Longtime Jewish Food Pantry leader announces plans to retire

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Not everyone would want to end their professional career with a turkey but Sue Rundblad doesn’t mind. For her, it’s all in a day’s work.

“Another staff person and I are at Wal-Mart each morning picking up frozen turkeys, as many as will fit in our car,” she laughs. “That’s my last sayonara – picking up turkeys.”

It’s a Thanksgiving Day twist on a job Rundblad loves – and one she has announced she will be leaving soon. After more than a decade and a half at Jewish Family & Children’s Service, the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry’s coordinator for community outreach is calling it quits.

It’s a decision that gives her some sadness but one for which she had a role model – so to speak.

“My husband has been retired for two years and it seems like I’ve been missing out on some of the fun he’s having,” said Rundblad, who playfully gives her age as 58 and a half. “I’m going to miss JF&CS very much. I’ve been there 16 years and made a lot of good friends.”

The organization will miss her as well. Lou Albert, executive director of JF&CS, said her absence will leave both a gap and a legacy.

“She’s really brought tremendous value to the food pantry and the agency as a whole,” Albert said. “Not that we can replace Sue but we will be filling that position with a new person so we are right now in the process of conducting a search.”

Albert said ads have been placed and that hopefully a candidate will be selected by the end of the year at the latest. He said the agency will seek someone who is familiar with or willing to learn about the Jewish community and enjoys interacting with people, engaging in networking and doing speaking engagements.

“If we’re lucky, we’ll fill it sooner but it’s got to be the right person and Sue has set a very high bar,” he said.

The position Rundblad leaves behind is one tailored to suit her. After a two-decade absence from St. Louis, the Manchester resident originally came on-board the agency as a part of JF&CS’s financial assistance service, eventually becoming program coordinator of the food pantry. However, as the pantry grew from serving 40 families its first year to 4,000-5,000 people a month, that position eventually was split into two jobs. One dealt with the logistics of day-day-operations, while the other encompassed outreach efforts. Rundblad filled the latter set of duties and became what Albert calls the pantry’s “community face.”

Today, he said the organization is the most visible part of JF&CS’s menu of services, due largely to Rundblad’s efforts.

“They may not know everything we do but they certainly know about the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry,” he said.

Getting the word out about the food pantry’s work was a task Rundblad said was challenging but enjoyable.

“Sometimes it takes a little bit of conversation with someone and that someone tells someone else but if the words come out right, that connection can be made,” she said.

Rundblad isn’t yet sure what the retirement phase of her life will entail, though she won’t rule out volunteering efforts – or even part-time employment.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” she said. “I think my eye’s been on watching my husband have such a good time being retired and I’m looking to find that spark that he has in leaving the working world and finding what else is out there.”

Mary Hoke, assistant director of programs for JF&CS, said she wouldn’t be surprised to see Rundblad pop up elsewhere in the community. She recalled how a co-worker recently described the outreach coordinator as having a big heart and always being eager to help.

“Sue is certainly devoted to people who are in need,” said Hoke, who has been at JF&CS since 1979. “I think she cares a great deal about people who she believes she can help. I can’t even imagine that she won’t continue to do that, even in retirement.”

Rundblad, a congregant at Temple Israel, said she is very thankful to JF&CS, its staff and volunteers and the entire Jewish community for the great experiences she’s had. What are the most interesting stories Rundblad can recall from her time at JF&CS?

That’s an easy one.

“A hug from a volunteer, a hug from a client,” she said. “Those are the best stories.”