YORK, Maine — The drywall is going up, the paint will come next, the sign is on order, with the goal that by the end of next month the York Community Service Association will be under one roof. Here will be the popular thrift shop, the food pantry, the social services that have helped generations of York residents who need a hand up.

This is a time of great anticipation, said YCSA Executive Director Michelle Surdoval, as the finishing touches are put on the Route 1 building near Old Post Road that will serve as the new all-in-one facility. It’s taken about six months longer than expected, due primarily to a busy construction climate that has hampered in-kind and volunteer work. But the end is in sight.

Afterward, the organization’s three operations – the pantry on Woodbridge Road, the staff and social services office in separate space across the street from the pantry, and the thrift shop in Cape Neddick – will all on one campus.

“I think it’s going to be interesting,” said Surdoval. “This moves poverty in York to Route 1. I don’t know what that means yet, but I’ve met people who have lived her for 35 or 40 years who didn’t know we had a food pantry in town. We’ve been sort of hidden away. So many people don’t know we’re here. This new place will bring visibility. It will bring it home that we are an agency that has been helping people for a long time – and the need is not going away.”

Surdoval is clearly proud as she shows off the new digs at the former Finestkind Fish Market. What had been an open air pavilion with picnic tables is now a well-insulated building that will be used for the food pantry. “It’s going to be like Hannaford’s!” she said with a laugh, with shoppers taking carts down aisles and selecting from the produce section, the meat department, the nonperishables.

The main building will house a two-story thrift store, administrative offices and a private space with its own separate entrance where social services director Katie Schindler can meet with clients who come to YCSA with a range of needs.

“What we’ve tried to do is create a safe space for people to come who are really in crisis and with as much pride and dignity and as much safety as possible get them help,” she said. “We see new people all the time. Some are on disability and have no savings and something happens to their car. Some get sick quickly, or are in a car accident and can’t drive. Or someone died and the survivor has no resources.

“It’s amazing that we’re here,” she said. “These small community-based organizations helping people in a struggling space just don’t exist much anymore.”

There was a time early last summer, however, when the renovation project had slowed to a crawl, when the work to be done was significant and the people to complete the work were difficult to find – particularly in a booming housing economy when in-kind or volunteer work often was put on the back burner.

“We were at a crossroads,” said YCSA board president Roger Poisson. “There’s just so much water you can get from the well. The project had stalled.”

Among the significant issues, two old in-ground lobster tanks had to be dealt with – one was removed entirely and the other filled. The wood-beam foundation of a back wall was rotted, and the walls in that area were moldy.

“It reached a point where we were going to have to pony up. And we needed someone to help us,” Poisson said.

It was around that time when York developer Walter Woods approached Surdoval and offered to volunteer his time as general contractor. For years he has held a bonfire benefit on Long Sands Beach to benefit the pantry.

“We think the people who work there are just awesome. So for me it was a no brainer,” Woods said.

“I could see that the building wasn’t moving forward. The direction wasn’t quite there. Lots of people were volunteering and doing what they could, but this is a big project. And the economy is so busy that it makes it difficult for people to give time,” he said. “They bit off a little more than they could chew, so I helped them out.”

Woods lined up contractors for the work remaining to be done, and YCSA had to pay for more than they had anticipated although “all the subcontractors are doing it for as little as they can,” said Woods.

Fortunately, the YCSA had equity. Although it rents the spaces on Woodbridge Road, it has long owned the thrift shop in Cape Neddick. A line of credit on that building has allowed YCSA to pay for the necessary work without having to raise funds.

Between the sale of the thrift shop and the $1,000 monthly savings from rent, the organization will be in good shape, Surdoval said.

And when the pantry, and the thrift shop, and the social services office open their doors later this fall, the beneficiaries are going to be York’s struggling residents.

“Our shoppers are very excited about going to the pantry on Thursdays and then being able to come to the thrift shop. A lot of them don’t have car gas to go all the way to Cape Neddick,” she said. “This is going to change a lot of people’s lives, in ways I don’t even think we can anticipate.”

As seen on seacoastonline.com