Sunday, April 12, 2015

Lots of News to Catch Up On



If it's spring, then the annual Letter Carrier Food Drive must be coming up, this year on Saturday, May 9. This photo is from the 2014 drive.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. A lot has been going on. There is some news, too.

Food Survey, Driving Program, and Moving Next Door


The Friendship Center Food Pantry is seeing an increase of visitors in 2015 (orange line) compared to 2014 (green line) but the difference is not huge.

Usage of the Friendship Center Food Pantry remains brisk, though numbers of visits between the end of last year and the beginning of this year have leveled off somewhat (see chart above.)

We reached 2,000 registered members last year. Though no doubt a siignificant number , we know that many of our original members have moved out of the area and some have passed away. We are now adding about 3 new pantry members per week as opposed to 14 or more per  week a year or so ago.

During the first 14 weeks of 2015 we have served an average of 151 households per week; during the first 14 weeks of 2014, we served an average of 140 households per week.

As you may know, we are open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. every Wednesday, 52 Wednesdays per year. We observed our fourth anniversary as a pantry iin February.

Since we opened we have been  located in a 750-square-foot space at 43 Eagle St.  Around the beginning of May, we will be moving next door to 45 Eagle St., which has a total of 1,278 square-feet of usuable space. The biggest asset of this will be more space for our volunteers to maneuver and more space up front for our visiting friends.

Currently, as anyone who has visited on a busy day knows, there is not a lot of room up front for our visitors. I measured it recently, and it is only 155 square feet. This move should offer a lot more space to maneuver.

We will be vacating 43 Eagle Street but will still be conducting our sign-ups in the Eagle Street Room of the First Baptist Church of North Adams.

About 75 feet long and 9 and a half feet wide, 43 Eagle Street has served us well and I will miss it. Over the years, our volunteers have developed great mastery in filling our member’s food orders with efficiency, even when they are practically packed in like sardines!

In more good news, the ride-giving program spearheaded by the First Congregational Church of Williamstown and Wiilliams College, with help from many other quarters, is underway. As you may know, the Friendship Center has been offering people the option of getting a taxi ride home, paid for by the pantry. This has added up to a few thousand dollars per year for rides.

In a wonderful expample of interfaith cooperation, these volunteers have been working with us to launch this program. It saves the pantry money, but more importantly it is a faith-based community-building service making connections and building friendships.

Here is another area where we are trying to go beyond what is usually done by a food pantry”

It took a great amount of work both to collect and meaningfully tabulate, but results of the Food Survey of our pantry members conducted in February and March are now ready. We did this in conjunction with Amanda Chilson and the Mass in Motion program. People were quite willing to take the survey which asked eight questions and we had 233 responses.

The first question was, what are your favorite foods that we offfer? Fully tabluated by category — we received very many specific responses detailed further on — the resulting answers were:

Meat: 21.28%
Vegetables: 16.81%
Fruit: 14.84%
Pasta and Sauce: 7.51%
Dairy: 6.79%
Other: 6.79%
Bread and Cereal: 4.65%
Soup/Stew: 4.47%
Fish: 4.47%
Eggs: 3.57%
Peanut Butter: 3.04%
Drinks: 2.14%
Beans: 1.78%
Baked Goods/Dessert: 1.78%

We will have more results available at our NBIAI meeting this Friday, April 17, at 10 a.m. in the Eagle Street Room of the First Baptist Church of North Adams. All are welcome to attend.

April 17th Interfaith Meeting on Food Drive


Speaking of this next meeting, it  will feature a discussion about preparations for the upcoming Letter Carrier Food Drive, which will be held on Saturday, May 9. The meeting will be held at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. (Please use Eagle Street entrance). 

Sorting the food collected by our Letter Carriers in North Adams, Clarksburg and Florida is a huge, but fun, task and takes lots of volunteers. The total weight of collected food regularly exceeds 5 tons!

Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to attend the meeting, though it is not necessary in order to volunteer. As noted above, those attending will be able to learn more about the results of the recent Food Survey.

Also at the April 17 meeting, we will again discuss the work of and seek possible members for, our new Interfaith Programs and Events Subcommittee. We had good interest at our March meeting and hope to hold its first meeting before summer.

