AUGUSTA — Time is running out for the Augusta Community Warming Center, Addie’s Attic clothing bank and Everyday Basics Essentials Pantry to find a new home.

As temperatures drop, the groups are still offering in-demand services for the needy even as their existing location is listed for sale.

A new organization, Bridging the Gap, is bringing all three of the charitable-service providers together as one, and it hopes to find a new location they can all call home.

And with pressure being applied by city officials who say those services cannot continue to be provided over the long term at the former St. Mark’s parish hall between Pleasant and Summer streets, the organization hopes to find a new location by December.

“Remaining here is not an option,” said Betty Balderston, a member of Bridging the Gap’s leadership team and president of the Prince of Peace Council. “There is not enough space here and the need for the services and support we provide continues to grow, so we need a better location.”

WARMING CENTER OFFERS REFUGE

Bridging the Gap is a program of Emmanuel Lutheran Episcopal Church, formerly known as the Church at 209 and made up of the former congregations of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. The church previously oversaw both Addie’s Attic clothing bank, which gives out free clothes several days a month, and Everyday Basics Essentials Pantry, which gives out free toiletries and other essential items twice a month.

Those two outfits worked out of the St. Mark’s parish hall, which is on the west side of Augusta between a large residential neighborhood and the Lithgow Public Library.

The Augusta Community Warming Center, begun several years ago through the United Way of Kennebec Valley, is also located at the parish hall. Until now, the warming center was overseen by the United Way. Earlier this year, United Way officials asked whether Emmanuel would take over responsibility for the warming center, which officials there agreed to do.

The United Way will continue to provide funding for the warming center, and it continues to see its value to the community, according to Rob Gordon, executive director of the Augusta-based organization that oversees a large annual fundraising campaign to raise money for numerous area charities.

Gordon said the United Way’s mission is not to be a direct service provider, though it ended up filling that role for several years with the warming center. He said it is crucial that the warming center continue as a place of refuge from the cold during the day and as a place for social interaction where people can get help accessing other services such as counseling and other assistance.

‘THREE GEARS, ALL ROTATING’

“It has become part of the fabric of the community,” Gordon said of the warming center. “We’ve got a lot of people living on the edge, in fragile circumstances, in our community, and winter can push people over the edge. As time went on, we got better and better, at the warming center, of helping people with resources, becoming more than a drop-in center, becoming a place where people can get substantial help. Or if they just want to get out of the cold, they can do that, too.”

Organizers hope Bridging the Gap, which is funded by Emmanuel and others, in uniting the three previously separate entities, will provide it with a solid base and gain efficiency.

Sarah Miller, project director of Bridging the Gap, left, and volunteer Judy Colomy sort donated clothes at the former St. Mark’s parish hall in Augusta. Colomy has volunteered for about 8 years. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Sarah Miller, former director of the Augusta Food Bank, is serving as project director of Bridging the Gap.

“We’ll have three gears, all rotating and becoming stronger together,” Miller said of the new unified group of services.

Organizers envision guests who come to the warming center also volunteering, as some already do, at the other two entities. Perhaps by helping to take in, sort, fold and distribute clothes for the clothing bank.

Judy Colomy has been volunteering at the warming center for about eight years, putting in 40 hours a week for no pay when the warming shelter is running full time. She also frequently assists with organizing clothes donated to Addie’s Attic.

“My pay is the self-satisfaction I get” from helping others, the Augusta resident said. “It helps the community and it helps me. I’m a giver. And I like the place.”

The St. Mark’s property is for sale, and the social service programs offered there, according to city officials, were allowed in that zoning district because they were considered part of the use of the property as a church. Now that the property is no longer being used actively as a church, those uses aren’t allowed in that zone, city officials have said.

EARLIER RELOCATION FELL THROUGH

The Augusta Food Bank is also currently located at the parish hall, but a new food bank is being built on Mount Vernon Avenue.

Bill Sprague, of Sprague and Curtis Real Estate, which has the St. Mark’s property – including the parish hall, ornate historic church and a nearby home, listed for sale – said a few parties have expressed interest in the property but, so far, there haven’t been any takers. The property is listed for $595,000.

He said the church building is spectacular and the property is unique, and while he is optimistic that they’ll find a buyer, he said that is a matter of timing, and finding the right person or group for it.

Miller said a long-term goal for Bridging the Gap is to become a year-round resource center.

Their short-term goal, however, remains finding a new location by the planned Dec. 1 opening of the warming center.

Mayor David Rollins said city officials have been helping Bridging the Gap find a new location for the clothing bank, essentials pantry and warming center.

Rollins said after working all summer they thought they had a location, in space above Kmart off Western Avenue, but negotiations fell apart.

“We’ve got to find one, don’t we?” Rollins said. “Right now I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’ve got to figure it out.”

While there was initially friction between the city and area faith community over the zoning issues surrounding St. Mark’s, Balderston said city officials – including Rollins and City Manager William Bridgeo – have come to be very supportive and helpful in trying to find a better location for the services.

CENTRAL PART OF CITY IS SWEET SPOT

Liz Burgess, vice president of Emmanuel’s congregation council and a co-coordinator of the pantry, said the ideal new location for Bridging the Gap’s combined services would be more than 4,000 square feet of space, accessible to people with disabilities and in the central part of the cityy, within walking distance of other services, such as the Bread of Life soup kitchen.

The organization has looked at multiple potential sites but hasn’t yet found a new home.

They’ll consider properties to lease or buy. “If we had a donor of space, that would be heavenly,” Burgess said.

Anyone wishing to volunteer, donate money or donate items to Bridging the Gap may mail funds to Bridging the Gap, 209 Eastern Ave. Augusta, ME 04330. Items may be donated, for now, at St. Mark’s parish hall Thursdays between 9 a.m. and noon or Tuesdays from noon to 2 p.m. The organization may be reached at 248-1782.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: kedwardskj