St. Ambrose renovation finished in Bristol

BRISTOL — A house of worship is more accessible to parishioners and a food shelf is better able to serve the community, thanks to a $250,000 renovation of St. Ambrose church in Bristol.
The West Street church, which hadn’t undergone improvements since it was built in 1971, recently completed six months of construction. Upgrades include an elevator to the basement, two new bathrooms, an expansion and renovation of the kitchen, new lighting and other improvements to bring the structure in line with modern building codes.
Another minor improvement helped the Have A Heart Food Shelf in an enormous way. By moving the walls of the church’s pantry, construction crews added new storage space for the nonprofit.
“The space has more than doubled,” said food shelf director Rebecca Price. “I bet we could fit 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of food in here, with these new shelves.”
For Price, the construction finished in the nick of time, as donations have begun pouring in for the holiday season. From May until last week, the food shelf operated out of a storefront on Main Street.
Price said the new pantry is a big improvement from the previous space, which she described as little more than a closet.
The food shelf feeds 65 to 70 families per month, mostly from the five-town area.
“A lot of people have been coming for many years,” Price said.
She added that donations peak around Christmas and Thanksgiving, and then dwindle throughout the winter before picking up again in May, when the town post office hosts its annual food drive.
Thanks to the added space, Price said she is hoping to expand food pickups from once to twice a month come springtime. Right now, the shelf dispenses food around the third week of each month, when food stamps may run low.
Since the church basement is more accessible, thanks to the elevator, Price said people in need are less reluctant to come to the food shelf.
“It’s very humbling to come and ask for food; you’re not going to ask your neighbor to do it for you,” Price said. “If people can get here themselves, it’s much better.”
Father Yvon Royer said the elevator was an effort to include the mobility-impaired in events held downstairs.
“We have so many events here and if the elderly are excluded, we wanted to address that,” Royer said.
The church uses the basement to host coffee hours every Sunday, as well as fish fries and spaghetti dinners throughout the year.
The entire construction was paid through private donations from parishioners and the community. Royer said his congregation wanted to upgrade the church because the bathrooms and kitchen were not up to code, and the food shelf had simply run out of space.
“We appreciate that we can be a part of the food shelf,” Royer said. “If there’s anything we can do to help the food shelf remain here, that’s important.”
Royer said the cafeteria, which can seat up to 150 people, can now host large events for the church and community organizations. The church basement, one of the largest indoor spaces in Bristol, was used for a forum on drug use several years ago.
“I can see it being used a lot more by the greater community,” Royer said. “We’re now known as a community center.”
Royer said that will only happen if he and Price spread the word about the new space. That’s why the church plans to have an open house to show off the new space during the afternoon on Sunday, Nov. 2 from 1 to 3 p.m..
Price, who on Thursday purchased new shelves to install in the new storage space, said the food shelf is glad to come home to St. Ambrose.
“We’re thrilled to be back and in our new space,” she said.
Residents can drop off food directly to the food shelf, or can write a check made out to Have A Heart.

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