Amherst Survival Center will vacate cramped basement, move to new building Dec. 3

From The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Friday, November 2, 2012
By NICK GRABBE, Staff Writer

Amherst Survival Center New Building

The new Amherst Survival Center on Sunderland Rd. Photo by KEVIN GUTTING for The Daily Hampshire Gazette

AMHERST — On Nov. 27, the Amherst Survival Center will end its distribution of free food and clothes at the cramped basement on North Pleasant Street it has occupied for 33 years.

And on Dec. 3, it will reopen in a new, light-filled building at 138 Sunderland Road that will provide almost twice as much space.

The center has received $1.9 million in donations for construction of the building at the site of the former Rooster’s restaurant, said Jan Eidelson, president of the board of trustees. Though the construction cost $1.55 million, the center’s fundraising goal is $2.5 million, which includes money for furnishings, architects’ fees, campaign expenses and purchase of the land, she said. It has received pledges for just $125,000 short of that goal, she said.

“The community has been incredible,” Eidelson said. “It’s been wonderful to show people the building they’ve donated to so they can help our mission move smoothly.”

The Survival Center provides about 4,000 low-income people a year with free lunches, groceries, housewares, clothes and medical care. There isn’t enough space for the 70 people who eat lunch there, parking is inadequate, there is little privacy, food deliveries have to come through a window and the rooms serve multiple purposes.

The new center will have a dining area of about 1,000 square feet, four times the space that exists in the old building. There will be examination rooms for volunteer doctors Daniel Clapp and Paul Berman and nurse Trish Smallman, who currently use the executive director’s office. In contrast to the current warren of basement rooms, the new center will have an open floor plan and lots of natural light.

It will have 28 parking spaces, a reception area and a workshop that can be used by other groups when the center is not open. It will have an emergency backup system so that its coolers will stay on during a power outage.

A new sidewalk was built on the east side of Sunderland Road last summer to make it easier for pedestrians to reach the center. The new building is a five-minute walk away from the old building, and the board of trustees is working with town and PVTA officials on funding for additional bus runs there, Eidelson said.

The center operates with two full-time and seven part-time staff members and an annual budget that’s about to increase from $378,000 to $400,000 because of the extra space, Eidelson said. There are about 140 volunteers a week, many of whom are guests as well.

The move will take place Nov. 28 to 30, and no extra volunteers are needed, Eidelson said. On those days, free meals will be available at Not Bread Alone, the weekend meal site at First Congregational Church at 165 Main St.

The Survival Center will still hold its annual Thanksgiving dinner Nov. 21 at 1 p.m. at Immanuel Lutheran Church at 867 North Pleasant St.

The new building will inevitably change the culture of the Survival Center, said program director Tracey Levy.

“It will be more inviting,” she said. “People will be able to hang around a big community room with skylights and computers and coffee, instead of being tucked away in a basement where people bump into each other.”

Working out of the old building has been a bonding experience, like people going together to a concert in the rain, Levy said. Plans are in the works for a farewell to the basement space at 1200 North Pleasant St., which is owned by the Town of Amherst, she said.

An open house at the new center will be scheduled in January.

In addition to many small donations, the center received $200,000 from one donor and $119,500 from seven banks. Two donors have pledged to match new donations to help the center reach its $2.5 million goal, Eidelson said.

Eidelson, who plans to step down as board president next May, has been key in enabling construction of the new building to be on time and on budget, Levy said.

“Jan has been so hands-on since the building started, running from this space to that, asking what the staff thinks, bringing desserts to the builders, making sure they communicate with the staff and the architects. Every time I see Jan here, I’m amazed she’s still on her feet.”