Posted: 07/04/2021 21:00:04 PM
Modified: 07/04/2021 21:00:06
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Listen is reopening its community dining hall in White River Junction for in-person meals starting Tuesday.
Free meals will be available from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday, in the dining room located at 42 Maple Street. It will be the first time people will be allowed to eat there since March 2020, when the Lebanon-based non-profit organization switched to take-out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They will continue to offer that option to people for now, said Larry Lowndes, responsible for community meals.
âWe don’t want people to feel uncomfortable,â Lowndes said. “If they’re not ready to come sit and eat, we shouldn’t force them.”
Inside the newly renovated dining room there will be room for around 70 people. Tables will be six feet apart and no more than six people can sit at each table. There will also be outdoor seating available for 24 customers. Before the pandemic, sit-down meals were available from 5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Staff extended this to one hour to encourage people to space out in the dining room and reduce traffic in the parking lot. Take-out will be available on departure.
âNot everyone has to come early on,â Lowndes said. “This should hopefully allow for a bit of turnover, so if we get 100 people to show up, they should be able to sit down if they want to.”
During the pandemic, Listen averaged about 1,000 take-out meals per week, Lowndes said. Before the pandemic, volunteers served between 80 and 100 meals a day.
âWe’re going to plan 80 for at least the first few weeks and then adjust it if necessary,â he said.
Clients will be required to wear masks, regardless of their immunization status, unless they are seated at a table.
In addition to changing the hours, Listen is also changing its volunteer program for community dinners to make it more accessible to individuals. Previously, people entered mostly in groups, forming teams of four to eight.
âSome teams come monthly, others will come every two months,â Lowndes said.
People who are interested in volunteering can visit listen.volunteerhub.com to see what slots are open in the future. They can also stop by any day to see if there are any positions open for the dinner service that night and add their name to a free time slot. Or, they can contact Lowndes at [email protected] or call 802-698-8764, ext. 3005, to inquire about any help needed that evening.
âWe love our cooking teams and are very grateful for everything they have done in the past and everything they will do in the future,â said Lowndes. âIt will also be a fun place for individuals to have the chance to participate. ”
He also created a new volunteer position: a welcome that will speak to people when they arrive at the dining room.
âThe host will be able to acclimate people who were used to what they were before, but more importantly new people and families,â Lowndes said. “It’s good, I think they know if they come, which we all are.”
If volunteers are not vaccinated, they will be asked to wear masks at all times. Volunteers will not be asked to enforce the mask policy among clients.
“I’m not going to make the volunteers the police of this,” Lowndes said, adding that responsibility would fall on the staff.
Individuals must be 17 and over to volunteer. Younger children can volunteer if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian who also volunteers.
âWe are really looking forward to it, both the volunteers and the guests,â said Lowndes.
Liz Sauchelli can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3221.