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New Amherst Survival Center open with twice the space

  • left Clency Arriaga,5, and Abril Cabrera,3, of Amherst, at lunch with Cabrera's mother Eva Martinez at the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space. The girls were  there with Becky Escalante, Clency Arriaga's mom and a friend Jose Martinez.

    left Clency Arriaga,5, and Abril Cabrera,3, of Amherst, at lunch with Cabrera's mother Eva Martinez at the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space. The girls were there with Becky Escalante, Clency Arriaga's mom and a friend Jose Martinez. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ignacio Pacheco brings his lunch outside to eat during the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space.

    Ignacio Pacheco brings his lunch outside to eat during the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space. Purchase photo reprints »

  • leftRichard Dresser, of Amherst, adn Kurtis McKemmie, of Hadley a the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space.

    leftRichard Dresser, of Amherst, adn Kurtis McKemmie, of Hadley a the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Rebecca McFarland, and back left, Mary Schomaker pick up food at the pantry during the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space.

    Rebecca McFarland, and back left, Mary Schomaker pick up food at the pantry during the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space. Purchase photo reprints »

  • left, Mary Schomaker and Rebecca McFarland, pick up food at the pantry during the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space.

    left, Mary Schomaker and Rebecca McFarland, pick up food at the pantry during the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space. Purchase photo reprints »

  • leftRichard Dresser, of Amherst, adn Kurtis McKemmie, of Hadley a the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space.

    leftRichard Dresser, of Amherst, adn Kurtis McKemmie, of Hadley a the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space. Purchase photo reprints »

  • left Clency Arriaga,5, and Abril Cabrera,3, of Amherst, at lunch with Cabrera's mother Eva Martinez at the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space. The girls were  there with Becky Escalante, Clency Arriaga's mom and a friend Jose Martinez.
  • Ignacio Pacheco brings his lunch outside to eat during the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space.
  • leftRichard Dresser, of Amherst, adn Kurtis McKemmie, of Hadley a the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space.
  • Rebecca McFarland, and back left, Mary Schomaker pick up food at the pantry during the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space.
  • left, Mary Schomaker and Rebecca McFarland, pick up food at the pantry during the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space.
  • leftRichard Dresser, of Amherst, adn Kurtis McKemmie, of Hadley a the Amherst Survival Centers First day being open in the new space.

“In every detail, it’s better than the old schoolhouse” where the center operated out of a basement for 34 years, he said. “I think people will get attached to this building. It will be a lot of fun getting used to a new way of doing things.”

Eighty people came through the doors at the new building at 138 Sunderland Road in the first 10 minutes Monday, and that’s how many used to come in the first hour, said program director Tracey Levy. Some came for lunch, while others came for free bread and produce. Many received bouquets of flowers donated by Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s.

They found that the new Survival Center has twice the space, with a sunny dining room with space for 80 people to sit down comfortably. The building has space for the free medical clinic, more parking, more efficient storage and distribution of food, and easier drop-off of clothing donations. The “free store,” which gives out clothes and household goods, will open Dec. 17.

Juanita Gonzalez, a native of Colombia, was there Monday with her 2-year-old son Ernesto. Her husband is a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, and she picks up free food and clothes at the Survival Center.

“I am very thankful with this place because we are students so we don’t have many incomes,” she said. “This place is for me very important and I never forget the help that they give me.”

As the new Survival Center opened, it announced that it had met its fundraising goal of $2.5 million, with donations coming from 600 individuals, businesses and foundations. The new building itself cost about $1.5 million.

Minutes before it opened for the first time, the staff was working out the little details, such as how to use the new intercom. In the old basement space, they just yelled to each other.

“I feel very excited, and am kind of in shock after all the work that’s gone on by so many people over the past three years,” said Executive Director Cheryl Zoll. “Finally, today we’ll be able to share it with the community. I feel a mixture of satisfaction and disbelief.”

One detail that remains unresolved is bus service to the building. Just before it opened Monday, many guests were walking from the bus stop in the center of North Amherst a half-mile south.

Zoll said she is talking with Town Manager John Musante and the PVTA about getting four extra runs in the middle of the day to the Survival Center. It is unclear who would pay the $28,000 annual cost of that. She said she is also talking to taxi companies about an interim solution.

On the first day, guests enjoyed a lunch of tossed and fruit salads, rice, beans, corn, stir-fried vegetables, maple syrup sweet potatoes, vegetable quiche, humus, dal, beef hot dogs and desserts.

“It feels good to have this place open now,” said Richard Dresser, one of the lunch guests. “All these new customers are coming in, the place looks nice, and there’s more excitement. I could dance for joy.”

An open house at the new Amherst Survival Center is being planned for late January.

“We built this building and it’s becoming a home,” said Jan Eidelson, president of the board. “I can feel my heart just smiling. There’s a lot of joy about people coming to a space that reflects dignity. To see the line outside the door with new faces means people are learning that we’re here for everybody.”

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