Here’s a new initative I’m excited about:

The NBIAI Interfaith Events and Programs Subcommittee was created by the NBIAI Board of Directors at the October 2014 board meeting. The purpose is to work on interfaith events events and programs. These may be of an inspirational, informational, service or social nat ure — mostly likely some combination of the four.

As with the NBIAI — which took on the food pantry task when the community needed it —  we would look for things that aren’t otherwise being done.

The vision for this subcommittee is faith, community and friendship. Like the NBIAI, this will be a group of people of different faiths and denominations working with others of goodwill. 

For more info about the April 17 meeting, how to help with the Food Drive, or the Interfaith Programs and Events Subcommittee, call Mark Rondeau at 413-664-0130 or email northernberkshireinterfaith@gmail.com. The Friendship Center Food Pantry number is 413-664-0123.

A new service at the Eagle Street Room



Alan Rilla speaks about the Re-Entry Initiative at the January public meeting of the NBIAI.

Both our January and March meetings were on the topic of the Berkshire County Sheriff Office’s Re-Entry Initiative, which is headquartered at the former Berkshire County Jail building on Second Street in Pittsfield. In January we spoke to Program Director Alan Rilla and in March we spoke with Lindsay Maynard, programs and treatment coordinator. 

As a result of our January discussion, this outreach to ex-offenders now uses the Eagle Street Room to meet with people from north county between food pantry sessions on Wednesday, basically 2 to 4 p.m. For more information about this program, call 413-443-7220, ext. 1190.


Part of a flyer for the Re-Entry Initiative.

NBIAI celebrates 5th birthday


The April 9, 2010 forum of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition was on the topic of the intersecion of faith and commuity life. At least two of us at the forum did not feel that the clergy were doing enough interfatih work (compared to communities such as Bennington, Vt., for instance) and said so. The clergy in turn challenge us laypeople (non-clergy believers) to do more. Thus was born the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative. We held meetings for several months, looking for a service initiative that did not duplicate anything existing.

Late in 2010, the Berkshire Community Action Council’s food pantry in Northern Berkshire could no longer function. So we found a project, and the Friendship Center Food Pantry was born, opening in February 2011.

We also revived and expanded a ministry voucher system. Ran a service for mental illness recovery and understanding for two years and hold public meetings most months on the third Friday of the month at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. All are always welcome to attend.

By the way, we get on fine with the clergy, and several who were at that Coalition forum at 2010 became big supporters of our effort, including the pastor who challenged us laypeople to do more!

Thanks for visiting and reading and God Bless,

Mark Rondeau


At our March Interfaith meeting, we talked about the Sheriff's Office re-entry programs for ex-offenders and also the new NBIAI Interfaith Events and Programs Subcommittee and the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital and the desire to re-establish a full-service hospital in Northern Berkshire. Thirteen people attended.



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

BERKSHIRE INTERFAITH ORGANIZING (BIO) FOUNDED



 Delegates march into the hall after the vote to found the organization.

Initial areas of focus will include food security and transportation


I was one of many guest observers to attend the Berkshire Interfaith Organization Founding Convention on Sunday, Jan. 25, at St. Mark's Catholic School in Pittsfield. While more than 200 people gathered in the large gym area at the beginning of the meeting, in a smaller room nearby, member group delegates approved the constitution and held election of officers.

After the voting, the delegates marched in bearing the banners of their respective congregations. It was an exciting and moving thing to see!

I am excited to see another grassroots interfaith organization start in Berkshire County.

“Berkshire Interfaith Organizing is a group of clergy, their congregations and regional affiliates who, together, grounded in faith seek to make justice real in our community. We are informed by stories from individuals in our towns, our places of work and worship, and our families. These stories have given shape to concerns that run deep in the fabric of our Berkshire community,” according to a handout at the convention.


“Clergy and lay leaders in the Berkshires have built this faith and values-based, multi issue organization of religious congregations in Berkshire County to build community, develop leadership, broaden and deepen our member congregations, and take actions on issues of concern such as hunger/food insecurity and transportation. Through citizen action organizing and democratic economic development strategies, we will work to improve the quality of life for all people in the Berkshires.”


At this point, BIO has an official membership of 14 religious congregations and numerous regional sponsoring organizations. This new county-wide community organization will first focus on two issues dear to our heart: food insecurity and transportation.


