Amherst Survival Center to offer food on take-out basis, eliminate sit-down meals

  • Pamela Rewa carries in food they picked up from Target in Hadley for donation at the Northampton Survival Center.

Staff Writer
Published: 3/13/2020 12:00:10 AM

AMHERST — Although food will continue to be available to guests, served meals at the Amherst Survival Center are being temporarily suspended due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to the community, Executive Director Lev Ben-Ezra explained that beginning Monday all meals, like groceries from the food pantry, will be given to guests to go.

“We are taking this proactive stance to ensure that we can continue to provide meals and groceries for the long haul, in as low-risk an environment as possible,” Ben-Ezra wrote.

The center is removing tables and chairs where people would normally sit. In addition, the community store will be closed, the clinic will be shuttered, and no donations will be accepted, although the coordinator will be on site to make referrals.

Ben-Ezra said Thursday that the multi-step strategy is about looking after the welfare of the community.

“Like all natural disasters, the impacts are always felt disproportionately by those with the least resources,” Ben-Ezra said, “At the same time as many of our neighbors fill their grocery carts with bottled water, extra food and emergency supplies, many more don’t know how they are going to pay for tomorrow’s groceries.”

Ben-Ezra notes that more people in Massachusetts face food insecurity than there are currently COVID-19 cases worldwide. “We must balance two current public health crises, the public health crisis of COVID-19 and the public health crisis of food insecurity,” Ben-Ezra said.

At the Northampton Survival Center, all food is already taken to go, as there are no community meals.

“But we’re certainly putting in place many precautions, and also making contingency efforts to serve people in need who might be sick or compromised,” said Executive Director Heidi Nortonsmith.

On Monday, Nortonsmith sent a memo to volunteers about the efforts to keep the center clean and best practices to avoid the spread of the new coronavirus.

Nortonsmith wrote that for people who are sick and can’t have someone else pick up their groceries, the center is making up pre-packaged bags of food that clients can arrange to pick up from the driveway in their vehicles.

Similarly at the Amherst Survival Center, anyone who is sick should stay home. If they’re in need of food, people can designate someone to pick up supplies for them, or have a volunteer bring a pre-assembled box of groceries to a waiting vehicle.

Hours are not changing in Amherst and new shoppers can continue to register for the food distribution, as well as to continue to meet with representatives from Elliot Homeless Services and apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and Health Insurance Assistance. Access to the laundry, lockers, shower, mail service and telephone will also continue, but movies, music and sewing workshops, and similar gatherings, are suspended temporarily.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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