Northampton shelter seeks more volunteers

  • United Way of Hampshire County workers at a new emergency shelter open at First Churches in Northampton. The United Way is seeking volunteers to help with tasks such as setting up cots, distributing food and creating activities for guests. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/14/2020 7:33:09 AM

NORTHAMPTON — With a new emergency shelter open at First Churches, United Way of Hampshire County is putting out a call for volunteers to help with tasks such as setting up cots, distributing food and creating activities for guests.

The shelter, operated by ServiceNet with support from the city of Northampton, opened at First Churches of Northampton earlier this month and can accommodate up to 30 to 35 people at a time.

ServiceNet usually runs two shelters in the city — Grove Street Inn and the Interfaith Shelter. But as COVID-19 surges around the state, more space is needed to maintain public safety protocols at the shelters, and the Interfaith Shelter will not be used this season.

“People cannot adequately social distance there because it is a smaller space,” said United Way Volunteer Coordinator, Loren Davine, “so ServiceNet has collaborated with First Churches to relocate the shelter at First Churches so there’s more space, and the city of Northampton is hoping to support this effort.”

ServiceNet operated an emergency shelter in the spring at Northampton High School.

The shelter at First Churches can accommodate up to 30 or 35 people at a time, according to Davine, with around 20 guests currently staying at the site. It will remain open throughout the winter. Combined with space available at Grove Street Inn, ServiceNet can host almost 55 guests overall.

In addition to this increased need for space, the shelter also has a greater need for volunteers.

Due to the pandemic, some of the organization’s regular volunteers have been unable to participate this year because they are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection, Davine said, or because they are health care workers who cannot take on additional volunteer hours.

Volunteers can sign up for a two-hour shift from 7 to 9 a.m. or 5 to 7 p.m. and may assist with tasks ranging from organizing materials to serving coffee.

Volunteers may also have the opportunity to add “their own flair” to the work, Davine said. While COVID-19 restrictions place some limits on activities that can take place at the shelter, volunteers were able to offer craft nights, music performances, poetry readings and hot breakfast on Sunday at the emergency shelter at the high school in the spring.

“Over time, people really developed a relationship with the guests and wanted to do more, or had ideas, specific skills or interests that they could offer at the shelter,” Davine said.

The Northampton High School shelter site drew about 86 volunteers, Davine said, and a similar number have signed up this year. But the shelter is still hoping for more help.

The shelter is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which Davine said is unusual for a cot shelter. Typically, these shelters close during the day. But the pandemic has placed limitations on where guests can go during the day, Davine said, noting that locations such as the library and other indoor spaces are closed to the public, which led ServiceNet to expand its offerings.

Those interested in volunteering can fill out a form at http://www.northamptonma.gov/FormCenter/Health-Department-18/Volunteer-Submission-Form-for-Emergency–135.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.
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