wonderful,” says Renee. “This year we’re in the ‘40s. It’s Old Hollywood. We’re expecting it to be a really fun night.”
A red carpet and paparazzi will greet guests as they enter the glitzy event, which will also feature a fun photo booth, enviable raffle prizes, and exciting items set for silent and live auctions. Last year’s professional acting crew will be back to infiltrate the dining room and figure out whodunnit by the time dessert comes around. Tickets, $100, are available on online now at www.feedbranfordkids.net.
The event is put on by Onofrio’s Total Construction of Branford with assistance from FBK volunteers as an annual fundraiser for FBK. The company has sponsored fundraising golf tourneys for FBK in the past and is this is second annual murder mystery it has put on to benefit FBK, says Renee.
“We couldn’t do it without the Onofrio’s. They’ve been such a big supporter of FBK,” says Renee.
Another vital supporter of FBK has been the Khatoon Foundation, formerly known as the Kamran Farid Foundation, which has given more than $50,000 since 2014, including a recent $10,000 donation in July.
Non-profit FBK was founded 2012 as an all-volunteer effort by the late by Johanne Pantani. To establish FBK, Johanne gathered her cousin Carol Stewart and friends Pat Andriole, Sue Barnes, and Wendy Cowles as charter members. Sadly, Pantani passed away in February 2018, but her legacy continues through the efforts of volunteers and the FBK board. Renee began serving on the board as treasurer two years ago.
“It’s something that’s near and dear to my heart, and something I do for her—to honor her,” says Renee. “And all of her friends still are actively involved, which is really wonderful to see. Everybody is so supportive of what we’re doing.”
As a tax accountant, this Branford resident admits her days are busy, but she will always find time to assist FBK.
“You always try to find time to fit the other stuff in, the stuff that’s worthwhile,” says Renee.
In volunteering to help her hometown, Renee joins her husband, Bruce, their two children, and the extended Pantani, Angelo, and Fowler families in continuing a legacy of community contributions started by Johanne and her husband, the late Bruce Pantani.
In addition to supporting FBK, the extended family established the Christmas Caddy, an annual toy drive collection benefiting families supported by Branford Counseling Center. This year will be the ninth year that the collection will take place with the late Bruce Pantani’s 1965 cherry red Cadillac de Ville as its centerpiece.
For all of her work to assist the Branford community, Renee was selected as a 2019 Shore Publishing Beacon Award winner.
“We’re all just trying to honor everything they’ve done, and keep it going, for as long as we can,” says Renee of the community service she and extended family members provide.
Working collaboratively with the Branford Board of Education (BOE), FBK currently provides take-home weekend non-perishable meals to Branford elementary school children in need. FBK honors each child’s need for privacy by partnering with school administrators to ensure anonymity, as well as privacy of food delivery (bags are placed in backpacks during school, to be taken home).
Throughout the academic year, FBK volunteers shop, pack, and deliver weekend meals to school buildings. The bags contain two breakfast meals, two main meals, two cartons of milk, two cartons of juice, and snacks for an entire weekend.
While Branford Public Schools’ latest statistics show the scope of the need—some 34 percent of all students in the district (elementary through high school) qualify for free or reduced lunches—FBK’s weekend backpack program does not have income eligibility requirements; parents or schools can simply request assistance on behalf of a student. Currently, FBK assists more than 1,200 kids each academic year—nearly 200 kids per week.
Renee says the all-volunteer board would like to do more to fulfill Johanne Pantani’s hope to help kids in the town’s intermediate and high schools as part of that effort.
“I know that her dream was to get into all of the schools, so we’re still trying to get there. I think it’s the right thing to do,” says Renee.
This academic year, FBK board members will be making a concerted effort to reach out to the BOE with a request to help students at Branford High School (BHS) and Walsh Intermediate School (WIS).
“In the next few months, we’re going to try to get in front of [the BOE] and see what we can do. Our goal is to get in front of them and have them approve us so that we can keep making a bigger impact,” says Renee. “And if we also have support from the public, telling them we need this in all of our schools, that would be very helpful, too.”
WIS has offered some student assistance in the past through Connecticut Food Bank’s weekend food gap program. But Renee says its hard for kids who have received FBK support through 4th grade to suddenly have that support stop when they get to grade 5 and beyond.
“The way I look at it is we lose our kids after 4th grade, but they’re still hungry. It’s not like now that they’re in the intermediate school, they’re not hungry anymore. So it would be nice to follow them along the way,” says Renee.
Meanwhile, the number of kids in need at the elementary school level is staying the same, while still more are welcome, she adds.
“If we could get the word out to more parents to talk to the social workers at all the schools, I think that would be great,” says Renee. “If we could grow and get more numbers, more kids involved, and also go on to help at the others schools, that’s what we want. We want to keep growing the number in each elementary school and be able to get into the other schools.”
To support the important mission of FBK, Renee and her co-volunteers will continue to do all they can to raise funds—through grants; generous donations from individuals, local civic organizations, and businesses; and events like the Sept. 20 Murder Mystery Night.
Another program offered year-round by FBK is for individuals to make a $250 contribution, enough to support one child for an entire academic year.
“The public support has been amazing,” says Renee. “We really couldn’t do it without the people who volunteer and the people who contribute.”
Onofrio’s Total Construction’s annual fundraiser for FBK, a Murder Mystery Night, is on Friday, Sept. 20 at Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club in Branford; with cocktails (open bar) at 6:30 and dinner at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, $100, are available online now at www.feedbranfordkids.net.