Town Seeks to Help Neighbor to Neighbor with New Interim Location for Pandemic Food Distribution

At Thursday’s Selectmen meeting Margaret Goldberg, the director of Neighbor to Neighbor, said her organization continues to seek an alternative location for their food distribution operation. They have been using the Arch Street Teen Center. The lease has been extended twice, and ends April 30.

Neighbor to Neighbor’s new food pantry building is under construction but completion has been delayed.

There is a possibility that, with P&Z approval, Neighbor to Neighbor could use the temporary building in Horseneck Parking Lot (by the entrance to I95 exit 3). It is currently being used by Byram Fire Dept while their firehouse is redone. They hope to be out of the modular by the end of June, possibly earlier.

That leaves Neighbor to Neighbor in a bind for May and June.

Ms Goldberg said a return to Christ Church was not feasible because not only is construction on the new facility delayed, but the entire church campus is still closed to the public.

Prior to the pandemic, clients came to the food pantry at the church to pick up food.

A food delivery model was implemented during the shut down.

She said they’d looked into temporary accommodations at commercial spaces for the food distribution, but nothing had come to fruition yet.

She said her organization had had a conversation with Greenwich Skating Club, but that was “not suitable.”

Also, Second Congregational Church’s location has particular parking and traffic issues.

North Greenwich Congregational, which has a large meeting space and commercial kitchen, might not be appropriate because it is not centrally located.

Greenwich Schools’ Havemeyer building at 290 Greenwich Ave has a large meeting room that might be available through the end of the summer, but there were concerns about parking and traffic.

Goldberg said Greenwich Country Day School has a gym facility that might be available from mid June through the end of summer.

As for Carmel Academy at 270 Lake Ave, Goldberg said it might be possible to use of a chapel there, but there were concerns about parking because it is a shared campus with the Japanese School and the property is in transition from Carmel Academy to Chabad Lubavitch.

“I appreciate the amount of goodwill that has been extended from community partners,” she said. “It’s heartwarming and we’re extremely grateful.”

“I think within the town agreement, with the Arch Street Teen Center, there was a clause included as far as emergency of public purpose termination of the lease, that the town reserves the right to reconsider the use of the premises and determine whether there is a more urgent public purpose,” Goldberg said. “I’m going to defer to our sound and professional leadership of the town to consider what our current situation is right now, to guide any next steps, especially as we continue to provide vital food service during this ongoing severity of Covid.”

Goldberg said Neighbor to Neighbor serves a total of 520 households per week.

She said they plan to do curbside delivery from Christ Church for 63 households even if the campus remains closed. The remainder of clients have food delivered to their homes. But there is also the question of storing inventory in a secured spot.

Goldberg said while there might be commercial space available in Stamford, the community served by Neighbor to Neighbor is based in Greenwich.

Select person Jill Oberlander asked what would happen if no temporary location for Neighbor to Neighbor could be secured at the end of their stay at the town owned Teen Center.

“Right now we have no commitment… Nothing has come up,” Goldberg said.

As for the modular building in Horseneck lot across from the Boys & Girls Club that may become available in July, Goldberg said, “We don’t want to unduly displace any other agencies. This is an open dialogue and communication, and how do we resolve this puzzle right now, during this background of the pandemic.”

First Selectman Fred Camillo said he had been making calls on behalf of Neighbor to Neighbor.

“The town really stepped up and I want to thank the Teen Center to allow another great organization to use it during the pandemic,” Camillo said.

But, he said, the Teen Center has renovations and HVAC work scheduled over the next two months.

“We have to respect them. They’ve been good partners and have been very giving. We extended it two weeks ago to the end of this month (April).”

“I have no intentions of asking them to cancel what they have going on in the next two months. It’s critical that they get back there, and the kids and programs, they’ve been waiting long enough. We’re totally supportive of that,” Camillo added.

Camillo said there are some private property owners who had offered to help, but that would need approval of P&Z.

As for the Horseneck Lot modular building, Camillo said, “We’re all on board with allowing you to go there, pending P&Z approval…It wasn’t meant to be a permanent structure there forever – but we’re still in the pandemic and you need a hand to get you over to the other side, and into your new place.”

“We are working every day on this to make sure you have a place,” Camillo added. “We want to make sure you are secure next month somewhere and we’ll make it a priority.”

Oberlander asked whether the Teen Center HVAC work could be rescheduled.

Teen Center director Kyle Silver said they needed 2-1/2 to 3 months to get the space ready for their first event.

“We’ve relocated 80% of our interior items to storage spaces offsite and we’ve been covering the charges,” Silver said. “We need to move those items back in. We have three large storage units that are completely at capacity. To move those back will take manpower and time.”

“Keeping in mind we did miss our maintenance window last June when we extended the agreement with Neighbor to Neighbor,” he added.

“We’re behind and we need to catch up,” he said.

Oberlander said she was sensitive to the challenges of the town’s youth.

However, she added, “I’m sensitive to the idea that we have an immediate need in our community for food services delivery. And if it takes me begging in a public meeting to extend opportunities to a sibling not-for-profit in town that is serving an equally challenged group, that’s not beyond me.”

Oberlander asked whether the Teen Center could modify the timetable for their work to buy more time for Neighbor to Neighbor.

She asked that the item be put on the next Selectmen meeting agenda.

“It’s incumbent on us to find a solution,” she said.

“Hopefully it will be settled by then,” Camillo said. “We just heard form Kyle (Silver) that they’re behind already. My position does not change. We want to get them going there.”

Icy Frantz, chair of the board at the Teen Center, said that in addition to the work that is scheduled to be done, “We want to get back to our mission. That’s something we’ve had to put aside. This has been a time that has been extremely difficult for our youth. The quicker we can get our space up to speed, the quicker we can get our programs back for our kids, even before the fall.”

Frantz said she loved Neighbor to Neighbor’s work and appreciated its lifesaving nature during the pandemic.

But, she said, “I also believe in our mission. I believe in Kyle and the work he’s doing and the work of the staff we’ve had to let go.”

Oberlander thanked Ms Frantz. “I agree and support the return to the mission, but I’m not above begging for more time for Neighbor to Neighbor.”