Clergy and lay leaders and their regional affiliates in the Berkshires have been working for more than two years to create this faith- and values-based multi-issue organization that will build community, develop leadership skills and tackle problems such as hunger/food insecurity that affect poor and working poor families in the Berkshires. Numerous people who do or have volunteered at or otherwise supported the Friendship Center Food Pantry are members of congregations formally involved in BIO. 

This map on display during the gathering shows the founding members and organizations in support of BIO. These include the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative, which is pictured as being in North Adams, the top-most blue community on the map of Berkshire County.
 



Lauryn Levesque, BIO’s new president, and a member of First Church of Christ on Park Square, Pittsfield, said, “We built this organization because the county is often left out when political decisions about resources are made in Boston, and we also have a growing number of people—native born and a growing number of immigrants—who are having trouble making ends meet even if they have one or more jobs.”

Added Levesque, who is also Pittsfield Postmaster, “As congregations we see this first hand and we know that simply increasing the amount of direct service we provide is not enough.  We need to get to the root of these problems, and combining our voices and working with others already focused on these issues will bring more power to solving these problems.”


BIO Transportation and Food Insecurity/Hunger Research Team members have held meetings with each of the county’s state legislators, who have all committed to work with the organization to seek systemic solutions to these pressing problems. Members of the research teams have also visited the Friendship Center and even volunteered to get a better idea of the challenges those in need face in finding adequate food and transportation.


 This picture taken from the far back corner of the hall gives an idea of the large crowd attending the convention.


Several political leaders were present on Sunday, including State Sen. Ben Downing, State Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Paul Mark and Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi. An aide to U.S. Rep. Richard Neal also attended. All spoke and pledged their support for the effort.


BIO’s founding member institutions include: Congregation Knesset Israel, Pittsfield; First Church of Christ on Park Square, Pittsfield; First Congregational Church, Dalton; First Congregational Church, Williamstown; Lee Congregational Church, Lee; Sisters of St. Joseph – local sisters; South Congregational Church, Pittsfield; St. Mark Catholic Parish, Pittsfield; St. Mary of the Assumption (North American Martyrs) Catholic Parish, Cheshire and Lanesboro; St. John’s Episcopal Church, Williamstown; St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Pittsfield


BIO’s Regional Sponsoring organizations include: Catholic Charities Agency of the Diocese of Springfield; Sisters of St. Joseph – Springfield; Berkshire Association of the United Church of Christ; and the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts.  Additional funders include Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Fund for a Just Society and the Presbyterian Church of USA.

Other groups who had represtatives at the convention were numerous faith communities which have not formally joined BIO. Groups like NBIAI, Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, the Pittsfield Senior Center, the Food Bank of Western Massaschusetts.

Personally, as a Catholic I have to express my disappointment that only two churches in the whole county have formally joined BIO, particularly when three of sponsoring organizations are Catholic. At any rate, associations and groups such as the NBIAI can join, and with board approval I'm hoping we eventually will.

God Bless you all,

Mark


At the end of the founding organizations posed with their banners.



Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Eve at the Friendship Center

Some of our Great Food Pantry Volunteers
And agency people, too

On Wednesday, December 24, the Friendship Center Food Pantry served 117 households in its first session and 19 in its evening session for a total of 136 households for the day. Since I was at both shifts and hadn't taken photos of our volunteers in a long time, I decided to do so. Not everyone present on Wednesday is pictured, and a number of our regular volunteers weren't around because of the holidays.


Dan Bird, left, talking to Maryam Kamangar, of Goodwill, (seated) and Cindy Croce, from VNA of the Berkshires, our regular Wednesday nurse.

                                    

Stan Owczarski and Anne Nelson at the Friendship Center.



Baggers, left, Marilyn Brown, Bob Dubriel, who works in back, Sheila Bounds, in hat, and Lois Hescock.       
   

                                    

Steve Green, who runs the bread and pastry rack during the day and helps make all our visiting friends feel welcome.

        

Kevin Tyree, who helps us out in many ways.



Rich Davis, food service coordinator and more!



Suzanne Dubriel and Sue Walker, regular sign-in desk workers. Suzanne's two grandchildren were helping out, too, but the photo of them was too blurry to post.

Evening Shift

                            

Jocelyn Barrett, at right in the Friendship Center. Fran Morandi, deputy food service coordinator, with back to camera. Four members of the Case family: Caleb, Keegan, Olivia, and Tim. Kevin Tyree, behind Jocelyn. Way in back, holding up an object, is Rich Wolfe.


