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COVID-19 community updates

  • Bob Clifton of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation kicks up some dust while mowing the Elwell Recreation Area on Damon Road in Northampton in September 2013. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 4/2/2020 7:13:06 PM
Modified: 4/2/2020 7:12:55 PM
Community Texting Program

413families Community Texting Program provides expanded content to housebound parents and children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program and its partners are utilizing its platform to reach families with young children in Springfield and Holyoke to provide texts with important information, free resources and activities, and gift card giveaways for families.

Recognizing that schools are closed and families are together at home, with many parents serving as teachers for their children, the program provides important, timely information with two to three text messages per week, such as free meal sites in Springfield and Holyoke, as well as free educational activities that families can do together at home.

Those who opt-in to the 413families texting program may receive messages in English or Spanish. To receive Holyoke-specific messages, text 413familiesH to 313131; and for Holyoke messages in Spanish, 413familiasH to 313131.

For more information or to opt-in online, visit

Bell ringing

Holyoke Medical Center has recently partnered with several local churches to have bells rung during hospital shift changes as a way of showing support and hope during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jenny Fischer, vice president and chief experience officer of Holyoke Medical Center, says community members could show their support for area health care workers by ringing bells outside their homes during shift changes, or hanging a heart on their front door or windows to join the #HeartsForHealthcareWorkers campaign that has spread across the country.

The most common shift changes at Holyoke Medical Center occur at: 7 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m.

Bells at the following locations will be rung at designated times: First Lutheran Church, Northampton Street, Holyoke, at 7 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m.; Our Lady of the Cross Church, Dwight Street, Holyoke, at 3 p.m.; St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Jarvis Ave., Holyoke, at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Holyoke City Hall and many other local churches are also determining their ability to join this initiative.

The Literacy Project

The Literacy Project, adult education program with locations in Northampton, and Amherst, has gone online with its classes. Students are working to get their high school equivalency degree and then go on to community college, job training programs and improved job prospects to better support themselves and their families.

Classrooms are now closed but The Literacy Project is operating online and providing remote learning to adult students. Students are attending classes on Zoom and doing math problems at home on google classroom. They are also doing reading and writing assignments.

In addition to teaching and learning, education and career advisers are calling students to provide a lifeline to link adults in need with services like food, navigating unemployment and accessing mental health counseling. Volunteers are contacting students, reaching out by phone and email to continue to tutor students.

The Literacy Project has secured funding to give out laptops as a “scholarship” to students who cannot afford them and who are working from home. Adults 18 and over who are interested in joining remote learning classes to work toward getting their high school equivalency diploma (HiSET) can email

Trial courts

The Trial Court has established a help line that the public can call to ask general questions about their civil and criminal cases and help them navigate the court system while the court system remains closed to the public except for emergency matters. The help line will be staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and can be reached by calling 833-91COURT.

For emergency matters, court users should first call their local court clerk’s or register’s offices. Contact numbers for individual courts and offices can be found online at Emergency matters include: emergency protection and harassment prevention orders; arraignments of new arrests; bail reviews; dangerousness hearings; mental health commitment orders; care and protection orders; and other matters. Each department of the Trial Court issued standing orders that contain full lists of emergency matters.

If a caller is unable to reach a clerk’s office or register’s office, help line staff will serve as a backup resource and will be able to look up case information and assist callers. Each court, as well as the probation service, will have representatives available on the help line. Callers will be prompted to select the trial court department they wish to reach, and then be connected to a knowledgeable representative who can access the main court case database.

Department of Conservation and Recreation

DCR-managed coastal beach reservation parking areas are closed effective midnight April 3, to reduce large concentrations of people at beaches during the COVID-19 outbreak. Additionally, DCR will open select seasonal state parks early and expand access at other parks to provide additional open space opportunities for residents to enjoy, and alternatives to popular state parks, throughout the commonwealth.

Coastal parkways that provide access to state beaches will also be closed to both parking and dropping off passengers. State beaches will remain open and available to pedestrians for transitory use only (walking, jogging, biking, solitary fishing, etc.). A link to find specific parking and traffic restrictions can be found at

State parks and associated parking areas remain open at this time; however, the public is asked to visit state parks and other open space properties that are located near their homes to ensure social distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, DCR’s agency-owned ice rinks, visitor centers, campgrounds, playgrounds, fitness areas, athletic fields, athletic courts, golf courses, and bathroom facilities will remain closed until May 4.

DCR will also be limiting the amount of parking spaces available at certain high-visitation state parks. DCR continues to stress that if a park is crowded, visitors should consider visiting a different location or returning at a later date or time.

The state parks system has over 450,000 acres of property, and every region of the state contains multiple parks to explore that may be less busy than others in the area. DCR advises visitors to state parks to:

■stay within solitary or small groups, and avoid gatherings of 10 or more people;

<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull>practice social distancing of at least 6 feet between individuals;

■participate in only non-contact recreational activities;

■practice healthy personal hygiene, such as handwashing for at least 20 seconds; and,

■stay home if ill, over 70, and/or part of a vulnerable population.

To centralize COVID-19 updates that impact the state parks system, DCR recently developed a Massachusetts State Parks COVID-19 Updates webpage, Prior to visiting a state parks property, members of the public should review the contents of the webpage. Furthermore, for information about the Baker-Polito Administration’s ongoing efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, please visit the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) website,

South Hadley libraries

The South Hadley Public Library & Gaylord Memorial Library remain closed to the public and they urge library patrons to stay at home as much as possible. No library items are due and no overdue fines will be coming. There were over 6,000 library items checked out of SHPL and Gaylord when the branches closed, the libraries request that patrons keep these materials at home until they reopen.

Library staff are available by email and Facebook messenger to offer support and answer questions Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can find email addresses on the website, or message them via their Facebook page,

Northampton Survival Center

Northampton Survival Center was forced to temporarily stop client visits to pick up food in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, due to concern for staff, client, and volunteer health. In the meantime, even though the building is closed, the work continues and flourishes with new community partnerships and initiatives springing into action.

The Center has teamed up with Community Action Pioneer Valley to begin distributing food out of Jackson Street School — a nearby location with ample, circular parking and cafeteria and refrigeration capabilities. Beginning April 6, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, food will be delivered by the Survival Center to the school, where a team of trained personnel will be able to create pre-bagged packages of nutritious food while maintaining safe distancing and other health precautions. On those same afternoons, bags will be carted outdoors under a tent, for quick drive-up intake and food transfer to clients safely in their cars.

Another important initiative between the Northampton Survival Center and Grow Food Northampton will begin Tuesday, April 7, with fresh produce and groceries being delivered every Tuesday to high-need sites including Hampshire Heights, Florence Heights, Meadowbrook, and The Lumber Yard on Pleasant Street.

Food distribution at all four sites will work in tandem with the Northampton Public School system and Smith Vocational’s new meal delivery program for children, in order to amplify each other’s efforts to keep children and their entire families fed. Shelf-stable groceries will be paired with fresh produce purchased directly from local farms, and produce and other goods purchased from distributors via our local River Valley Co-op.

To serve our clients in the hilltowns, food from the Hilltown Pantry and Northampton Survival Center is brought to the various Councils on Aging that serve the region. COAs in Chesterfield, Worthington, and Goshen have already begun distributing this food from their sites, and further outreach is being coordinated with the Hilltown Community Health Center and the Hilltown Community Development Corporation.

Eggs from the Survival Center have been shared with the MANNA hot meal program, and fresh produce and retail donations of bread and other items usually reserved for the Center are now being shared with other food pantries in the area, via partners at the Food Bank.

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