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NORTHAMPTON — While concern for staff, client, and volunteer health during the COVID-19 pandemic recently forced Northampton Survival Center to temporarily stop client visits to pick up food, the center anticipates resuming modified operations as soon as possible. In the meantime, even though the building is closed, the work continues, with new community partnerships and initiatives springing into action, said Heidi Nortonsmith, executive director.

The center has teamed up with Community Action Pioneer Valley to begin distributing food out of Jackson Street School, a nearby location with ample, circular parking and cafeteria and refrigeration capabilities. Beginning on April 6, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning, food will be delivered by the Survival Center to the school, where a team of trained personnel will be able to create pre-bagged packages of nutritious food while maintaining safe distancing and other health precautions. On those same afternoons, bags will be carted outdoors under a tent, for quick drive-up intake and food transfer to clients safely in their cars.

Another initiative between the Northampton Survival Center and Grow Food Northampton will begin on April 7, with fresh produce and groceries being delivered every Tuesday to high-need sites including Hampshire Heights, Florence Heights, Meadowbrook, and the Lumber Yard on Pleasant Street. Food distribution at all four sites will work in tandem with the Northampton public-school system and Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School’s new meal-delivery program for children, in order to amplify each other’s efforts to keep children and their entire families fed. Shelf-stable groceries will be paired with fresh produce purchased directly from local farms, as well as produce and other goods purchased from distributors via River Valley Co-op.

With this partnership, in the words of Grow Food Northampton Executive Director Alisa Klein, “we are floating all boats higher and doing exactly what just, successful food systems should do — make the connection between local farmers and the people who need fresh, healthy food the most because of a lack of access, financially and otherwise.”

To serve clients in the hilltowns, food is being brought from the Hilltown Pantry and Northampton Survival Center to the various Councils on Aging that serve the region. COAs in Chesterfield, Worthington, and Goshen have already begun distributing this food from their sites, and further outreach is being coordinated with the Hilltown Community Health Center and the Hilltown Community Development Corp. The center is exploring using a school classroom in Worthington as a mini-pantry, and fresh produce has been shared with the Maples senior housing in Worthington.

Eggs from Northampton Survival Center have been shared with the MANNA hot meal program, and fresh produce and retail donations of bread and other items usually reserved for the center are now being shared with other food pantries in the area, via the center’s partners at the Food Bank.

“These are just a few of the first directions taking shape,” Nortonsmith said. “Please know that we continue to work on the front lines of providing food security to our neighbors in need. The form will be different for a while, as so much around the world has been turned on its head. But our hearts and hands are still in this, and we’re working with great and good leaders across the Valley to do our part. Thank you for being part of our team and cheering us on.”