Community bids farewell to old Amherst Survival Center building
Becky Reed of Amherst packs dishes at the Amherst Survival Center as volunteers get ready for the move to a new building on Sunderland Road.
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Tracey Levy, the program director at the Amherst Survival Center, packs and gets ready for the move to the center's new location. Purchase photo reprints »
Becky Reed, of Amherst pack dishes at the Amherst Survival Center as they gets ready for the move to their new location. Purchase photo reprints »
Menu for the final lunch at the Amherst Survival Center's longtime home on North Pleasant Street.
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The Amherst Survival Center packs and gets ready for the move to its new location. Purchase photo reprints »
left Fredey Correa, Keene Bronner and in the back, Jeremy Babiec, all employees of Kittredge Equipment Company out of Agawam, take apart a counter at the Amherst Survival Center to move to the new location Tuesday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »
A sign on the Amherst Survival Center door letting everyone know they are closed and moving to a new location Tuesday afternoon.
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The Amherst Survival Center has vacated the cramped basement on North Pleasant Street that has been its home for 33 years, and on Monday it will open its new building at 138 Sunderland Road.
While staff members felt eager this week to move to the new building, which was built to suit the center’s needs and has twice the space, they still felt nostalgic about leaving the old space.
“It feels like here is where the heart of it is,” said kitchen coordinator Linda Brooks. “This is where it started. I hope the new building won’t change that feeling. I hope everyone will bring that heart with them.”
Each year the Survival Center provides about 4,000 low-income people with free lunches, groceries, housewares, clothes and medical care. The new $2 million building will eliminate most of the old building’s problems, such as inadequate parking, lack of privacy, and not enough space for the 80 people who eat lunch there daily.
“This very special place saved my life, and I am forever grateful,” wrote someone on a giant card showing a photo of the old building. “This was the spiritual center of my life,” wrote another. “I will always remember what important decisions were made in the furnace room with a chest freezer as a meeting table,” wrote Carol Vincze, the architect who designed the new building.
On Monday, Marcie Sclove led a ritual of remembrance at the old building. Sclove, the center’s kitchen coordinator from 1998 to 2002, asked guests and volunteers to tell stories about the center.
“This ratty basement has been totally inadequate and crazy because it’s too small, not very clean and not easy to organize, but it has been home for over 32 years,” she said. “This space has seen a lot of friendship, a lot of support and love, and a lot of hard work. It’s important to carry our stories to the new place, which will have lots of space and light but won’t have the stories and love in the walls until we make that happen over there.”
Jennifer Goldman, a physically disabled guest and volunteer from Easthampton, said it’s unusual for a free-meal site to serve sushi and three types of salad, sometimes with live music. She compared it to a cruise ship.
“This is one of the Valley’s best-kept secrets,” she said. “If you had this in every community, no one would go hungry. There are no forms to fill out, no discrimination of any kind. You could be from Timbuktu and you’d be welcome.”
Felicia Sevene spoke about the embarrassment she felt when she came to the Survival Center for food and clothes as a single mother who recently moved to Amherst in 1995. She became a volunteer in 2000 while attending the University of Massachusetts, got a job through contacts she made at the center, and is now its clinic care coordinator.
Richard Dresser of Amherst has been a volunteer for five years, picking up food at the Western Massachusetts Food Bank and unloading it at the center. “It will be a sad thing to see us leave, but to me it will be a better place,” he said.
Gale Kuhn of Montague, who was a teacher in the Amherst schools for 35 years, recalled getting her students to collect pledges for reading books and donating the $227 they raised to the Survival Center, which used it to install a shower.
“The kids were proud of the money they earned, and when they came here and saw the new shower, it made all of us feel good,” she said.
Tracey Levy, the Survival Center’s program coordinator, said she’s feeling waves of excitement and nostalgia as she looks around the old space and remembers conversations she’s had with people. She will miss bumping into people in the hallway, but she’s looking forward to greeting guests in a large, sunlit room, she said.
“I feel a mix of emotions,” she said. “It’s a balance of good memories and knowing that we’ve wanted this for a long time.”