United Way of Hampshire County Seeks Volunteers for Homeless Shelter in Northampton

 In Client Press Releases

Pandemic pulls longtime volunteers elsewhere, so need is great

NORTHAMPTON—United Way of Hampshire County is eagerly seeking volunteers to assist with various tasks related to running a newly opened shelter for the homeless in downtown Northampton. 

Operated by ServiceNet and supported by the city of Northampton, the shelter is at First Churches of Northampton. It opened on Dec. 4, and the need for volunteers is great as the pandemic is pulling longtime volunteers in other directions. Volunteers will do everything from setting up cots to serving coffee and imagining activities that shelter guests can take part in.

“We were very successful in helping to find shelter volunteers last year,” said John Bidwell, executive director of United Way of Hampshire County. “We hope area residents will partner with us again this year and sign up to help.”

To volunteer, visit http://www.northamptonma.gov/FormCenter/Health-Department-18/Volunteer-Submission-Form-for-Emergency–135.

Last year, United Way helped the city of Northampton to find dozens of people to help set up and also operate a shelter at Northampton High School, which was closed at the time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Loren Davine, of Easthampton, volunteer coordinator, explained that the pandemic is pulling longtime volunteers in many directions, and many older adults who normally volunteer cannot do so because they are at-risk.

Last year, United Way recruited 86 volunteers, two of whom worked every shift, for six to eight hours, for two months in the winter.

Davine said that early on last year, volunteers helped to organize and distribute supplies that were donated. They put up signage relative to COVID-19 protocols and distributed meals that were donated by the Hampshire County House of Corrections, Smith College, and some local businesses. 

“One volunteer wanted to do more than serve coffee in the hallway,” she said. And this is where creativity came in, as The Kind Cafe was born. “She created a designated coffeehouse in the cafeteria and served up hot cocoa, mochas, and pastries to guests.

“After a few weeks, our volunteers started connecting with the guests,” Davine added, noting the shelter was at capacity last year with 55 guests on any given day. “What started as a coffee cart became a whole café downstairs. It felt like you were in a coffee shop.”

Over the winter, volunteers’ compassion and inventiveness grew, Davine said. As guests began to feel cooped up, volunteers responded by creating activities and events—such as a poetry slam, movie nights, and special, hot Sunday breakfasts.

“They made pancakes, waffles, eggs,” Davine said. “One volunteer offered a craft night. She brought in supplies and facilitated a project. Many of them didn’t just work their shift. They got involved.” 

Bidwell said, “We are proud that our efforts produced such innovation and compassion for the shelter residents.” 

In addition to finding volunteers, Bidwell noted that the assist in the spring and now has included sourcing donated clothing, water stations, water bottles, face masks, and chairs. 

“We’ve also worked with the town of Amherst and Craig’s Doors to identify and secure University Motor Lodge as additional housing for those experiencing homelessness,” he said. “We helped work out the logistics, meeting coordination, and communications.”

For more information, contact Loren at [email protected].

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