PVTA’s new crosstown bus now serves Northampton Survival Center
By CHAD CAIN
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
(Published in print: Thursday, August 28, 2014)
NORTHAMPTON — Tom Burton often walks more than a mile from his Conz Street home to the Northampton Survival Center to pick up much-needed food.
Once there, he might run into Hannah Morehouse, a center volunteer in her 80s who does not own a car and often walks a short distance from her Crescent Street home to help out at the pantry’s Prospect Street headquarters.
Morehouse, in turn, might end up helping Bryan Horner, a Survival Center client from Easthampton who often gives other people rides to and from the pantry to pick up food.
Starting this week, all of these people — and thousands more — have a new way to get to the center without having to walk, bike or rely on others for rides. That’s because the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority officially kicked off a new X98 crosstown bus that stops in front of the Survival Center on Prospect Street in what is believed to be the first time in its history.
The stop is part of a larger route that provides service connecting the Walter Salvo House and the Senior Center on Conz Street, downtown on Masonic Street, Hampshire Plaza where Big Y and Wal-Mart are located, and the River Valley Market on North King Street. Along the way, the bus travels down Prospect and Jackson streets and will stop when requested at the Survival Center, YMCA and Congregation B’nai Israel.
The mini-bus service began Monday and runs every hour from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“It will help me quite a bit,” said Burton, who was one of many people who lobbied the PVTA for the stop. “There are days when I get soaked to the bone. I think it’s a fantastic idea.”
Horner agrees that the bus will be a big help for people who need food but lack transportation.
“I’m always bringing other people,” said Horner while waiting in line Wednesday morning for the pantry to open with about 15 other people.
Survival Center staff, volunteers, clients and board members joined Mayor David J. Narkewicz, Ward 3 City Councilor Ryan R. O’Donnell and officials from the Senior Center for an inaugural ride on the bus Wednesday.
As the group waited for the bus to arrive shortly after 10 a.m., it was serenaded by a group of children from Lander Grinspoon Academy next door, who adapted Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” song to use the words “This Bus is Your Bus.”
Heidi Nortonsmith, the center’s executive director, said the new route has been something the Survival Center and Congregational B’nai Israel next door began lobbying for two years ago when the PVTA began a comprehensive study of its bus routes throughout the region. She anticipates it will significantly help many Northampton residents who rely on the center for food but don’t have reliable transportation.
“This will make it possible for people to get food when they need it rather than when their neighbors and friends can give them a ride,” Nortonsmith said.
As she spoke, Nortonsmith pointed to the center’s parking lot that began filling up two hours before doors were scheduled to open at 11 a.m. She said many of the clients arrive early and wait because that’s when they can get a ride.
Others walk or ride bicycles with baskets attached to them, but this limits the amount of food they can carry, volunteer Kathy Teece said. As she prepared to serve clients inside the pantry, Teece pointed to a sign above the “Grains” section as an example of how much food people with limited transportation often have to leave behind. A family of four, for example, can take up to 12 items of grains from cereal to rice, among others, on each monthly visit. And that’s just one group of food, she said.
“The amount of food they take has to be reduced considerably, which is unfortunate,” Teece said.
The bus will also open up opportunities for others who are older, disabled or sick and cannot walk, as well as the center’s 350 volunteers, volunteer coordinator Diane Drohan said.
“We have one volunteer who walks an hour each way twice a week,” Drohan said. “The bus will have the biggest impact on the clients but volunteers will also benefit.” Morehouse said she can no longer drive and enjoys her Wednesday walk to the center, but she does appreciate having a bus option during inclement weather.
She’s also excited about being able to shop at the River Valley Market on North King Street.
“It’s a long walk to River Valley Market,” Morehouse said. “I’m very pleased the bus is stopping there.” With sidewalks yet to be installed out to the market, General Manager Rochelle Prunty knows it can be a long and tough walk to get to the store not just for the elderly but for Smith College students who do not have a car or for people who prefer to use other types of transportation besides a car.
“The bus is something our members have been waiting for a long time,” she said.
The food pantry serves more than 4,500 people a year from 18 communities throughout Hampshire County, about half of whom live in Northampton. Pantry officials estimate that clients who come for a monthly visit typically leave with between 20 and 30 pounds of food per person in a household.