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Amherst Survival Center to welcome public at open house

The Amherst Survival Center, which moved to a new building at 138 Sunderland Road last month, will host a grand opening Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m.

“The building is a real community effort and we want everybody to see the result of that effort,” said Executive Director Cheryl Zoll.

The open house will include refreshments and self-guided tours. Staff and volunteers will be on hand to talk about features in the 6,000-square-foot building, which was constructed following a successful $2.5 million capital campaign.

The building doubles the size of the basement space the center had occupied in the North Amherst School for the previous 34 years. This came in handy recently, Zoll said, when 95 people came to lunch. At the old facility, that number would have necessitated two seatings. Now guests, staff and volunteers can eat at the same time, she said, enhancing the theme of community.

“We’re working together, we’re eating together and we’re breaking bread together,” Zoll said.

When she became executive director six years ago, the center served around 3,000 people, Zoll said. Last year it served more than 4,000. The lunch program, which provided 11,000 meals in calendar year 2011, served 13,000 meals last year.

Built on the site of the former Rooster’s Restaurant, the Survival Center is designed to handle core services such as meals, medical care and a free store and pantry, and newer programs such as fuel assistance information and tax preparation advice provided by Community Action outreach workers. Other offerings will include workshops led by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

Jan Eidelson, president of the Amherst Survival Center’s board, said the building shows a commitment from the community to those in need.

“The building represents the generosity and caring of 685 donors and countless volunteers who recognized the growing needs of our neighbors and came forward to help,” Eidelson said. “We have been humbled by the incredible response.”

Lead donors and volunteers John and Elizabeth Armstrong of Amherst said the new center aids in promoting social justice and serving others in a dignified way.

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