Mark Sibenaller, of Lonsdale, has volunteered with the Lonsdale Area Food Shelf for a number of years, but starting this month, he’s stepped up to fill the role of executive director.

Owner of Value Plus Insurance in Burnsville, Sibenaller brings experience in bookkeeping to his new role at LAFS. Operations Manager Kathy Masters has fulfilled the part of organizing volunteers for Thursday afternoon food distribution and keeping track of food inventory while Sibenaller focuses on the business and financial aspects.

LAFS President Kathy Vosejpka said she’s grateful that Sibenaller was willing to step up after his predecessor, Tami Heimer, announced her retirement.

“Behind the scenes he’s helped when we get our delivery from the food bank and also delivered recently to clients who haven’t been able to come in during COVID,” Vosejpka said. “We’re really grateful for all he’s done for us in the past and looking forward to working with him in the future. It will be a nice transition with Tami still being available with guidance for anything that comes up.”

As LAFS approaches the end of its lease agreement in March 2022, Sibenaller said he looks forward to transitioning the shelf into a new home while serving neighbors in his community who need the assistance.

“As we look ahead to 2021, our biggest challenge is to find a new home,” Sibenaller said. “We have a little over one year left on our current lease and will need to find another place to operate. We have formed a committee to address this pressing need.”

Added Vosejpka: “We feel pretty confident the community will help us find a way to make that happen.”

Sibenaller said LAFS wants to have a bit more square footage than its current facility, but the new committee hasn’t yet discussed the parameters of leasing versus buying. If anyone knows of an available space for lease or for sale, he asks community members to contact him through lonsdaleareafoodshelf.weebly.com.

Sibenaller gives thanks to his predecessor, Tami Heimer, who began leading LAFS since its inception in July 2011.

“She has spent literally thousands of hours making sure our neighbors always had a place to go if they needed a hand,” Sibenaller said. “Starting with nothing she and the Board of Directors have built a well-run, financially sound non-profit which is a tremendous asset to our community. Everyone who cares about Lonsdale owes Tami a great debt of gratitude.”

Sibenaller also expressed appreciation for the volunteers who staff the Thursday food pickup.

“Like most businesses and nonprofits, we were left to scramble to accommodate the challenges posed by COVID-19,” Sibenaller said. “Despite the risks posed to themselves, they rolled with every change and never left us without help to deliver food to those in need. They represent the absolute best of community service.”

Sibenaller’s final thanks is to the Lonsdale community for its generous donations throughout 2020, without which he said “none of what we do would be possible.”

“We were continually amazed at the generosity shown by the residents and businesses of Lonsdale,” he said. “2020 represented the biggest year of donations we have ever had, and it largely came in unsolicited.”

Vosejpka added that she’s thankful to the clients as the volunteers and staff work through COVID-19 issues and commends the volunteers for making the transitions run smoothly over the past year.

For those struggling in the current environment, Sibenaller encourages them to reach out to LAFS.

“LAFS is completely dedicated to assisting those struggling with their bills in the most discreet manner possible,” he said. “If having some assistance with groceries makes it easier to put gas in your car, or pay your heat bill, please contact us.”

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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