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Needham Community Council planning to move this month

Posted by Evan Allen  February 1, 2012 03:10 PM

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The Needham Community Council is planning a move late this month, out of the building it has occupied on Lincoln Steet for 40 years to new digs on Hillside Avenue, according to Executive Director Sandra Robinson.

“Our current space is a big old house,” she said. “It’s worked well for us for many, many years, but we outgrew it.”

Robinson said the move is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 24, and she said they hope to be up and running by about Feb. 26.

The Council is a nonprofit that has helped Needham residents in need for more than 80 years.

The council runs the only food pantry in Needham, and it serves about 190 families, said Robinson. It also runs a thrift store, offers English as a second language classes, and loans out medical equipment like walkers and wheelchairs to people who either can’t afford to buy them or only need it for a short time.

The Council’s current home on Lincoln St. is a three-floor house that was owned in the past by the Visiting Nurses Association and the Red Cross.

“It’s very homey,” said Robinson. “We’re going to miss it terribly. But it’s not efficient.”

The third floor isn’t handicap accessible, she said. ESL teachers have no room to teach, so they conduct their classes in churches and libraries. The food pantry has just one refrigerator, and the thrift store has just one hallway that is filled with deliveries. They have to turn away donations because they simply don’t have room to store them.

The new building, at 570 Hillside, used to be an office building. It has more than twice as many square feet as the current home, said Robinson.

“We brought it all the way down to the studs and put it back together again,” said Robinson. The new building will be fully handicap accessible and have an elevator.

Council President Barry Coffman said that during renovations, which began about six months ago, they knocked down interior walls, replaced all the windows and put in new heating and air conditioning systems.

“A full gut rehab of the entire building,” said Coffman. “We’ll have room to expand and take on additional programs, depending on our resources.”

The food pantry, he said, is getting three commerical refrigeration units. For the first time, they’ll be able to offer fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as frozen food. The ESL classes will meet in the building, and the Council will have meeting space available for other Needham organizations to take advantage of, he said.

The thrift shop, which Coffman said provides the Council with about a third of its budget, will be open for more than just ten hours a week because volunteers won’t be stuck sorting through deliveries in the entryway.

The medial equipment loan program, too, will expand, said Robinson. Currently, the council doesn’t have the space to store enough equipment to meet the need. Robinson said that the council loans out about five pieces of equipment a day.

“During holidays, Mother’s Day, graduation – every wheelchair we have goes out,” said Robinson. “We’ll be able to have wheelchairs for those high demand times.”

The move has been in the works for the last two years, said Coffman, when the Council bought the Hillside Ave building. They are in the process of selling their current property, he said, and hope that the money they get from the sale will cover the cost of the new property.

Coffman said that the council is in the midst of a capital campaign to raise a million dollars to cover the cost of the renovations.

“We’re well over three fourths of the way,” he said.

The move doesn’t just bring the potential for new services, said Robinson. It’s also a great location – near the high school and the proposed spot for the Council on Aging, she said.

It’s perfect, said Robinson, because the Needham Community Council is powered by about 200 volunteers aged 13-96 years old.

“We can be that intergenerational agency,” she said. “We can have people meet around a purpose – a way to volunteer and give back to our community.”

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com

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