Hazel Sletten's house used to be a refuge for Colona students whose parents didn't pick them up from school on time.|
One day, a man told her he was out of work and asked if she could feed his two children. She fed the children and him and thought there might be more people in the same predicament.
So in 1981, Mrs. Sletten and Helen Russell got together at a friend's house and began planning the Colona Food Pantry, which Mrs. Sletten remained active in until her death Monday at the age of 84.
Mrs. Russell said Tuesday that her friend was passionate about the food pantry and helping others.
"She was a shining light for a lot of people because she helped so many people," Mrs. Russell said. "She was a special friend of mine for a long, long time, and it's hard. She was there for a lot of people. She was just special. She was a dear friend."
Ms. Sletten also chaired the Colona chapter of the Salvation Army, was involved with Project NOW and helped start Colona's annual Memorial Day parade.
Mrs. Russell said her friend had a knack for helping people quickly and putting them on the right track. "Even when she wasn't feeling the best, she was there...Heart, body and soul, she was there."
Audrey Allen met Mrs. Sletten when their sons became friends at Briar Bluff country school.
"She's been a good friend a good many years," Mrs. Allen said. "She's going to be missed by the whole city, really. I think the whole city knows her.
"She always told everybody, 'Don't you go hungry. If I find out you're going hungry, I'm going to come knocking at your door!' That's the kind of person she was. She would help you if you needed help."
Mrs. Allen said Tuesday that people had been coming in to the food pantry to ask how Mrs. Sletten was doing.
"It will be a rough day tomorrow (today), I know that. But we'll get through. We'll make it," she said. "She'd want us to keep going. She'd want us to feed everybody. Like I say, she's going to be very much missed by the whole community."
Colona budget officer and former city clerk Lories Graham said Mrs. Sletten was involved in many volunteer efforts, from church to creation of the Memorial Day parade.
She said Colona police would call Mrs. Sletten when people ran out of gas on the interstate, and she would make sure they got a sandwich if they were hungry and enough gas money to get where they were going.
She said Mrs. Sletten collected canceled stamps to send to a school for the handicapped in Wisconsin, and city employees set aside stamps in a box for her.
Ms. Graham said Mrs. Sletten used to report Colona news live every morning for WGEN radio in Geneseo."She was behind it all. She will be missed."
Don Ropp Sr., of the Colona Community Organization, said Mrs. Sletten was the group's "supply sergeant" in its distribution of Christmas food baskets.
"We paid for it, but she saw that we got it," he said. "She was a very fine person. We have a great loss. The whole community is going to miss her."
Mayor Rick Lack knew Mrs. Sletten for more than 40 years."Sometimes her heart was just a little too big, but she's going to be sorely missed," he said. "If somebody came to her for help, she just didn't know how to tell them no. That word just wasn't in her vocabulary."
Art Ash, who worked with Mrs. Sletten at the food pantry for many years, said she was meticulous about sending thank-you notes to donors."Regardless of whether it was $1 or $100, she wrote personal, hand-written letters to people. She did 40 last month. She said she was a little behind, but she got them all caught up."
Mr. Ash said one man gave the pantry $50 a week because he was so grateful to have his gift acknowledged by Mrs. Sletten.
"She had a way with words," he said. "It was, 'God bless you for giving to the food pantry.' She would write a half-page letter and every one of them was different. She said, 'I just start writing and the words flow like God gave them to me.' "
He said Mrs. Sletten joked that the food pantry would be the end of her, and as it happened she broke her hip in a fall there on July 3, and died five days later. "She didn't mean it that way, but it kind of did (take her life)."