The Northampton Survival Center is a staple of the Hampshire County community, helping our friends and neighbors with food security since 1979.
Through decades of hard work and dedication, the Center continues to grow and expand it’s programming to better meet the needs of our community in the years ahead.
Have a story or testimonial to share about the Center? We’d love to hear from you!
The Northampton Survival Center opened in November of 1979 in the Parish Hall of St. John’s Episcopal Church on Elm Street. The initial funding for the Center came from a grant awarded through the Diocese’s Venture in Missions Project. The hard work, vision and dedication required to organize a food pantry came from area members of the religious and social services communities.
From the minute it opened its doors, the Survival Center fulfilled a long-standing need: distributing food to people in emergency situations and to help people with low-incomes who require assistance in making ends meet on a short term basis. Clothing and household items were available in the earliest days.
The goals of the organizers were threefold: to build a broad-based community support for the Center; to provide an adequate and dependable supply of food (pantry shelves were then stocked solely with donated food); and to find a permanent home. All three of these goals would eventually be realized. Achieving those objectives, however, would take a number of years — years marked by periods of financial uncertainty and shortages of food and workers that threatened the existence of the Center.
The Early Years
The important role the volunteers would play in keeping the Survival Center open was clear from the very beginning. At first, the Center was run completely by volunteers. They worked in the pantry putting together food boxes with clients, gathered donated food, sorted clothing, and served on the board of directors. With growing numbers of people coming to the Center, the need for a paid part-time coordinator was quickly apparent. Two people were hired to share the job (joint salary $100 per month).
Six months after opening in May of 1980, the Center had a new home — the basement of the old Vernon Street School in Northampton. Although roomy, the cellar location with its long flight of stairs proved impractical. And serving some 75 families a week was difficult and frustrating. There was never enough food for everyone who came.
In October of 1982, the Mayor of Northampton, David Musante, persuaded a local landlord to donate a rent-free space in the old St. Regis building at 76 Pleasant Street. Once again, it was moving time for the Survival Center. While the move gave the Center more space — and even an elevator for transporting food — two things did not change: a shortage of money and the need for a dependable source of food. Compounding the growing difficulties was the lack of volunteers to keep the pantry operating.
By June of 1983, the Survival Center was in a crisis; it had lost its rent-free home on Pleasant Street — a devastating and demoralizing blow for the barebones operation. The Board voted to close the Survival Center until more community support and dependable sources of food could be found.
The Growing Years
Five months later, in November of 1983, the Survival Center was back in business down the street at 441 Pleasant Street. At first, a small band of volunteers kept the operation alive. Fortified by a $2,000 grant from the Northampton City Council, the Center soon began taking steps toward becoming a more financially stable operation that was backed by wide community support. The Center achieved non-profit status, conducted its first fund-raising drive, and received its first Community Development Block Grant (federal money awarded by the City Council).
Joining the Western Massachusetts Food Bank was a turning point in the Center’s history. For the first time, the Survival Center had a dependable source of nutritious food. In 1985, the Northampton Survival Center became a member of the Hampshire Community United Way — a ringing testimony to the progress the Center had made since its founding. During this period, the Center’s first full-time program director was hired, and the carrot logo designed.
The Prospect Street Years
It took more than six years, but finally in January of 1986, the Survival Center had a home at 265 Prospect Street, a building provided by the City of Northampton.
With the hard work and help of the volunteers and local business, the space was turned into a welcoming and attractive facility. As the number of persons served continued to grow, additional financial sources were needed to meet rising costs. Grants from Hampshire County Human Services, F.E.M.A (Federal Emergency Management Act), and donations from the town of Easthampton were added to contributions from individuals in the 15 communities whose residents were served by the Center. The annual Benefit Boogie, first held in March of 1988, brought supporters together to raise money and have fun. More and more organizations from every segment of the community, including schools and religious groups, showed their support of the Center’s work through donations and conducting food collections throughout the year.
The Northampton Survival Center enters the 21st Century
By the early 2000s, the Center was running two pantries – one in Northampton and one in Goshen, and was distributing significantly more food to clients with every year thanks to the help of hundreds of volunteers. The operations had outgrown the building, and more space was clearly needed. In 2010 the Center expanded into the remaining adjacent garage bays of the building, and entered a generous 30-year lease with the City of Northampton. A Capital Campaign in 2010 raised $1.2M to fund the complete renovation of the expanded space, with construction expertly overseen by D. A. Sullivan & Sons and completed in 2011.
Take a look at the exciting building renovation as it unfolded in from October, 2010 to April, 2011: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43NHXQfZoDI
In February, 2019, we reconfigured the interior pantry space to feature the fresh produce that has become the cornerstone of our offerings. Check out our homemade video designed to help volunteers and clients feel oriented to the new space and procedures before they arrived.
COVID-19 Pandemic Era
Since the COVID-19 pandemic reached us in March, 2020, everything about our food distribution process has been predicated on protecting our clients, volunteers, staff, and community donors and partners, through a combination of social distancing, mask-wearing, and other protective equipment.
To that end, our entire food distribution process was transformed. Food for families with children, fresh produce, and client resource information moved into a weekly outdoor distribution and delivery program to help clients feel safe and well fed. In March, 2020, as schools closed and client numbers increased, we adapted and expanded our services in response to the pandemic’s immediate effect on our clientele and operations. We met the increased need by providing more food, more often, and from more locations, than ever before.
Pandemic-era successes have included:
- Moving our food distribution outdoors with clients driving up to receive food in their cars and offering weekly groceries to replace our monthly program
- Creating a newly-energized collaboration, The Community Food Distribution Project, between the Northampton Survival Center, Grow Food Northampton, and Community Action Pioneer Valley
- Moving our food distribution temporarily to a nearby school that provided a large cafeteria with adequate indoor space for social distancing for staff and volunteers, along with a big, circular driveway that enabled an orderly flow of traffic for clients
- Distributing around two thousand pre-bagged packages of nutritious food three days a week to clients who came to the Center, and two days a week by delivery to 14 low-income, senior-, and disabled-housing sites around the city
- Making several modifications to our building – both inside and out – before the colder, wetter weather arrived to successfully manage safe distribution to clients outside and safely distanced workstations for volunteers inside
- Employing outreach efforts to call homebound clients who had not come to the Center for food since the pandemic started, checking on their well-being and making sure they knew the multiple ways they can get food from us
- Establishing a Curbside Pickup program so clients with limited time can pre-order food from our online store and pick it up outside by appointment
Click here for photos and information about operating our Community Food Distribution Program from Jackson Street Elementary School during the COVID-19 pandemic (April to August 2020).