Homeless individuals and others needing daytime shelter in Montclair have one more place to go. Toni’s Kitchen has again opened up a daytime warming center at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. 

The center opened in the second week of January, as temperatures plummeted in Montclair and the region. It was made possible in part by a $10,000 grant awarded by the Montclair Township Council at its Jan. 4 meeting. Additional funding comes from organizations working with Partners for Health, a Montclair based nonprofit organization providing grants to groups addressing health equality.

Toni’s, the food ministry at St. Luke’s first opened a daytime warming center in 2021, Anne Mernin, the program’s executive director said. When the coronavirus pandemic first hit and access to many indoor spaces was cut off in 2020, spring was starting — but even by winter, options for indoor shelter remained limited. 

“The library was closed. The coffee shop was closed. The indoor dining at the feeding programs were closed,” Mernin said.

Toni’s hoped not to need the program again this year, she said. But the pandemic has continued, with Montclair and the nation overall are both seeing a spike in coronavirus numbers — with local new daily cases between 30 and 40 times as high as they were in early November.

Mernin said the space at St. Luke’s — 73 South Fullerton Ave. — will be open until March, Mondays to Fridays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. After that, Toni’s will reassess the need.

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The program works alongside others in the community. The Salvation Army's Montclair Citadel, at 13 Trinity Place, is open during its business hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Hot beverages such as coffee and tea are served as well as lunch, which is provided from Monday through Wednesday. The Salvation Army additionally provides longer-term housing for 23 individuals through its Cornerstone House program, and helps individuals in that program work toward permanent housing.

Montclair Emergency Services for Hope provides overnight respite at Union Baptist Church, located at 14 Midland Ave., from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. No guests are permitted after 11 p.m.

“This is another effort on our part, especially with the cold weather,” Mayor Sean Spiller said at the Jan. 4 meeting where the council awarded its $10,000 grant. He said the program would “allow a space for individuals to stay warm, to have an option to heat up, a space and a time period if you’re homeless.” 

Councilwoman Lori Price Abrams, in voicing her support of the program, also acknowledged the work of Fourth Ward Councilman David Cummings, who met with nonprofit organizations that provide services for low-income residents.

“So, between Montclair Emergency Services for Hope, the Salvation Army, Union Congregational Church, they all work hard as well as some other churches that look to housing the homeless when we have the Code Blue evenings,” Cummings said.

New Jersey issues “Code Blue” alerts during times of extreme cold or other inclement weather.

Mernin said Toni’s regular dining room has become a warehouse because of the expansion of its food program, so the St. Luke’s assembly hall is now being used for indoor dining. She said the space will provide hot food and hot coffee and everyone is welcome. 

Pam Scott, executive director of Partners for Health, said her program became aware of the need for more funding in conversations with Toni’s. The township-based nonprofit groups have worked together through the nonprofit subcommittee of the mayor’s COVID-19 Task Force, and have coordinated efforts to meet needs as a group. 

“In past winters, more public spaces would have been opened to provide a place for individuals without a permanent home to warm up during the day,” Scott said. “Because of COVID, many of these spaces remain closed or have limited capacity that make it unsafe for gathering during the day.

Partners worked with local funders — The Montclair Foundation, The Montclair Fund for Women, Partners’ own foundation and The Schumann Fund for New Jersey — to provide $11,000 above and beyond the council grant. 

“The Montclair funders began meeting in the Spring of 2020, in the early days of the COVID pandemic, to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing our community and explore opportunities to provide emergency support to the local safety net of nonprofit organizations,” Scott said. “The Montclair funders will continue to meet regularly to collaborate and share information and resources.”