                                     

Not the best photo, but here are Sarah Sutro, with back to camera, Billy Scrivens, a little to the left, and Billy's son Scott, holding green bag.


                                        

At the Eagle Street Room, Corinne Case, Joe Diorio, Fran Berasi and Maryam Kamangar.



Mark Rondeau, kidding around at the end of the day. Photo by Corinne Case.


The Friendship Center Food Pantry will be open as usual on Wednesday, December 31.

God Bless,

Mark

Sunday, November 2, 2014

2,000 lbs. of Food Donated in One Day


Saturday, Nov. 2, was a great day for the Friendship Center Food Pantry. We received more than 2,000 lbs. of donated food.

First, the Berkshire Community Action Council (BCAC) conducted its second annual Harvest Haul to gather donations for those in need. They again this year set up at the North Adams WalMart. A little after 1 p.m., a van rolled up to the back door of the Friendship Center and our friend Aleta Moncecchi of BCAC and two helpers gave us 216 lbs. of donated groceries.


Here's Aleta at the BCAC van. Below, the items we received, 216 lbs. in all.
 
 

Later in the day, Rich Davis, our food service coordinator, and Kathy Keeser of Hoosac Harvest, and other volunteers brought in a giant haul from gleaning at Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock. Rich Reports that we received 1,407 lbs. 0f squash and 410 lbs. of small cooking pumpkins. Wow!



All these donations are greatly appreciated, as this October 2014 was the busiest month we've had since opening in February 2011. In fact, the last Wednesday of that month we served 203 households. More on this in an upcoming blog post.

More help from our friends, who are friends of our friends -- if you know what I mean -- is coming in November with an art exhibition at St. John's Church in Williamstown, where 25 percent of the proceeds will be donated to the Friendship Center Food Pantry. Additionally, Project 351 and the Abbot School in Florida are again organizing a food drive for us and the Oh, Be Thankful Apple Pie Contest at the American Legion in North Adams.

The art exhibition will open on Friday, Nov. 14, and the Apple Pie Contest will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 25. There will be much more on the blog and on Facebook on both of these events before they occur.

Two thousand pounds of food donated in one day! Wow!

God bless you all,

Mark


 
 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Revived CROP Walk a Fine Success


The Walk proceeds across Ashland Street and down Main Street in North Adams.

On Sunday, Oct. 19, the first Northern Berkshire CROP Walk was held since 2009. It was a great success. It was lots  of fun and I hear that $2,700 was donated the day of the walk and another $300 is likely on its way. I'd say that more than 50 people walked. 

(The NBIAI raised $215 for the walk — thanks to those who donated!)

Spirits were high and fellowship great as we gathered together beforehand in the hall at First Congregational Church, where the Berkshire Food Project offers lunch to those in need.

The Rev. Ann Killam has led the revival of the walk. Internationally, CSW, Church World Service uses funds from the Crop walks to support hunger-fighting development efforts around the world. One-third of the money of each walk stays locally. This year the local recipients are Hoosac Harvest and the Growing Healthy Gardens Program.




Ann Killam rallied the people inside, with her dynamic and inspiring leadership style.




The CROP walkers start out from the church.






Above and below, walking down Main Street.







Up American Legion Drive





Ann Killam, center, walks down Ashland Street.




Proceeding down Ashland Street.





Pastor Dave Anderson of First Baptist North Adams, left, provided water and apples along the route.



The Rev. Mark Longhurst, center at carriage, brought along his child. He is past of First Congregational Church in Williamstown.



The walkers cut through the MCLA campus at Bond Street and headed north on Church Street.

After the walk returned to First Congregational, a good number of them continued on to the second half of the North Adams walking loop, going as far west as Brown Street and coming back toward downtown on West Main Street.

It's great having this inspiring interfaith event back in North Adams!

God Bless,

MR

Monday, October 6, 2014

CROP Walk Against Hunger Oct. 19


The last CROP Walk in Northern Berkshire was held in 2008. Walk is being revived this year thanks to Rev. Ann Killam and others. Come walk with us!!!

Next Meeting on CROP Walk


The next meeting of the Interfaith Action Initiative will be on Friday, Oct. 17,  at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. All are welcome to attend.

