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A banker's skills pay off
FISH volunteer is key player in search for new food pantry site

  • Volunteer Dennis Hansen talks to FISH food bank clients on his telephone headset on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. ((Jeff Kan Lee/ The Press Democrat))

When Dennis Hansen retired and moved to Santa Rosa 12 years ago, he and his wife, Barbara, had a well-thought-out plan.

They would spend more time with family, travel and do more hands-on volunteering.

Hansen, a banker for 40 years, had served on plenty of finance committees and other administrative boards for religious or nonprofit groups over the years.

"I've been blessed with skills from a career that I'm able to convert," Hansen said.

But in retirement, he wanted to more directly serve people in need.

So he figured he'd pitch in at a little food pantry on Benton Street in Santa Rosa called Friends in Service Here, better known as FISH, which since 1973 has handed out supplemental groceries monthly to anyone in need.

There was just one problem. Hansen had polio as a child, which caused significant atrophy in one of his legs. A bad fall in the late 1990s left him even more unsteady.

"I'd never given any thought to the fact that the people that work there are carrying around 30-pound, 40-pound boxes," Hansen said.

Ken Kushner, FISH's former director, took one look at the guy wobbling up the path and suggested his skills might best be used working the phones.

"So much for hands-on work," Hansen, 75, said recently from his home on the western edge of the city.

A year later, Hansen was the deputy director of the group, and he's played a pivotal administrative role in it ever since. He speaks to groups about FISH's mission, handles public relations and helps with fundraising.

A member of Sebastopol United Methodist Church, Hansen believes strongly that a core tenet of Christianity is to help others. Every time he talks to those who use the pantry, he's reminded of what a vital service they are providing people.

"All you hear are things like, 'Thank God you people are there,' " Hansen said.

Recently Hansen has served as the group's point man in controversial negotiations with the city.

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