At the Survival Center, I get an opportunity to meet people I wouldn’t ordinarily encounter. They come to the center for food, clothes, and friendly faces, and I get to broaden my perspective on humanity from talking to them.
The Survival Center gives me a weekly reminder to accept other people’s behavioral quirks — as I hope they will accept mine. You don’t have to pretend to be anything but what you are there.
It’s a simple way for me to serve the community. As a greeter, I record everyone’s town (left), answer the phone, and refer people to staff who can help solve their problems. Occasionally, I’m the first person to encounter a person who needs special help, such as a woman whose house had burned down, and called recently from the road seeking directions.
I enjoy interacting with other volunteers, especially Richard Cohen, my co-greeter on Monday mornings. He and I are shown at the reception desk in the photo at top.
It’s important to me that the Survival Center is well-run. Mindy Domb and Tracey Levy, the two full-time staffers, really know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Both realize that the center serves both volunteers and guests, and blurs the lines between the two.
“We provide an opportunity for members of the community to support each other,” says Mindy, the executive director. “It’s just an infrastructure for people’s generosity.”
The Survival Center provides a wide range of services four days a week. There’s food to take home and a hot lunch that’s as good as any restaurant (photo at left). In addition to a hot lunch and food to take home, there’s a “free store” with clothes, books and children’s toys. No money changes hands at the Survival Center, and only the food pantry has restrictions. You can take a shower, do laundry, use a computer and see a doctor at the Center. There’s even free cat and dog food!
There are regular visits from people who can help with health insurance, food stamps, homelessness, fuel assistance, reproductive health and job searches. Meg Wright, a retired social worker who comes to the Center when I do, offers advice on issues ranging from Social Security to therapists. “The greatest good we can do is witnessing another human’s story and being fully present for them,” she says.
The Survival Center undertook a campaign for donations of diapers last month, and is getting close to its goal of 18,000, with two weeks to go in the drive. “People shouldn’t have to choose between their babies having clean diapers and paying the electric bill,” says Mindy.
Next the center will solicit donations of tents and sleeping bags to distribute when the overnight shelters close for the year.
It gives me great satisfaction to live in a community that supports the Survival Center. Its two-year-old building at 138 Sunderland Road in North Amherst is spacious, filled with natural light, and designed to fulfill the center’s mission. Raising more than $2 million to build it happened surprisingly quickly, because the residents of Amherst realize how important the center’s work is.