BRATTLEBORO — Before this year, Groundworks Collaborative typically provided shelter for up to 63 people experiencing homelessness at a time. That number grew to about 155 in June, according to Libby Bennett, the Brattleboro nonprofit’s director of development and communications.
Bennett said Groundworks, which was founded in 2015 after a merger of the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center and Morningside Shelter, was able to sustain the surge due to a state policy that has temporarily provided a hotel room to anyone without shelter. But its services, which include a food pantry for households in need and assistance for clients seeking permanent housing, have been more expensive to provide during the pandemic, she explained.
“The hard part for us is not knowing how much longer these increased costs are going to last,” Bennett said.
Ensuring that Groundworks’ operations can survive that uncertainty is the goal of a fundraiser it launched this month, the inaugural GIVE 60 CHALLENGE.
Bennett said the organization hopes to raise $20,000 through the initiative, which encourages people to complete challenges that are meaningful to them. Participants are asked to find sponsors for their efforts in what is known as a peer-to-peer fundraising model.
Groundworks developed the GIVE 60 CHALLENGE after it could not obtain a permit to gather for what would have been its 10th annual Hike for the Homeless, which it holds each fall at Mount Wantastiquet in Chesterfield, due to the pandemic, Bennett said. She added, however, that anyone who enjoys the annual outing may still participate in the challenge by hiking.
“We wanted to give people who really love that tradition … the ability to do that,” Bennett said.
She explained that the GIVE 60 CHALLENGE makes the organization’s fundraising efforts accessible to people of all ages and abilities and also allows participants to address other issues at the same time. In addition to recreational tasks, possible challenges include mailing postcards to support the U.S. Postal Service or shopping at local businesses, Bennett said.
Whatever the activity, Groundworks is encouraging participants to base their goals on the number 60 — a nod to the organization’s ongoing development of new facilities at 60 South Main St. in Brattleboro.
Peter Case, a former Groundworks board member, pledged to complete a 60-mile bike ride for the GIVE 60 CHALLENGE, according to a news release.
“I think it’s a great idea and a way to bring people together in doing whatever feels like a challenge to them,” Case said in the release. “For me, it might be a 60-mile bike ride. For someone else, it might be 60 minutes, 60 hours, or 60 days of reading social justice literature.”
The organization’s drop-in center, a component of the 2015 merger, has provided information about housing support and food resources at that location for more than 20 years, according to Bennett. Groundworks plans to renovate the center but has not finalized a timeline or budget for the project, she said.
“We’re working with this idea that dignity has an address,” she said in the news release. “… Scores of our neighbors in need use 60 South Main Street as their mailing address for lack of permanent housing and will continue to do so when we move back in after restoring dignity to the structure with our current renovation project.”
As part of the project, Groundworks will also relocate its wintertime overflow shelter, which has hosted clients in a dormitory at the Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development in recent years, to an adjacent property on South Main Street this winter, Bennett said. She noted that the new shelter will offer 34 beds at full capacity and would be able to operate year-round if additional funding becomes available.
Groundworks plans to open the shelter in late December or early January after purchasing and demolishing a building on that site last year, she added.
Bennett explained that proceeds from the GIVE 60 CHALLENGE will support Groundworks’ operations, rather than construction of the new facilities. The organization has invested in its operations during the pandemic, she said, such as offering a greater diversity of foods at its pantry and helping clients access phone and Internet services at home so the organization can continue to assist them remotely.
“While COVID has shut down a lot of things, we’ve only amped up our services to the community,” Bennett said. “… We’re really appreciative of whatever support comes our way to help us do that.”
Bennett said the organization may continue to hold the GIVE 60 CHALLENGE in future years, even after the pandemic, due to its accessibility. She added that the initiative, with its potential for social engagement, is more consistent with Groundworks’ values than the Hike for the Homeless fundraiser.
“People enjoy hiking … but it doesn’t, as an activity, necessarily speak to our mission and the work that we’re doing,” Bennett said.
Participants can register for the GIVE 60 CHALLENGE on Groundworks’ website, at https://groundworks.rallybound.org/give-60-challenge, and are encouraged to complete their activities before Thanksgiving. The organization had raised $3,510 of its $20,000 goal as of Thursday afternoon.