At the end of an exhaustive search, the Local Community Food Center board has found its new executive director.
After the Local’s current executive director, Debra Swan, announced she would be leaving the role after serving at the Stratford charity’s helm for seven years, the board officially appointed former St. Marys pastor and current Stratford resident Margaret Smart to the leadership position.
“We’re really looking forward to Margaret joining us,” board chair Gary Wreford said. “We’ve had an incredible executive director in the past … so she’s got big shoes to fill. But if you look at the background and experience she has, I think we’ve got – and I hate to use the word – a smart choice. … She’s a really good match for what the Local needs. The Local is a challenging operation … and has a number of quite diverse programs, so whoever is leading the Local has a big job to do and a lot of diversity to deal with in the day-to-day operation.”
Smart currently serves as the co-ordinator for the Mennonite Central Committee’s Walking with People in Poverty program, which offers supports and services for the impoverished. Prior to that role, Smart was the Mennonite Central Committee’s Ontario volunteer services manager and, before that, served as the pastor at First Baptist Church in St. Marys for 16 years.
“The Local is an amazing resource for our community here in Stratford and a center of community for people from all different economic backgrounds and of different needs. … I love that it brings together people around food and I think (the discourse around access to food) is becoming integral. Everyone’s anxiety right now is rising as food costs rise and the Local wants to meet that need for people in our community in a way that’s just and brings people together and connects them to the Earth and to their food,” Smart said.
“It’s an amazing place.”
While Smart said she loves her current job and is sad to be leaving, she saw the executive director position at the Local as an opportunity to connect with and serve the community she lives in, something she says she needs in her life following the isolation that came with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s an opportunity to continue the kind of work I’ve been doing in some ways and build on it, and to do that here where I live. … This is where I live, this is where my family is and this is where I really want to give back and serve,” Smart said.
Smart has plenty of past experience working with other charities and not-for-profits in St. Marys and managed more than 2,000 volunteers across the province for the Mennonite Central Committee. She has worked to address social issues like income security, housing and homelessness, and disability support in the past, so is excited to bring her passion and enthusiasm to the job when she begins next month.
“It’s the combination of the work I’ve been doing as the poverty program co-ordinator coming together with the work I did as a pastor and bringing people together around a common goal. When I read the (job) description I said, ‘Whoa, this just sounds like everything I’ve done in my life.’”
Before Smart officially steps into her new role, the Local Community Food Center will host a reception March 25 at 3 pm to thank Swan for all her hard work and dedication and wish her well in her next chapter.