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Editorial: More than surviving

The new Amherst Survival Center on Sunderland Rd.

The new Amherst Survival Center on Sunderland Rd. KEVIN GUTTING

With twice the space, an 80-seat dining room and enough room for a free medical clinic, the new Amherst Survival Center is a vast improvement over its former cramped quarters at 1200 North Pleasant St., where it operated for 34 years. The new 6,000-square-foot center at 138 Sunderland Road just north of the center of North Amherst, will provide free lunches, groceries, housewares and medical care to some 4,000 low-income people each year.

On Monday, the first day the nonprofit center opened its doors to the public, Jan Eidelson, president of its board, expressed satisfaction in the completion of three-year project: “We built this building and it’s becoming a home.”

From the start, the center’s construction was a townwide effort. Organizers raised $2.5 million in donations from some 600 people, businesses and foundations, of which $1.5 million will be used to cover building costs. With an initial 2015 finish date, the project came in ahead of schedule, in part, due to the support it garnered from a range of professionals and community members, including local developers, real estate experts and former city planners.

The collaborative effort resulted in a thorough and well-executed plan that reviewed available housing options, finally setting it sights on the former Rooster’s restaurant building. Preliminary plans to renovate the existing structure were scrapped after it was determined it would be impractical to reuse the two-story building.

While the new building is ample cause for celebration, the center can also look to the progress it has made since 2006, when it was struggling with charges of harassment of staff and employees taking donations for personal use. The subsequent investigation by the town’s human rights director and the revamping of the agency, which led to Cheryl Zoll taking over as executive director, put the center back on track delivering basic needs to needy people.

As Eidelson once put it: “This place is like ‘Cheers,’ where you come in and everybody knows your name. ... People are recognized here who in town are invisible.”

Public transportation to and from the center must still be worked out, by we’re confident center staff and the town will find a solution and the money to make that happen.

Last year, the 32-year-old Northampton Survival Center completed a $1.1 million renovation and expansion project at its Prospect Street headquarters, with the aim of increasing the amount of food it makes available to hungry families and providing educational programs on such topics as economical food shopping, healthy meal preparation and job hunting.

Both agencies say demand for their services is growing. These projects prepare them to help more people in quarters that lend more dignity to clients who come seeking help.

We commend both these enterprises — and their respective communities. They managed to deliver the goods successfully and on schedule despite tight fiscal times. While the economy may be on its way to better times, the need for food assistance programs will remain. They are more prepared than ever to meet that need.

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