Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Person of the Week

Gunneson Helps Branford Diaper Bank Programs Grow

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As a member of the Community Dining Room (CDR) all-volunteer Program/Outreach Committee and new grandmom to Elle (shown here), Laura Gunneson is working hard to help grow programs centered around the Branford Diaper Bank, a collaborative of Branford-based CDR and Branford Early Learning Center. Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound

As a member of the Community Dining Room (CDR) all-volunteer Program/Outreach Committee and new grandmom to Elle (shown here), Laura Gunneson is working hard to help grow programs centered around the Branford Diaper Bank, a collaborative of Branford-based CDR and Branford Early Learning Center. Photo by (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

Laura Gunneson is working hard to help grow programs centered around the Branford Diaper Bank, a collaborative of Branford-based Community Dining Room (CDR) and Branford Early Learning Center (BELC).

As a member of CDR’s all-volunteer Program/Outreach Committee, Laura is currently leading the charge to double the number of diapers being distributed, for free, to Branford residents in need. She’s also created a mobile children’s clothing exchange that will provide free, in-season donated clothes for little ones that can be “shopped” on diaper distribution day. Laura’s also working to bring in donations to fill a new offering, take-away baby snack packs provided through CDR.

“Laura is tackling it all,” says CDR Executive Director Judy Barron.

Laura and her husband, Lars, raised their four kids, Britta, Ahnna, Leeah, and Kierra, in Branford, with everyone following a family tradition of giving back to their community.

“My husband’s family are long-time residents, and our family has always been connected to the community, so I knew about the CDR,” says Laura.

In addition to the family pitching in to volunteer at CDR, the Gunnesons have provided services to the non-profit through the family business, Gunneson Flooring Company of Branford.

For her part, Laura was volunteering at CDR well before becoming a CDR committee member.

“Basically, whatever Judy told me the need was, I would jump in and fill it,” says Laura. “Whether it was driving somewhere to pick something up and bring it back, or setting up for something, or doing a craft with kids, I’d jump in.”

Laura’s willingness to lend a hand did not go unnoticed. When CDR created its new Program/Outreach Committee, she was asked to join. Members of the committee turn their talents and expertise toward supporting and/or creating beneficial community-driven programs.

With her background in early childhood education, “...Diaper Bank seemed like a good fit,” says Laura of her choice to assist the CDR/BELC program.

The Branford Diaper Bank is located at CDR in the Patricia C. Andriole Volunteer Services building at 30 Harrison Avenue. The bank distributes free diapers to Branford residents during dinner service on the second Tuesday of each month; registration is required. Residents can call BELC to sign up at 203-488-4512; ask for BELC Director Diane Pappacoda.

“I really encourage people to register for the Diaper Bank; it really is for everyone in need in the community. I think there is a lot of unmet need, but I think that we have a population who always feel like ‘somebody else needs it more than I do,’” Laura says. “We have plenty of diapers and we want the community to know that we’re there for everyone.”

Families which may not have realized they should register or find themselves in immediate need will be assisted if they to come to the Diaper Bank, she adds.

“A financial situation can happen to any family at any time, so we’re going to give you what you need. They can leave their information at that time, and we will get it to [BELC] so they can be added to the registration,” says Laura.

Donations of diapers can be dropped off at CDR. Right now, sizes 4, 5, and 6 are greatly needed, says Laura.

“We have plenty of the little diapers—babies stay in the little diapers for a minute, and then they need the bigger sizes. So sizes 4, 5, and 6 are the sizes that we go through the fastest,” says Laura.

Laura is also known to many in town through her role as library assistant with Willoughby Wallace Memorial Library (WWML) in Stony Creek. She’s now enjoying her fourth year in the job.

“I coordinate a lot of the toddler’s programs and the children’s programming. It’s a wonderful opportunity,” says Laura. “I loved it when my kids were small, and always thought it would be so nice to be a part of this library. Fortunately, there was a position open and I applied, and I got it!”

Laura is also a very proud first-time grandmom to Elle, 18 months, who enjoys WWML programming for little ones, such as Story Time with Miss Wendy. That’s the program Elle and her mom, Ahnna, came in to share on a Friday when The Sound stopped by to visit Laura.

As both a mom and now a grandmother, Laura has first-hand knowledge of the expense involved in bringing up babies.

“It’s costly, with the diapers and the formula and all that you need. And there’s no worse feeling than feeling like your child is not going to have something it needs,” she says. “If anybody’s even felt that for a minute, it’s a panic-stricken feeling.”

Add in today’s volatile economy and spotty supply chain, and the reason for the growing need becomes even more evident.

“These economic times can be hard for families. You just never know. It could be a temporary setback for any family. There’s just no divide between the things that can happen to make finances harder on families and make it harder on families to get the things that they need,” says Laura. “So we want to make sure, as a town, that we have provided for our youngest citizens in every way that we can.”

That’s one reason why Laura thought of starting up a mobile children’s clothing exchange as part of her volunteer efforts. The concept was also a way to address environmental issues by embracing reuse of clothing outgrown by others to “ensure families are getting the things that they need for their children,” says Laura.

A couple of years back, Ahnna and Laura ventured into the same type of effort by coordinating consignments of clothing for little ones.

“We had tons of consignments, but not as many people were interested in purchasing, [although] we often found there were people who either wanted or needed clothing for their children,” says Laura. “We thought, ‘There’s no reason why these resources should go to waste, just because they don’t have a market value.’ So I came up with the concept of a kids’ clothing exchange.”

Free clothing offered by the exchange can include items contributed by those who’ve donated their outgrown kids’ clothes and will find the newly needed sizes among other donations of gently used children’s clothing, in season.

“I’ve planned it so that our [clothing] drop-off days coincide with our [diaper] distribution days by a few days. The second Saturday of the month is a clothing drop-off day at Branford Early Learning Day, and the second Tuesday of the month is Diaper Bank Day. So we’ve coordinated the clothing ‘shopping’ day into that Tuesday, too, so families can come and shop for things that they may need.”

Right now, BELC has given the mobile program permission to park at its Birch Road lot once a month to take in collections. Laura then brings the donated clothes back to her house to be sorted and readied to offer at CDR during Diaper Bank hours. The clothing exchange, which doesn’t require registration, currently assists by providing children’s clothes in sizes 5 and under.

“We are taking in-season, pre-loved clothes, and we try to get those in and out as quickly as possible, because we have a lack of storage space,” Laura says.

Branford families coming to CDR to seek assistance as they raise their youngest children are also now enjoying a new program Laura’s helped to organize which provides free baby “snack packs.”

“We already give out children’s snack packs, so this is just an extension of that program,” she says.

The baby snack packs are given out once a month on Diaper Bank Day.

In addition, Laura is working on helping to coordinate a food, diapers, and kids’ clothing drive (more details coming soon) to assist with all of these efforts. Look for updates at www.communitydiningroom.org or at Community Dining Room Inc. on Facebook.

“All of it comes back to serving the community through these programs—it all stays right in our community, to assist the people who live here,” says Laura. “It’s community members coming together to create this circle of filling needs.”

For additional information on these programs and others, call CDR at 203-488-9750 or visit www.communitydiningroom.org.


Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at p.johnson@shorepublishing.com.

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