CHESTER, Vt. – Chester-Andover Family Center has been around for a long time – actually since 1985. They’ve been in their location on Route 103 in Chester since 2012. Still, “Communication is an ongoing challenge,” says CAFC President Stephanie Mahoney, “letting the communities of Chester and Andover know that we’re here to provide assistance.”
Touring the Chester-Andover Family Center with Mahoney and three other volunteers Georgia Ethier, Nena Nanfeldt, and Kris Winnicki, it’s easy to see that they have a lot to offer. It’s also easy to get a feeling of what real community is all about.
The ranch-style building sits comfortably back from busy Route 103 with plenty of parking for the thrift shop and food shelf, the most visible parts of what the CAFC provides. Less visible, but of equal importance is their financial assistance program. Chester and Andover residents can receive financial help with heating bills, rent, and necessary repairs to home and vehicle. They will also connect residents with additional resources and programs for long-term help.
According Winnicki, “We’re of the first line of defense. If they’ve lost their job, things have fallen apart, they really need to pay their rent, they’ll get assistance from us but then we direct them to other resources as well. That’s the part that’s really key.”
One of those resources is a social worker provided through their partnership with Neighborhood Connections in Londonderry. The social worker will come and meet with residents to help with budgeting and navigating other local and state funding and programs.
Enter the thrift shop and you’re surrounded by an eclectic mix of clothing, shoes, bedding, dishes, books, CDs, DVDs, and anything else you can think of. Staffers credit Mahoney, who came to them with retail experience, with making the space attractive and laid out for easy shopping.
The store is open to everyone, not just Chester and Andover residents, and more importantly it is the vehicle that raises the money that buys and food for the food shelf and supports all the finance assistance efforts. “It’s the backbone. Without the thrift stop, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” said Mahoney.
From the store, you can easily step through the door into the food shelf. The first row of shelving is lined with bins for the weekly produce volunteers will pick up from the Abundance Acres CSA. This time of year especially, the food shelf also receives donations from residents’ overflowing gardens. With the goal to provide healthier foods for families in need, Sandy Vincent, manager of the food shelf, develops recipes for vegetables that may be abundant but aren’t necessarily well-known.
The food shelf also partners with the Vermont Food Bank, Healthy Harvest Network, and other food shelves. They collaborate with Shaw’s, Lisai’s, Thomas Dairy, and Black River Produce by purchasing overstocked items at “a good rate.” Donations make up the balance. There are several short aisles of canned and dry goods, and they also have frozen meats as well as refrigerated items.
Once school starts, the food shelf often collaborates with teachers. According to Nanfeldt, “We’ll get a call and a teacher will say, ‘I have a student who never has snacks, doesn’t have food’ so we’ll put together a box of food and get it over to the school.”
The same is true with clothing from the store. Teachers will reach out to the thrift store and let them know that a student doesn’t have sneakers or a winter coat. Their response is always “Take what you need.”
Each of the volunteers has a fond memory of a family they’ve helped with their programs. It’s what drives the volunteers to keep working on getting the word out about their programs.
The entire organization is run by volunteers and for the CAFC, it’s one of their biggest needs. They currently have 30 volunteers who work Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in the thrift shop and Thursdays and Fridays at the food shelf. They are always looking for more. Any amount of time is appreciated and needed. Many volunteers just work three hours a month.
For more information, visit www.chester-andoverfamilycenter.org or call 802-875-3236.