With the final renovations underway, the will soon be moving into its new home at 570 Hillside Ave. where there will be more space for meetings and programs, commercial refrigerators to store food pantry items and easier accessibility for all residents.
The council has been housed in a building at 51 Lincoln St. for 40 years, renting it for years before purchasing it from the Visiting Nurses Association in the 1980s.
“It was a good home for many, many years,” said Sandra Robinson, executive director. “But we outgrew this space and in the last 10 years we’ve been thinking really hard about what to do next.”
Creating a space
The decision to move was finalized about two years ago. The council purchased the new building on Hillside Avenue from owner David Berg and began major renovations to tailor the building to meet its needs—ensuring 100 percent handicap accessibility with level parking, an elevator and other amenities; industrial refrigeration and plenty of storage space for food pantry items; a separate thrift shop area where the council can accept donations at the same time residents are shopping; and ample meeting space for the council’s many programs, from English as a second language tutoring to Child Assault Prevention training.
“We know we’ll be here for another 50 years. There’s no doubt about it,” Robinson said of the new location. “We created this space. Our original building is an old house, so we made it work for our programs, where this [building] we designed the space based on our programs and with growth potential, so as our programs grow we’ll be able to grow this as well.”
Funding for the move will come from resale of the Lincoln Street building as well as a $1 million capital campaign—a goal the council is about two-thirds of the way toward meeting, according to Barry Coffman, president of the Needham Community Council Board of Directors.
The council receives no outside support from any municipality or government agency, operating on a $300,000-a-year budget raised annually through the fall funding drive, proceeds from the thrift shop and other donations.
“We have about 200 donors to the capital campaign. We’ve got thousands to the Community Council, who support us throughout the year. Those donations run from about $5 to about $1,000,” said Debbie Winnick, director of public relations and development.
Filling a need
The Community Council has served Needham residents for more than 80 years.
“It was started in 1930 by residents of the community to help their fellow residents with food support during the [Great] Depression, and over the years the programs have changed to support Needham residents with a variety of unmet, non-medical needs,” Winnick said.
The council has one full-time employee, Robinson, and a support staff of about eight part-time employees, as well as a board of 24 people and a volunteer force about 190 people strong.
The is a key component of the council’s work, not just because of the efforts of those good Samaritans but because of what volunteering brings to them, both in community service hours for high school students and a place to socialize and be part of something for older residents.
“The volunteer aspect is actually huge and one of the things that I think really distinguishes this organization,” Coffman said. “We’ve got 190 active volunteers from ages 15 to 95. When people are here together, working at the thrift store for example, there’s this multigenerational interaction. It’s really special and unique and, especially for a lot of the older women, it’s a big part of their socialization in general.”
Many residents know the Community Council for just one reason—from shopping at the thrift shop, taking or teaching ESL classes or interactions with the food pantry—but this local nonprofit offers much more than just those programs.
“One of the biggest programs that people are just beginning to realize we have is the medical equipment loan program. We loan out wheelchairs, walkers and bathroom equipment and other things to anybody in the community or anybody who works in the community who needs something,” Winnick said.
Items are typically lent out for short periods of time.
Most of our programs have nothing to do with financial need, but it’s still a real need,” Robinson said. “When your mother comes to town and you need a wheelchair so she can stay with you or you need a bath seat or whatever it is, it’s a need. Our English as a second language program, for example—lots of people who move to this community, to really be a part of our community, need to improve their English skills. That’s a need.”
The Needham Community Council Food Pantry is the only program that relies on financial need. Needham residents can show up and receive goods the first time during regular hours on Mondays from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. or Wednesdays from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. After that, they are asked to get a referral showing financial need from either the Board of Health or the Needham Housing Authority, Robinson said.
“We want to make sure they’re connecting with the other services in town, because if they need food they may need other resources as well,” she said. “We’ve been doing it that way for many years, and it’s really been very successful.”
Readying for the move
With the new building, residents can drop off donations anytime when the office is open, even while others are shopping the thrift store or food pantry. The new building features two wings with separate doors—facing the front of the building, the right side houses the food pantry and all donation drop-offs and the left side houses the thrift shop, with the main entrance leading into the business offices.
Renovations are expected to be complete in February, and once the council has secured a certificate of occupancy from the town, they will begin to move items from the old building to the new site, probably around mid-February, Winnick said. In March, they will be getting settled and will begin welcoming residents in for tours and open houses.
Note: The council is no longer accepting thrift shop donations at its Lincoln Street site as it prepares for the transition. The staff expects to begin receiving items at the new building by Feb. 13. about adjusted schedules here and check the Community Council website for updates.