‘They don’t have a voice’: Planning Board tables Christ the King food pantry plans citing poor communication

Father Richard Roberge (center), pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church, talks about the new food pantry on the campus as Mayor Byron Champlin (left), and Tim Sink of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce look on.

Father Richard Roberge (center), pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church, talks about the new food pantry on the campus as Mayor Byron Champlin (left), and Tim Sink of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce look on. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

 The architectural rendering of the new food pantry at Christ the King Church on South Main Street.

The architectural rendering of the new food pantry at Christ the King Church on South Main Street. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 02-22-2024 3:40 PM

Modified: 02-23-2024 10:20 AM


While endorsing what a new and larger Christ the King Parish Food Pantry would do for the community, the Concord Planning Board decided to delay the proposal and chastised parish leaders for not reaching out to the project’s neighbors, including parents from a school also on its South Main Street property.

Several parents of St. John Regional School attended the meeting and questioned the details of the $2.4 million plan they learned about just two weeks ago.

While the planning board did not dictate how church leaders should have communicated with the school, communication is part of the design process where this project was lacking, board member David Allyn Fox said.

“You got to come up with a better design for communication,” Fox said. “Because if you can enlist their support, it’s going to make a huge difference here.”

Christ the King has had a food pantry on its South Main Street property for decades. With the size and accessibility limits of the current space, a major upgrade has been envisioned but remained out of reach.

With the bequest of a $1 million donation two years ago, the wheels started turning to make that vision a reality. Plans for the new pantry call for knocking down the existing facility and constructing a much larger one on-site, not only increasing the number of people the pantry can serve but inviting clients inside to get a more shopping-like experience.

The new building improves and grows the pantry’s ability to serve the community, making the entire process more inviting and accessible and supporting “the dignity of our clients as well as the dignity of our volunteers,” Father. Richard Roberge told the board.

In addition to its place of worship and food pantry, the parish property is also home to students in pre-K through eighth-grade.

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While the project has been in motion for some time, receiving zoning board approvals for its parking layout a year ago, St. John parents were first notified in a letter last week, according to Roberge.

Parents expressed some concerns – about where the playground the new building will displace is going to be relocated, about the safety and flow of foot and car traffic and about whether growing the pantry’s clientele will pose any safety risks to students – and told the planning board that, while they support the project in concept, they felt blindsided by its details.

“The food pantry was a surprise to us just under two weeks ago at the press release,” said Trisha Dion, a Concord resident whose four children attend St. John. “We do not feel that we have had a chance to discuss these concerns with the church and come to a meaningful solution. That allows us to coexist in relative harmony on our campus.”

“We don’t want to stop it. We really don’t,” she said. “We just need a solution.”

A meeting with parents is scheduled for early March, Roberge said. Roberge said he is open to working with parents to soothe their concerns, but that conversation could happen internally and without the need to make major changes to the project.

“We’re motivated to move forward and we want to start as soon as we can. And so I think a lot of these issues can be addressed within our community,” Roberge said.

The project is currently slated to start construction in the summer window after school gets out to minimize disruptions.

Unanimously voting to table the project, planning board members said they could not endorse a plan with several details either unresolved – such as where a student pathway through the parking lot and a utility pole will be located – or open to change with parent input.

“There are too many things on the plan, to me, that you all are going to fix,” board member Teresa Rosenberger said.

Beyond wanting something more final, board members said they were uncomfortable approving a project that had not effectively and proactively communicated with its neighbors.

“A letter went out last week? You’re coming to us today and you’re gonna have the meeting with the parents after vacation? They don’t have a voice,” Rosenberger continued. “You’re doing a huge service, but you’ve got to serve the parents as well as the kids at the school and the bigger community.”

Many of the questions and concerns voiced by parents are indeed internal school conversations, board member Matthew Hicks said. “But these parents had to come here – to a public meeting to ask questions of a board that can’t make these decisions – because it wasn’t communicated.”

The project will be revisited at the planning board’s March meeting, which will be held after parents and project leaders have met.