The Recorder – Providing food, a place to get warm for Greenfield’s homeless

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GREENFIELD — Just after noon on Saturday, members of the Greenfield Police and Fire departments dropped off two truckloads of food boxes to the Stone Soup Cafe at the All Souls Church on Main Street.

“A well-fed person can generate their own heat … so we’re trying to ensure they have food and nutrition,” said Deputy Police Chief William Gordon.

The food boxes, which contained an assortment of protein, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, were extras from an organization that donates food to homeless veterans, explained Officer Laura Gordon, who coordinated the effort. They were placed on a table outside the cafe for people to pick up in addition to their hot meal.

The boxes were acquired through Pedal Thru Youth, a nonprofit that has provided 1,565 bicycles to low-income families, but also regularly puts together and distributes backpacks full of supplies for the homeless population. The Chicopee-based nonprofit was founded by Springfield resident Bob Charland, deputy sheriff at the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department.

“(Charland) usually gets a certain amount,” Laura Gordon said. “If there’s extra, he’ll call police departments that he’s worked with and see if we can send it out to agencies in our community.”

Charland said he coordinates these donations with 14 other police departments.

“I always reach out to Greenfield first,” said Charland, known locally as “Bob the Bike Man.” “Any time there’s extra stuff, I always transport it to any organization I can get it to.”

Watching as the Gordons unloaded the boxes on Saturday, Kirsten Levitt, executive director and chef at Stone Soup Cafe, said she loves being able to collaborate with the police and fire departments.

“When they come and say, ‘Can we help?’ it makes me feel so good,” she said.

And on cold days like Saturday, which hovered just above 20 degrees, “it’s great to be able to offer a hot meal.”

“It used to be that people could come in from the cold when we had a dining room,” she said, noting the change due to COVID-19 precautions. “We can’t do that now — the only people allowed in the building are volunteers.”

In addition to the food delivery to Stone Soup, Deputy Chief Gordon said throughout the winter, officers will distribute backpacks put together by Pedal Thru Youth.

“Our officers will go out in the woods and give them supplies right where they’re at,” he said, “and we’ll also hand them a resource list.”

Warming Center

As temperatures dip below freezing, the doors of the Greenfield Warming Center will be open to those in need of a warm place to spend their days. The center, at Clinical & Support Options (CSO) at 140 High St., has been open seven day a week, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., since Jan. 2.

“It’s in the same location as the Living Room,” said Jennifer LaRoche, vice president of acute and day programs for Clinical & Support Options, referring to its peer-led daytime support and diversion program. “We’ve been serving those that are houseless, so when the city of Greenfield was looking for a partner … we just thought it made sense to co-locate (the Warming Center) in the Living Room, because we’re seeing many of the same folks.”

The Living Room has been open throughout the pandemic — with COVID-19 precautions in place, such as mask wearing and social distancing — so all it required was adjusting its hours to meet the city’s needs.

“If someone wants to come and hang out, they can do that,” LaRoche said. “But it’s an ideal location for those who want to access pathways to other support.”

The program, which is funded by the city’s pandemic relief funds, is a partnership with the Greenfield Office of Community and Economic Development.

According to the flier, the Warming Center provides peer support, service connection, social networking, internet access, and coffee and snacks.

“It’s really important for that really vulnerable population to offer that additional support, whether they’re accessing shelter services already or not.”

LaRoche said the space can fit up to 15 with social distancing measures in place.

“In the first couple of weeks, it was an average daily census of five (guests) a day,” LaRoche said. “Since last weekend, it’s been an average daily census of 10.”

On Friday, she anticipated numbers to be higher in the coming days, as the cold temperatures rolled in.

At the Warming Center on Sunday, David, who did not want to use his last name, said he has been visiting the center for about an hour or two a day for the last two weeks. He said he usually uses the computers and reads while there, or socializes with others.

“In the winter it’s more important,” he said.

LaRoche said the capacity of 10 to 15 people at once has so far been sufficient.

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