Grant to expand services for the homeless in Northampton area

  • Emma Cunningham, a volunteer with the Manna Soup Kitchen , puts dessert in bags with Thanksgiving Dinners to be handed out at the Edwards Church Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/29/2021 8:02:12 AM

NORTHAMPTON — A $211,000 pandemic relief grant awarded to Community Action Pioneer Valley will support the expansion of the Manna Community Center, the organization has announced, with the goal of assisting the local homeless population and other vulnerable people while the city’s planned Community Resilience Hub remains without a location.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services comes through the federal CARES Act passed in March 2020 to provide economic relief amid the spread of COVID-19. Community Action, based in Greenfield, plans to use the money to form a partnership with Manna Community Kitchen in Northampton and expand the Manna Community Center at St. John’s Episcopal Church at 48 Elm St.

“To ensure that Manna and St. John’s can keep their doors open to all of the programs and services they provide, Community Action will help provide administrative and financial support,” the nonprofit said in a statement. “Community Action will also help coordinate services … while continuing to lead the development and implementation of a permanent Northampton Community Resilience Hub.”

Elaine Davenport, Community Action’s director of special projects, said the physical space of the community center will expand slightly and Community Action will provide staff to help connect more people to services like food and fuel assistance. The grant also provides technical assistance in the form of experts who can run rapid analyses of the program’s effectiveness.

“I feel pretty confident that, within a year, we’ll know where the hub will be,” Davenport said Monday. “As we build a permanent hub, we know there’s need now.”

In February, Manna Community Kitchen — a nonprofit that serves 1,000 free meals per week — created the Manna Community Center at St. John’s to offer showers, laundry and other services to people who are homeless or otherwise in crisis.

In its statement, Community Action said its partnership with Manna “is the next step toward establishing the future Northampton Community Resilience Hub,” a centralized location for people to find social services and seek shelter in emergencies.

“As followers of Jesus we are called to walk in the way of love,” Rev. Anna Woofenden, rector of St. John’s, said of the partnership. “Walking in the way of love includes feeding the hungry, clothing those who need clothing, and caring for our neighbors. The work of Manna and Community Action Pioneer Valley is doing just that.”

The Northampton Department of Planning & Sustainability is working to find a location for the hub. City officials and activists have proposed sites including the vacant St. John Cantius Church and the former Roundhouse building, but none have come to fruition.

Community Action, meanwhile, is one of the social service agencies reaching out to various stakeholders — including elected officials, the local homeless community and small business owners, among others — as part of the effort to design the hub’s operations. Smith College is also involved in that effort, and in April, the college donated $200,000 to develop the hub.

“The Hub must be a trusted space where visitors can find opportunities for connection and community engagement, and it will serve as a go-to resource center to assist those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,” Community Action’s statement reads. “The Hub will also be a reliable physical resource the entire community can turn to in a crisis … For example, if a bad storm knocks out the power, the Hub could be a place to gather, get information, and charge phones or laptops.”

In addition to serving as an emergency shelter and connecting people with social services, the hub is expected to provide its users with a place to receive mail, job training opportunities and storage space for personal items.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.

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