Labor Day Parade Grand Marshal To Be Celebrated For Longtime 'Labor Of Love'
While she has long been associated with FAITH Food Pantry and her name appears frequently in this newspaper almost any time the pantry is written about, Lee Paulsen is not someone who likes to be in the spotlight.
So when the longtime Newtown resident received an invitation recently to be honored as the grand marshal for Newtown's 56th Annual Labor Day Parade, she gently turned it down.
"I would always rather be behind the scenes, and it's such a group effort, so I said 'No' initially," Mrs Paulsen said June 22, recalling a phone call from Labor Day Parade Committee member Melissa Kopcik. "But before we got off the phone, she said, 'Please think about it.'"
"Then my husband started talking to me," Mrs Paulsen added. "He said 'You really should do this. Do it for the pantry,' and he's right."
Mrs Kopcik, the 2017 parade participant and lineup coordinator, said the parade committee was looking for someone "who has done great service for the town" when the group began considering who to tap as this year's grand marshal.
"We thought Lee Paulsen would be a fabulous candidate," she said June 23. "FAITH Food Pantry has helped so many of our residents. It has basically assured that none of our residents go hungry."
Mrs Kopcik was tasked with reaching out to Mrs Paulsen with the invitation to serve as grand marshal. She laughed, recalling the conversation.
"She's a very humble woman," Mrs Kopcik said, echoing what Mrs Paulsen had said a day earlier when speaking with The Newtown Bee. "She said 'I can't do it, it's not about me.'
"She felt uncomfortable," she said, "and didn't want to take all the notoriety for it."
Fortunately, Chuck Paulsen was able to convince his wife of the importance of the honorary role.
"She called back the next day," Mrs Kopcik said, "and graciously accepted."
So on Monday, September 4, Lee Paulsen will indeed be in one of the first vehicles to go down the traditional route of Main Street, to Glover Avenue, to Queen Street. She will be joined by her husband Chuck for that ride, and then the Paulsens will be joined on the Judges Stand by a small group people representing the longstanding pantry. The group will spend the next few hours in some of the best seats along the parade route, enjoying the view as thousands of Newtown's residents celebrate their take on this year's theme, "Labor of Love."
Mrs Paulsen has been working with FAITH Food Pantry since its creation in 1983, and has been its president "for many years," she said. She worked alongside the Reverend Joan Horwitt when the pantry was launched in the basement of St John's Episcopal Church in Sandy Hook, and is still part of the group now that the pantry has temporarily relocated to a small building at 31 Pecks Lane.
The closure last summer of the Episcopal church on Washington Avenue necessitated the move. A new, permanent home for the food pantry is about to break ground at 46 Church Hill Road, on the campus of St Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church.
Until then, the public is invited to drop off donations each Tuesday morning between 10 and noon, and Thursdays between 6 and 7:30 pm.
Those are the same hours clients visit the pantry. Residents are required only to show proof of residency, and will then be given a week's worth of food, as well as personal hygiene and pet care items when possible.
During the week of June 19-25 alone, the pantry reportedly provided food for 55 people, representing 23 families.
Drop boxes for donations from those unable to get to the pantry during its operating hours have also been set up in town. Village Perk Cafe, 5 Glen Road in Sandy Hook; and the office of The Newtown Bee, at 5 Church Hill Road, have both become drop-off points in recent years.
While the pantry began life within a church and is about to move to a different church property, the pantry itself is nonecumenical. The pantry's acronym stands for Food Assistance, Immediate Temporary Help.
Mrs Paulsen said it best when interviewed by The Newtown Bee for a June 2008 feature on the pantry's 25th anniversary: "We're housed in a church and this was started by Joan … but we are not church-based."
Mrs Kopcik is encouraged by Mrs Paulsen's dedication to the food pantry.
"She does it from the heart; she doesn't expect anything in return," Mrs Kopcik said. "She's an absolutely wonderful woman.
"Our parade theme is Labor of Love," she later said. "I think I found that phrase used in an old Bee article about Lee, and going with her mission is why we came up with the theme Labor of Love."
To help fill the pantry immediately following the presentation of the parade, a number of drop-off points for FAITH Food Pantry donations will be set up that Monday along the parade route.
"We're going to have two or three pickup trucks, and somebody walking along the side, along the parade route, also collecting items from those along the route," Mrs Kopcik said. "We're going to do this to help them, to assure that none of our friends and family in town go without."
Lee and Chuck Paulsen have lived in Newtown since 1972, when they relocated from Gatlinburg, Tenn., due to Mr Paulsen's work. They raised two children, Kate and Christian - both now married and living with their families in New Jersey and New Hampshire, respectively - and have regularly attended the town's end-of-summer celebration.
"We always went when our kids were in it," she said. In recent years Mr Paulsen, a member of Newtown Lions Club, is often found selling tickets for the club's annual Mustang raffle on parade morning.
Mrs Paulsen said that she loves the parade.
"It's all about Newtown, and the community," she said. "It's a great thing. We look forward to it all year.
"Even though we've grown," Mrs Paulsen said of her hometown, "we're still a small town on Labor Day."
Parade Participants Sought
The Newtown Labor Day Parade Committee is actively seeking groups to participate in this year's parade. Melissa Kopcik said she and others are hoping to see plenty of floats in this year's lineup.
"We are definitely encouraging floats," Melissa Kopcik said last week.
Local groups interested in participating in the 56th Annual Newtown Labor Day Parade are invited to submit a participation application, which can be found at newtownctlabordayparade.org. Deadline to apply is August email@example.com. Mrs Kopcik can also be reached at 203-994-6435; Ms Roland, 203-733-2369.
Meredith Roland is also part of the participant and lineup committee with Mrs Kopcik. Both can be reached at
There is no fee for schools planning to participate. Commercial entries are being asked to consider a suggested donation of $200 in support of the parade.
Additional participation details and guidelines can be found online at the parade website.