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MANCHESTER — The Community Service Award given by the Manchester Selectboard, also known as the Unsung Hero Award, was established to recognize people in the community who give their time and talent selflessly without expecting anything in return.

From the testimonials and the in-person and Zoom turnout Tuesday night for Dale Coppin, this year’s recipient, it was clear that the Dorset resident and longtime human services volunteer fit the description perfectly.

Coppin, whose vision for eliminating food waste and serving the hungry turned into Grateful Hearts, a nonprofit group preventing food waste and providing thousands of meals, was honored by the board Tuesday with one of the community’s most prestigious awards.

Emilia McCusker and Alison Cummings, who nominated Coppin and introduced him, lauded his commitment to service, to people experiencing food insecurity and to students at Mount Anthony Union High School, where he is the worksite coordinator for the school’s Community Based Learning program.

The Unsung Hero Award was created in 1989 over a conversation at the former Quality Restaurant, in which it observed that the people who often do all the work to serve the Northshire often go unrecognized.

McCusker said that describes Coppin to a T. He takes his faith and community service seriously, and is always looking to pitch in, she said.

McCusker recalled how, in 2011, when she was on the board of the Community Food Cupboard, she got a call from Coppin, asking to make a presentation to the board about an idea for reducing food waste and feeding the hungry.

“After his presentation, we were all convinced by his ideas for helping end food security in our area, by using excess produce from local farms and turning it into meals for those in need.”

Coppin already had contacted Christ Our Savior Parish for use of their kitchen, and chef Jeff Scott at the West Mountain Inn. He asked members of the Food Cupboard board to volunteer, and with funding from the Diocese of Burlington, Grateful Hearts was born.

According to McCusker, the nonprofit collected 9,000 pounds of food and produce from more than a dozen farms in 2022 and provided 35,000 meals, prepared in the commercial-grade kitchen at Burr and Burton Academy. She said Coppin has “spawned, nurtured and constantly improved” the program.

“None of this could have been possible without the unswerving dedication of one man,” McCusker said of him. “He is more than worthy to be considered an unsung hero.”

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As worksite coordinator for MAU, Coppin mentors at-risk students gain perspective on their world and confidence in themselves by helping others, Cummings said. 

“We've witnessed Dale do amazing work for kids,” Cummings said. “He somehow has a way of being patient and kind, and providing them with opportunities to get out into the community itself and feel some self-worth that they didn’t have before, and it’s a special thing to witness over and over again.”

Cummings also noted that Coppin has taken students to the homes of housebound seniors for visits and to help them with home projects they might not be able to complete themselves. Those visits are in many cases “the highlight of their day and week … they rely on that,” she said. 

“I just can't say enough how broad the scope of Dale's work is,” she added. “There’s also something special that there’s a urgency to work he does, and I think that's because he's been through enough to know that we're not here forever.”

Coppin speaks quietly, because of a medical condition. But he speaks at length, and after he was presented with the award from Selectboard member Jan Nolan, he addressed the crowd assembled in the Kilburn Meeting Room. The audience paid silent and rapt attention.

Coppin said West, who attended the presentation, deserves equal credit for his early involvement. He attributed the program’s success to the community’s character and willingness to help others, calling it “a testimony to the state we live in,” and praised the volunteers who are expanding the nonprofit to Bennington and Rutland.

He also thanked his wife, Karen, for her support and for being the first person who listens to and provides feedback on his ideas.

“We should all give thanks that we live here,” he said. “If there’s a good idea to help our neighbors, I haven't heard anybody say, ‘Stop. This is ridiculous.’”

“Anyone who lives here will do anything they can to help their neighbors. It's not just talk,” he added.

In closing, Coppin said despite the differences that separate people — politics and religion being two of them — he’s found that people have come together to take on the common enemy of food insecurity and succeeded. 

"It’s kind of tough times right now. I really feel that selfish greed got us into this mess. So let’s all think of how we can love each other and have more compassion and empathy, and that's how we're going to get out [of this], that's how we’re gong to move forward.”

Reach Greg Sukiennik at or at 802-447-7567, ext. 119. 


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