Guest columnist Kevin J. Noonan: With help, Craig’s Doors ‘persists’

  • Matt Brown, left, a volunteer for a worldwide Christian organization called The Navigators, disinfects a cot as Kevin Noonan, director of programs for Craig's Doors, does the same Tuesday at Craig's Place, a shelter at First Baptist Church in Amherst. gazette file photo

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Ten years ago, we asked First Baptist Church for sanctuary in their basement to operate a seasonal shelter. First Baptist didn’t know us, but trusted us. We can’t thank them enough. Opening last November looked doubtful but we “persisted.”

In late March, when students disappeared like snow on the water due to this pandemic, we lost a major source of volunteers but also food through the student run Food Recovery Network.

First Baptist “persisted” by letting our staff cook and bake.

The Jewish Community of Amherst “persisted” by donating funds to creatively help both guests and Amherst restaurants which provided delicious food.

The Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst courageously “persisted” with our continued partnership to serve nutritious take-away breakfasts each Wednesday.

And other religious congregations and members of the community sent us money to keep our doors open.

But the COVID “daze” drove away volunteers and staff as concerns for personal safety deepened. Yet we “persisted” by hiring and training more to keep people warm and safe from the virus.

The town of Amherst “persisted” in planning for a quarantine shelter, which Hampshire College compassionately agreed to host, but good health “persisted” and quarantine was not needed.

When hand sanitizer and isopropyl alcohol seemed like hen’s teeth, we installed a sink in one of the showers so guests could wash before registering. Volunteer medical staff donated their time to check temperatures. We poured bleach and water into spray bottles and squeezed them until our hands cramped. We sprayed so much that few of us now wear clothing without the spatter of bleach.

We set up tables with homemade wipes to sanitize cellphones. Community members and groups like the Mennonites “persisted” by making cloth masks since others were nowhere to be found.

And our shelter guests “persisted” by surviving where they were already socially distant but never to this degree. There were few places of refuge after businesses, libraries, government buildings, houses of worship and a community center closed. Basics like restrooms were unavailable so we appreciated the town setting up port-a-potties and a hand washing station on Pray Street and their financial support to help us to set up more at First Baptist.

We’ve distributed ponchos, space blankets, tarpaulins, bungee cords, tents and sleeping bags. And we have “persisted” with community outreach now that many guests have “melted into the woods.” Some of the luckier ones have been able to couch surf during the first cold weeks of May, but we worry about what will happen as we float across the uncharted waters and rocky shores of this pandemic. People who are homeless or disadvantaged in our community still need our help despite the warmer weather.

With your continued generous support, we will “persist” in offering services at our Resource Center like food, camping supplies, telephone and internet access, storage of personal belongings, and help with applications for assistance, jobs and housing. And we also can’t thank “you” enough for your “persistence.”

Kevin J. Noonan is executive director of Craig’s Doors — A Home Association Inc.