By TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER
Zion Lutheran Church Names New Executive Director of Meals for Neighbors Program
By Taylor Murchison-Gallagher
Van Monak Chhun was recently named the executive director of Zion Lutheran Church’s Meals for Neighbors program.
Chhun said taking this job was a kind of “coming back home,” as her family was sponsored by Zion’s refugee ministry in the last 1980s. She and her family moved from Cambodia, into the house next door to the Zion Lutheran Church.
Of that time, Chhun said the Zion community was “very supportive of integrating us into the community,” and said the community was “very welcoming and warm.”
“Helping people has always been something that is an interest of mine,” said Chhun. “And I enjoy working with people and sort of helping whoever needs help.”
She graduated from Bristol Eastern High School in 1997 before attending Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communication, where she graduated in 2001. She lived in New York City for about a decade, working at the Jazz at Lincoln Center as a production manager and assistant director of touring.
She described her time at Jazz at Lincoln Center as an effort to enrich a person’s soul, and now, “on a more basic level,” she is working to “help people alleviate the concerns of maybe not having enough meals for their families.”
Chhun explained that Meals for Neighbors started in 1982 “to really help the community” during a “sort of economic crisis.” The congregation at that time started by providing meals one night per week.
“And now we’re doing it four nights a week because it’s been quite popular,” said Chhun.
But the soup kitchen, which opens at 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, isn’t the only program offered by Zion Lutheran. They offer an emergency food pantry that is open on Tuesday and Thursday mornings; holiday meals, that are prepared and distributed, are available for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter; in collaboration with Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, backpacks stocked with school supplies are made available each school year; they have a clothing bank, where donated clothes are made available all year round; and, Zion offers programs for community members that must complete mandatory community service hours.
“It’s a very generous and very giving season,” said Chhun. “There’s just a lot of activity and a lot of generosity in general for the community here, so, we’re hoping to kind of mobilize some of that energy and goodwill to pass along.”
Chhun has held this position for almost a month, and describes her role as being “present for anyone else who needs help.” As of yet, Zion isn’t looking to add new programs, but Chhun said they are looking into ways to make what they do more efficient. This may include working collaboratively with other organizations in the area.
“My take on the community is that it’s all very collaborative and supportive, everyone really works together to make sure that there are no gaps in terms of services,” said Chhun. “There’s definitely a lot of support and commitment to making sure that everyone who needs a helping hand gets it.”
Zion Lutheran Church is located at 27 Judd Rd., and Chhun can be contacted by telephone at (860) 589-7744.
Comments? Email tmurchison@BristolObserver.com.