AUGUSTA — Bridging the Gap is opening up its pantry that provides toiletries, diapers and other essential items to area residents in need for two additional days each week, greatly expanding the number of hours it is available from four hours a month to 36 hours a month. The pantry had been open only two Saturdays a month.

The move was made in part to accommodate the large turnouts Everyday Basics Essentials Pantry has drawn when it was open on the first and third Saturdays of the month, giving users of the service more chances to pick up free items. On weekdays, unlike on Saturdays, a regional transportation service has a bus run that goes by and will stop at the Eastern Avenue location where the social services are provided.

In July alone, 576 people, including 245 children, came to Everyday Basics seeking free bathroom supplies and related items. Since moving to the 209 Eastern Ave. location in the rear of Emmanuel Lutheran Episcopal Church, 1,100 people, including 455 children, have visited Everyday Basics, though that number might include people who visited more than once, according to Sarah Miller, director of Bridging the Gap.

“Through conversations with those who use our services, it became clear it would be helpful to add more options, because there are some people who can’t get here on Saturdays, especially people who don’t have transportation, because there is no bus service on Saturdays,” Miller said. “The other piece is we want to hopefully even out the flow of customers, because Saturdays can be pretty hectic. So we’re hoping to spread the flow of people out more and be able to spend a little more time with people, and have it not be so intense” as it has been on Saturdays.

Thelma Davis, of Randolph, a formerly homeless user of and volunteer with the services, credited the organization with helping her escape homelessness. Last winter she volunteered 226 hours working at the warming center, pantry and clothing bank. She also volunteers with Fresh Starts, a volunteer-driven organization led by employees of NRF in Augusta, which distributes furniture and other household items to people in need.

She said she thinks most users of the services appreciate what is offered and will benefit from Everyday Basics being open many more hours a month.

“It’s a good place to be,” she said of Bridging the Gap. “They helped me out, so I’m trying to give back. I’m just paying it forward.”

The nonprofit organization also is shifting the hours the pantry and Bridging the Gap’s Addie’s Attic Clothing Bank, which is at the same Eastern Avenue location, are open on the first and third Saturdays each month, from the previous hours of 1 to 3 p.m. to new morning hours of 10 a.m. to noon for both those services.

Miller said the Saturday hours were moved to the morning to avoid having the only hours it was open be in the middle of the day. Being open in the morning will allow both users of the service and volunteers who help run it to go to the pantry in the morning and then have the rest of the day available for other activities, she said.

Both Everyday Basics and Addie’s Attic now will be open the same days and hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 10 a.m. to noon the first and third Saturdays of each month.

Miller said the change shouldn’t add cost to the organization because staff members already were working when both services will now be open, but it will require more time from volunteers, who help with many aspects of the services.

Bridging the Gap also oversees the Augusta Community Warming Center, which also will move to the Eastern Avenue location, though the warming center is not yet open because it is seasonal, running from December through March.

Miller and Santa Havener, assistant director, said the move to the new location from the group’s former home at the since-sold St. Mark’s Parish Hall to Emmanuel Lutheran Episcopal Church has been a positive move.

Some neighbors close to the site expressed concerns about the move, specifically worrying the warming center could draw homeless and/or people with mental illness to the neighborhood. No residents, during a controversial Planning Board process which ultimately resulted in the organization being allowed to make the move, spoke out against either the clothing bank or the toiletries pantry moving to the location.

Miller said she did not know of any problems with neighbors since the clothing bank and essentials pantry opened there. She said the number of people using the services has remained roughly the same.

Having a parking lot is a big improvement over the old facility, she said, and church members have been welcoming to the services coming to their building, where some church activities were moved to make room for the services.

Betty Balderston, president of Emmanuel Lutheran Episcopal Church, believes the services moving to the church building are having a positive effect on the congregation.

“Yes, we’re using different spaces in different ways than we used to, but it has been a positive thing, having Bridging the Gap and these initiatives coming here,” she said. “It’s like it’s more of a part of who we are now.”

Bridging the Gap also offers referrals to other organizations to people in need of assistance, such as housing, employment, case management and counseling services.

The organization, after pausing for the move, has resumed collecting donated items, though donors to Addie’s Attic are asked to hold off on donations of winter coats and other winter-related items until later in the year because of limited storage space. Miller said it’s helpful if donors call ahead at 248-1782.

The first day the essentials pantry will be open under the new hours is Thursday.

Miller said the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program’s Kennebec Explorer bus runs on a route that goes past 209 Eastern Ave. regularly, and arrangements can be made by riders to be dropped off and picked up at Bridging the Gap. She said they hope, eventually, to become an official stop, though the bus service does not run on weekends.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.