Amherst Survival Center provides more than food to local community

By Jessica Troland

From high-end French restaurant Chez Albert to the casual quarters of Antonio’s,there is no shortage of places to eat in the Amherst Town Center.

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However, five miles away, at 1:06 p.m. on a rainy Friday, a man dressed in a drenched, worn flannel jacket can’t afford any of them. He is filling his plate with a hot meal at the Amherst Survival Center, possibly for the first time this week.

He is one of 65 people that will find relief at the Amherst Survival Center today.The pantry and hot meal distribution center serves about 65 to 90 people a day and

about 4,000 in a year.

The center also serves up a side of hope.

“The folks who come through our doors primarily are families trying to live off of one income or part-time hours, the elderly trying to live off of their Social Security checks, people who are disabled, new immigrants, migrant workers and the homeless,” said Tracey Levy, program director.
The center is also place people come to find company. They include, she said, “people in transition, who are single and people with third shift jobs who want to hang out with friends for a while before heading home.”

Levy, who has been living in the area for 20 years and working at the Survival Center for more than five, knows that not everyone in Amherst is eating at Chez Albert.

“Northampton and Amherst hide their poverty very well,” said Levy.

In the past year, the center has seen a 5 percent increase in their pantry and hot lunch programs. The $350,000 budget makes meeting the increasing demand possible. Fifty percent of that budget comes from checks written by people in the community.

The Survival Center receives a large amount of support from the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, as well as local businesses and restaurants, some of which include Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, Panera Bread and Antonio’s.

The Survival Center aims to provide a variety as well as a well-balanced diet,offering two to three meats a day, side dishes and vegetables.

Vegetarian options are also available. Once everyone has been served, visitors are allowed seconds andleftovers to take home whatever they please.

Today, the Survival Center served a tossed salad, fruit salad, vegetable stir-fry,mushrooms, chicken hot dogs and regular hot dogs, among others.

A local church is making them a lasagna dinner, which will take care of the meat servings for that day, as well as the vegetarian option.
The Survival Center also gives away bread and fresh produce four times a week and allows visitors to take as much as they need. Today was bread and banana day.

It is now close to 2 p.m.

Traffic in the kitchen has slowed and volunteers have begun to wash dishes andclean up. A few visitors still linger at tables, filling bags with bread.

Down the hall, a line of about eight or nine people has formed outside the foodpantry door; a small room filled with shelves and boxes of food.

Outside a visitor stands in the rain, holding her bag of bread and bananas.

“When people come, they will not leave here hungry,” Levy said.

Jessica Troland can be reached at [email protected]