The president of the Pickerington school board has been tapped to lead community outreach and fundraising efforts for the PCMA Food Pantry of Pickerington.

Vanessa Niekamp, a member of the Pickerington school board since 2014 and its current president, has been hired as the PCMA Food Pantry of Pickerington's director of community relations and fundraising.

Niekamp will join the food pantry Nov. 13, when she takes over for Barbara Meek, who resigned last summer to accept a position with Ohio Northern University.

The hire will not affect Niekamp's position on the school board, according to David Ball, Pickerington Local School District public relations director.

Niekamp will lead the nonprofit food pantry's fundraising and donations efforts, which include the annual Food Truck Frenzy and the holiday Festival of Lights.

Those events and other fundraising efforts allow the pantry to provide food assistance to people living within school district boundaries who are at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

Niekamp also will oversee the agency's grant-writing efforts, and be charged with building community outreach initiatives by working with local residents, businesses and organizations such as the school district, Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce, Mid-Ohio Food Bank and United Way of Fairfield County.

"I am so honored to have been asked to take on this role," Niekamp said. "It can be difficult to ask for help. The pantry team provides assistance in a confidential and respectful manner.

"Who wouldn't want to spend their days making a difference in the lives of the people in their community? I am so lucky."

In addition to serving on the school board, Niekamp works in commercial cash management at Park National Bank in Pickerington.

At the food pantry, Niekamp will partner with current Director of Operations Gessica Peraza in managing the pantry at the direction of its board of directors.

"Vanessa's extensive experience and knowledge of the community will be incredible assets as the pantry defines itself for the future," said food pantry board President Tony Barletta, Pickerington City Council's representative on the pantry board.

"We are incredibly excited to get her on board."

Niekamp said she plans to immediately focus on outreach to ensure the Festival of Lights is successful and to help raise awareness about hunger needs in the community during the winter months.

She said she hopes to enhance the pantry's fundraising efforts by 10 percent in her first year, but doesn't want to "lose focus on continuing to build relationships with the other service organizations in our community."

"There are many organizations in our area willing to provide services and resources to those in need," Niekamp said.

"The Pickerington Area Resource Coalition was formed to help identify and coordinate services and identify how best to meet the needs of our community," she said.

"Information about PARC can be found on the pantry website, pcmafoodpantry.org, for anyone interested in learning more about the group or getting involved. I will continue to be very involved in community organizations (and) events, and am always willing to discuss concerns and new ideas."

Before working at Park National Bank, Niekamp was executive director of the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, a state agency that protects consumers and advances the funeral industry statewide.

According to the school district's website, Niekamp has 23 years of government leadership experience.

She managed Ohio's State Controlling Board, which authorizes adjustments to the state budget, and has personally been responsible for a $1.3 billion budget with the Ohio Attorney General's Office.

Niekamp lives in Pickerington with her husband and two sons. She is past president of the Pickerington Lions Club and a member of the Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce.

She also is the school sector representative for Tyler's Light, a drug education and awareness program.

"I have been able to see first-hand the positive impact the pantry has had on our community, through my involvement with the school district and the Lions Club," Niekamp said.

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