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November 8, 2013

Chobani chips in with community center

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Residents of the western Otsego County hamlet of South Edmeston said Thursday they are delighted that they are getting a new community center adjacent to the South Edmeston Community Church.

Chobani, the yogurt company whose manufacturing facility sits less than a mile from South Edmeston on the west bank of the Unadilla River, donated the funds that made the construction possible. The money was channeled from the Shepherd’s Gift Foundation, which gives 10 percent of Chobani’s annual post-tax profits to community development.

Several local contractors were lined up to complete the project, and it took about two months to finish construction once the first shovel went in the ground, said Pastor Jeff McLallen of South Edmeston Community Church.

“This is really a blessing for us,” said McLallen. “It’s really awesome that Chobani is doing this for us.”

He and several other local residents said the company’s generosity will help deflate some of the disappointment that some local residents said they felt towards the company after the hamlet experienced traffic problems and littering that they linked to Chobani’s employees.

The company, now the nation’s largest producer of Greek-style yogurt, expanded rapidly and now has about 1,200 workers at its plant in the town of Columbus.

“They have a lot of concern for this community, and this should do a lot to heal things,” McLallen said.

Michael Rifanburg, a local contractor who has been involved in the construction of the community center, said the one-story building has about 2,400 square feet of space and is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It has a full commercial kitchen, and outside is a new playground and basketball court, he said.

“The people from Chobani have been terrific to work with, and their generosity has been second to none,” Rifanburg said.

As of Thursday afternoon, he said, the building was about 95 percent completed, and workers planned to work late into the night and again today in order to have it as ready as possible for an opening celebration scheduled to take place from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

Scheduled to join Chobani executives at the event are U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, and Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-Nelson.

Kathy Dye of South Edmeston, a church member who has been volunteering on the community center project, said the building will be used for a wide variety of community activities, including reunions, birthday parties and after-school programs. She said a structure that had been on the site had to be demolished.

“We reached out to Chobani and they have been wonderful,” she said.

At 9:30 a.m. Saturday, a community breakfast will be held in the new building. That will be followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:15 a.m. At 11 a.m., there will be a celebration with a farmers’ market.

McLallen said the new building will also be used for church services during the winter months because it’s more energy-efficient than the church.

“It’s a very adequate building for the needs of our community,” he said.

In addition to the work by Mike Rifanburg and his brother, Keith, the construction was facilitated by Chobani’s engineering team and by S&H Mechanical, Taggart Electric and Delaware Engineering, according to Chobani.