BURLINGTON, Vt. (WFFF) — Since 1983, the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in Burlington has offered a supportive environment and a place to stay for patients undergoing cancer treatment, and after a long shutdown due to the pandemic, that hope is back on the horizon.

On Thursday, for the first time in almost 15 months, the doors reopened. Staff celebrated a $20,000 donation from New England Federal Credit Union that will go towards getting the home away from home back on track.

“Hope Lodge is such an important part of the community for families and patients who are going through their cancer journey, and not having that resource of free housing and patient support and quick access to their treatment was devastating for a lot of people,” said Sarah Ricker, Senior Community Relations Specialist with NEFCU.

The lodge has been a beacon of hope burning bright 24/7 for 28 years, and the prospect of facing cancer without it once those lights went dim on March 27, 2020 left no questions about how essential that resource was.

“On my first day back, I came into the parking lot and found somebody napping in their car, waiting for their loved one to be done with treatment or their appointment,” said Angela Putnam, Senior Manager of the Hope Lodge. “This is home for people, and they’ve missed it. It’s family.”

On top of that, some patients had been in the middle of treatment when the Hope Lodge shut down. Staff worked to find them another place to stay, but it was hard to recreate the supportive environment that makes the lodge so special.

After months of unprecedented struggle, they said it’s great to be back. “You know, I truly teared up when I approached the building because this was the first time that I’ve walked inside Hope Lodge since March 2020,” said Hilary Casillas, Associate Director of Development for ACS Vermont. “We’re really thankful for sponsors, supporters, our special event participants who have all come back and said ‘We’re still here, we still care about cancer.”

The American Cancer Society of Vermont is hoping to have the Hope Lodge ready for patients by the end of July. Early in the pandemic, rooms at the lodge were offered to healthcare workers at UVM Medical Center as they battled the virus.