$255K coming to help Amherst Survival Center, ailing restaurants

  • Amherst Survival Center volunteers Hannah Hart, right, and her children Willa, left, and Geir, all of Amherst, sort produce, bread and other food items outside the North Amherst facility on April 2. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/29/2020 1:16:17 PM

AMHERST — Food and nutrition programs at the Amherst Survival Center, which is dealing with a significant increase in demand during the COVID-19 crisis, and restaurants in Amherst that continue to feel the repercussions from the pandemic are being supported by an influx of money from the state budget.

This week, $255,000 included in the state’s supplemental budget is being released, with $200,000 for the Sunderland Road site that serves individuals and families facing food insecurity, and $55,000 for restaurants that will be disbursed through the Downtown Amherst Foundation’s Recovery and Resilience Fund.

State Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, announced Monday that the Survival Center, where she served as executive director before her 2018 election, has modified its programs, including setting up a tent to distribute food from its parking lot in the spring, summer and fall.

“With the food insecurity crisis exacerbated by the pandemic, the center’s expertise, focus and creativity clearly benefit our neighbors, the individuals, families, seniors and children,” Domb said.

Domb also noted September is Hunger Action Month, an appropriate time to keep food distribution programs intact. 

Lev Ben-Ezra, Amherst Survival Center executive director, said the money will help purchase food, doubling the number of lunches provided and the amount of food households receive, and pay for vehicle expenses, increased staffing and building safety modifications. 

“This support from the state ensures we can continue operations at this scale, and keep growing to meet the needs of our community,” Ben-Ezra said.

For the Recovery and Resilience Fund, created by Gabrielle Gould, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District, and Claudia Pazmany, executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, more micro-grants will be available to small businesses in Amherst.

Gould observes that small businesses are operating at 25% of their expected incomes, Amherst has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state and more than two-thirds of restaurants are minority owned by people who speak English as their second language.

“We need to continue to find and offer relief to these businesses so that in a post-COVID world we can bring back these jobs, these resources and return Amherst to a resilient and strong economy and destination in Western Massachusetts,” Gould said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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