AUGUSTA — Dylan Young is there just about every day. It’s a place to play games and catch up. The warmth Young and dozens of others find at the Augusta Community Warming Center is about a lot more than just coming in out of the cold.

“It’s fun to be here, to play cribbage, to escape from reality a little bit and be with your friends,” Young said on Tuesday, when the outdoor temperature was 14 degrees. “All these people are my friends.”

The center on Dec. 15 opened the doors on its seventh year at its new location at St. Mark’s Parish Hall at 9 Pleasant St. The center, which spent several years in leased space at the Augusta Masonic building downtown between Water and Front streets, moved this year when the Masons decided not to renew the lease so the space could be repurposed. The new location puts the warming center in the heart of a number of social service programs based at St. Mark’s, including Addie’s Attic, the Augusta Food Pantry and the Every Day Basics programs, which provides free toiletries and other items to those in need.

Deidrah Stanchfield, the warming center’s director, said the new location allows her to connect her most desperate visitors with basic necessities.

“It’s all the basic human needs under one roof,” Stanchfield said.

And the need is greater than ever, she said. From the time it opened to the end of December, 436 people signed up; and more than 418 have done so since Jan. 1. Stanchfield said those numbers are down slightly from when the center was downtown off Water Street, but the that fails to give a true picture.

“I would say we’re getting more people in more need, but less overall signing in,” Stanchfield said. “The shelters are full. These people are really homeless. They’re sleeping in abandoned buildings. It’s sad.”

Stanchfield said the dedication of volunteers committed to helping the center has not waned since the move. She logged 850 volunteer hours just in the last couple weeks of December. “People are really trying to give back,” she said.

Jim Duling, of Augusta, is in his sixth year of volunteering for the center. Duling and a friend on Tuesday were trading blows in a game of cribbage as another friend at the table read the newspaper. Duling said his skill at coaxing people into a game earned him the nickname “Cribbage Bully.”

“I win more than I lose,” he said, smiling. “I use cribbage as a communication tool. People tell me their troubles.”

Duling, who is at the center five days a week, credited the work and the friends for keeping him sober for the last 18 months.

“Part of my recovery is helping other people,” he said. “It’s keeps me away from my thoughts of drinking.”

Bobby Sullivan began visiting the center just to get warm, but he liked what he found there so much that he decided last week to become a volunteer.

“I needed something to do instead of staying home all the time,” Sullivan said. “I live alone. Just me and my cat.”

Sullivan said some of the visitors are homeless. Others are like him, just looking for companionship.

” I love the people here,” he said. “I think it really is important. It’s a place for people.”

Scott Libby, of Augusta, began visiting the center in December. He began volunteering because he likes helping people. Libby said he is at the center every day.

“I came to get out of the house and then decided to volunteer,” Libby said. “It’s a good place. It keeps people warm.”

Young said he used to go to the center when it was off Water Street. He said climbing the hill to the new location has not been a problem for him. He hasn’t heard that it is for others, either.

“I get bored easily,” Young said. “I have to be out and about.”

Tony Fratus, of Augusta, began visiting the warming center at the end of last winter. He said he was one of the first to submit paperwork to be a volunteer when the center reopened in December. Fratus said he has been there every day but one since it opened.

“I love being a volunteer. I really do,” Fratus said. “I want to give back to this community and help people who need it. I like to help people.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

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Twitter: @CraigCrosby4