AUGUSTA — A trio of social services helping the needy with clothing, food and a warm place to stay have moved out of their current home at the St. Mark’s Parish Hall and are closed for now.

But officials hope to reopen soon at an Eastern Avenue church, which sponsors Addie’s Attic clothing bank, the Everyday Basics Essentials Pantry and the Augusta Community Warming Center.

The three services, which among them serve thousands of people in need each year, have to move because both the St. Mark’s Parish Hall and the adjacent historic stone St. Mark’s Episcopal Church are in the process of being sold.

Organization leaders hope to move the warming center, the clothing bank and the toiletries pantry to Emmanuel Lutheran Episcopal Church, where the services are part of the church’s ministries, at 209 Eastern Ave. However, using the church building to deliver social services is subject to approval by the Augusta Planning Board.

Officials of Bridging the Gap, an organization formed to oversee the three services, have been searching for a new location for about a year. Sarah Miller, director of Bridging the Gap, said they looked at 10 potential locations in Augusta but didn’t find a suitable spot. They sought a new location because the church property was for sale and the services no longer were allowed to be provided at the site under city zoning rules.

With the sale of the church property pending, the need to find a new home for the services took on added urgency. So officials looked within, and decided to move to the church which already sponsors the services.

“This isn’t the ideal location, but we felt if we can’t find someplace to have those services, we have to house them here,” said Betty Balderston, president of the Emmanuel Lutheran Episcopal Church congregation. “Because otherwise they would have to shut down. and that would not be right.”

If the move is approved, they hope to reopen the clothing bank and essentials pantry May 19 at the new site. The services were last provided April 21.

Reopening the Augusta Community Warming Center is less urgent, as the center, in the past, has been open only during cold weather anyway, closing for the summer.

The site is a longer distance from the central part of the city than organizers would prefer, and they acknowledge the church might not be its permanent home; but they hope to make it home for at least the foreseeable future.

Miller said the spot has much more parking than the St. Mark’s site, and Balderston noted the area is a mix of businesses and residences, with far fewer residences nearby compared to the St. Mark’s site.

Miller also said the church is along the route of an hourly Kennebec Explorer bus that goes to VA Maine Healthcare System-Togus. She said they plan to talk to the transportation service about potentially providing users of the services rides to and from the new location.

The proposed new location for the Bridging The Gap at Emmanuel Lutheran Episcopal Church in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

The sale of St. Mark’s Church and its parish hall is pending. Church officials declined to reveal the buyer, because the sale has not been completed.

Emmanuel congregation members recently voted unanimously to take the services into the church, in several rooms in the rear section of the building, despite that meaning the church will have to consolidate within the remaining space, to make room for the services.

“That shows people here really believe this is part of who we are,” Balderston said of the congregation’s unanimous vote. “As Christians, we believe it’s our responsibility to help others in the community. It’s a really large part of who we are, as members of Emmanuel.”

The church is in the Institutional/Business/Professional, or BP, zone, where social services are a conditional use under city zoning rules. Betsy Poulin, deputy city planner, said the services being a conditional use is what triggered the requirement for the Planning Board to review the proposal, to determine whether the new uses would be compatible with the neighborhood. The city staff, in a review of the proposal, expressed no concerns about it.

The Augusta Planning Board is scheduled to consider the proposal at the board’s 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday, in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

The church was previously the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. but that church has since merged with the congregation of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church to form Emmanuel Lutheran Episcopal Church.

The former St Mark’s Home, which is next to St. Mark’s Church and Parish Hall, and which for many years was a home for elderly women, was sold last year to Motivational Services, a nonprofit organization that provides services, including housing, to people with mental illness.

Miller said the Everyday Basics Essentials Pantry, which provides hygiene items, serves 400 people a month and around 500 households annually, Addie’s Attic provides clothing to about 700 households a year, and, between them, the services have 7,000 visits annually.

The warming center, the clothing bank and the essentials pantry would be located in multiple rooms at the rear of the Emmanuel church property, including a large room now used by the congregation for fellowship gatherings after church services, and as meeting space for community groups.

Balderston said those uses will be moved into the front of the church to make room for the clothing bank and pantry.

The warming center would be located in space at the church that previously housed a day care center.

No changes to the building itself or site are planned, according to application materials filed with the city.

The clothing bank would be open up to 12 hours a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and some Saturdays; while the essentials pantry would be open, simultaneously, up to eight hours a week. The warming center would be closed until December, then open for seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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