We will be discussing the North Adams CROP Walk, which will take place at Sunday, Oct. 19, from the First Congregational Church of North Adams, beginning at noon.

Teams and individuals will then walk their choice of loops on the recently established North Adams Walking Trail after the 1 p.m. kick-off. 

The Interfaith Action Initiative will have a team in the walk, which hasn’t been held here in several years, as will several other churches and organizations.

For more information, call me at 664-0130.
 
For more information on the CROP Walk, visit crophungerwalk.org. To join the NB Interfaith Action Initiative team or make a donation, visit  http://hunger.cwsglobal.org/goto/NBInterfaithAction

The way it works, 75 percent of the total donations go to Church World Service for its great international programs to fight hunger. Some 25 percent of each walk go locally. This year the local recipients will be the Growing Healthy Gardens Program and Hoosac Harvest.

The Growing Healthy Gardens Program (with Jen Munoz) helps relieve hunger through helping people in North Adams neighborhoods and public schools learn to grow food.  The neighborhood garden harvest is shared by all neighborhood participants who cooperatively grow their organic garden.  Food grown by students in North Adams Public Schools is donated to the Berkshire Food Project for their free community lunch.  Participants of all ages and abilities participate in this gardening program, and all activities are free to participants.

Hoosac Harvest is an all-volunteer organization, which works towards wider access to healthy fresh produce, through the Subsidized Shares program, the Share the Abundance Programs, and community events. Any funds donated go direct to the programs.  As an all-volunteer program, it has a modest budget and the proceeds from the Crop Walk, could enable it to meet the final funds needed for 2015. 

Hoosac Harvest has helped the Friendship Center Food Pantry greatly in recent years getting extra for local farmers markets for the pantry and also by gleaning what is left unpicked in local farm fields at the end of the growing season and giving the results to us and others. 

The CROP Walk has not happened here in about 5 or 6 years. Thanks to Rev. Ann Killam and others for reviving it. It is a great interfaith effort and way to work together.

Internationally, CSW, Church World Service uses funds from the Crop walks to support hunger-fighting development efforts around the world. 

CROP Hunger Walks help to provide food and water, as well as resources that empower people to meet their own needs.  From seeds and tools, to wells and water systems, to technical training and micro-enterprise loans, the key is people working together to identify their own development priorities, their strengths and their needs — something CWS has learned through some 67 years of working in partnership around the world.

20 attend September meeting on Addiction



That's Lois at right at our September Interfaith meeting.

At our September public meeting, Lois Duanis, co-chair of the NB21 North Adams/RX Heroin work group, spoke to us about the extent of addiction in our area. A total of 20 people attended.

Lois does great work and is a great friend to the NBIAI and FCFP. 

New food pantry record!



As the green line indicates, we've had our busiest September ever and have generally had more household visits each month compared to last year.

On Wednesday, Sept. 24, the Friendship Center Food Pantry set a new record by serving 212 households total. During our 10 to 2 p.m. session we served 154 families — also a first session record — and 58 families in our second session. During the first session, there was no break in the activity until 1:45 p.m. 

The last week of September seems to be a very busy date, as we set our previous record of 204 on Sept. 25, 2013. We matched that amount on Nov. 20, 2013. We also added 16 new members. Despite being so busy, we enjoyed interacting with our friends and things went smoothly. 

At the Eagle Street Room, we were joined by representatives of the Food Bank of Western Mass., the Elizabeth Freeman Center, the Family Place and our BMC nurse, Cindy Croce. Thanks to all our wonderful volunteers and all those who contribute space, funds and food to make it happen. 

In other developments:

• Through the efforts of Food Service Coordinator and NBIAI Board member Rich Davis, we received a grant to replace old refrigeration units with four new upright freezers with more capacity.

• Through the efforts of acting Treasuer and NBIAI Board member Fran Berasi, we now have all of our pantry registration records on computer, with five of our volunteer staff trained to enter new records and update existing ones during pantry operations.

• We are getting a good response to our 2014 Letter Campaign to support the food pantry operation. Those who didn’t receive a letter but who would like to donate, may do so by sending a check made out to the Friendship Center Food Pantry, c/o The Friendship Center, 43 Eagle St., North Adams, MA 01247. All donations are tax deductible through our fiscal agent.

That’s all for now. Thanks and God Bless,

Mark