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Coffee shop 'closure' spawns petition
NORWAY — Upset that the coffee shop at Stephens Memorial Hospital is "closing," patients, volunteers and community members are busy getting signatures on a petition to keep the coffee shop, as it currently operates, open.
In a press release this week, Western Maine Health president and CEO, Timothy Churchill, announced changes for the SMH Coffee Shop.
"The current location of the Coffee Shop will be undergoing renovations starting in July to be completed by late summer and re-opening as The Café at Stephens," the release reads.
"The Café at Stephens will feature a self-service coffee bar and vending machines with healthy food options prepared by the SMH kitchen. The café will be open 24/7 allowing them to provide better service to patients, visitors and staff.
"The area will feature comfortable seating and access to Wi-Fi for a more relaxing atmosphere for patients and visitors."
Citing surveys and visitor comments claiming "access to food during non-business hours is a much needed service, The Café at Stephens 24/7 access will provide this service to patients and their families." The redone cafe will reopen in August.
However, this is not acceptable to those signing the petition who say the cafe is more than just food.
"It's always busy," said Lorraine Skinner and Marcia Libby, both of Norway, as they circulated the petition for signatures. Another noted it is more than the food, it is the people, it is the atmosphere.
"You can't get that with a bunch of machines," said another, declining to identify herself.
"Volunteers come in at 4 or 5 a.m. ... this is not done for the people," said David, a Poland resident who spent most of his life in Oxford and made clear his anger at the situation.
The petition reads:
"We have had a coffee shop for over 50 years and we would like to keep this one.
"It is a very comfortable and relaxing place to go and everyone gets along. We share tables with other people rather [sic] [whether] we know them or not.
"Why change a good thing when we have it?
"Why don't we get a chance to speak?
"This is our way of doing it!"
As of 10 a.m. Monday, more than 125 had signed the petition "and we have just started!" said Skinner. By 1:30 p.m. Monday they had approximately 150 signatures which the 72-year-old Skinner nervously planned to deliver to hospital administrators.
The coffee and gift shop was started by the SMH Ladies Auxiliary which baked and cooked all the food for years, explained Barbara Allen, spokeswoman for the hospital. Eventually the state outlawed volunteer cooking of food for sale so that was taken over by the hospital.
Six years ago the auxiliary disbanded and hospital volunteers have fulfilled the roles of selling food and gifts.
According to Allen, people have asked for access to food during hours the shop is not open as they wait for friends and family in the ER.
"I totally understand their sentiments," said Allen of those petitioning. "But there will still be volunteers helping."
The only changes, noted Allen, is that the food will be in machines. "It will be the same food," she said, "cooked on site by the same people."
Allen also noted that the seating will be much more comfortable and there will be WiFi available.
The gift shop, however, will disappear.
"The gift shop is closing because it has to in order to keep the coffee shop open 24 hours – we can't leave the gifts out," explained Allen.
Allen said the hospital board is in favor of this change.
"We need to serve the greater need of the community," explained Allen, referring to those who were there during the hours the current coffee shop is closed.
"I hope they will give it a chance."