Tuesday, August 1, 2017

In Confusing Times, We Stay Focused on Our Mission

Paul Jennings, at left, drove the truck back and forth from Hatfield today. That's our Food Distribution Coordinator Rich Davis at right in the green shirt.

Today on Tuesday, Aug. 1, we unloaded more than 6,500 lbs. of food from the Foodbank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield. We definitely needed this food after serving a total of 194 households on Wednesday, July 26.

Thanks to all our great volunteers and supporters, who have kept the Friendship Center Food Pantry going strong since it opened in February 2011.

It's that time of year when we plan our annual fundraising letter campaign. We are an all-volunteer organization and we keep costs down, true, but it takes money to keep all that necessary food coming in.

In 2016, we served 1,007 unique households consisting of 2,863 individuals. We served an average of 130 households per week. We distributed 290,696 lbs. of food. The average amount spent on food weekly was $2,730.

In addition to providing food, we also make services available at the Eagle Street Room of First Baptist Church North Adams. These include a nurse from Berkshire Medical Center and numerous others.

In recent years, to help people get home with their groceries, our volunteers have started a rides program. As I wrote to those involved a few months ago to thank them: "We gave our food pantry friends 1,312 rides in 2016. In December, we provided 109 volunteer rides. The month with the greatest number of rides was November (five weeks) at 156; February was the lowest month with 74 rides."

At $7 per ride, if we used a local taxi, this number of rides would have cost $9,184 -- a cost we could not and would not have borne. Yet, as we give an average of 35+ lbs. of food per household in a hilly area, these rides are an enormous service to our members.”

Those not on our mailing list who would like to support us, may made a tax-deductible contribution to the Friendship Center Food Pantry and mail it to The Friendship Center, 45 Eagle St., North Adams, MA 01247.

At work today, Rich Wolfe, standing, and Jocelyn Barrett, seated behind door are expert at shelving and refrigerating the food.

September Meeting

In this turbulent era, we have decided that it remains important to keep as many forums for dialogue open as possible. With this in mind, our public interfaith meetings will resume in September. Our next public interfaith meeting will be held on Friday, Sept. 15. Our topic will be an update on the federal and state funding picture for program for those in need. The meeting will be held at the Eagle Street Room of FBNA and begin at 10 a.m.

With the possibility of deep cuts in safety net programs – such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program – we fear the number of people in need in our community may increase dramatically. Working together is the best way to meet this crisis – if it indeed comes.

For more information, contact northernberkshireinterfaith@gmail.com or call Mark at 413-664-0130 and leave a message.

Thanks for Everything. Keep the Faith and God Bless,


Tuesday, January 3, 2017


We pick up our food provided for us to distribute by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts every Tuesday. Most Tuesdays we wait until it is transported from the Food Bank in Hatfield to a depot at Berkshire Community Action on East Street in Pittsfield. Then we go down and get it in a rented truck.

(On the third Tuesday of the month, the Goodwill truck picks up the food for us, which we greatly appreciate.)

However, the first Tuesday of the month, we rent a bigger U-Haul truck and drive it the 50 miles to the Food Bank to pick up the food ourselves. Among other considerations, this allows us to take advantage of additional foods offered on site at the Food Bank.

Today, Tuesday, Jan. 3, was the first Tuesday of 2017 and so we rented a truck in North Adams and went to Hatfield. Most of the following photos were taken, and captioned by our great volunteer, Kevin Tyree, who drives our truck most weeks and helps out in many other ways.

(Kevin didn't want me to use his last name but everybody knows him and he deserves the recognition).

Kevin took a new driver, Terry, with him. When they came back to the Friendship Center, we had a substantial crew ready to help unload the truck and and stock the shelves -- something they do every week!

So, here are the photos:

At the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in rural Hatfield.

Inside the Food Bank

                A closeup of Mike unloading the truck.

                      The pallets of food are wrapped in plastic.

 I like this photo in particular, it shows the intensity of the work that goes into the unloading.

I like to just stand around and watch.

Another shot of our volunteers helping to stock the shelves, that's Jocelyn at the left by the refrigerator.

 In mid-February, the Friendship Center Food Pantry will observe its sixth birthday. We have been an all-volunteer organization the entire time. We have the greatest volunteers in the world.

God Bless,


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Catching Up on News & Looking Forward

As the poster indicates, our Friday, Dec. 16, public meeting will focus on the outcome of the 2016 elections, particularly at the national level.

At our first Board of Directors meeting after the election, our Co-Director and Board Vice President read a reflection that said in part: 

“This is not the first time out country has been divided. ...Faith at its core is not about ignoring the state of the world around you or the challenges that lie ahead. Rather it's found in the perseverance in working to make what seems impossible, possible. And always, as scripture reminds us, our faith is judged by our treatment of those who society sees as the least of these. So, we all have work to do.”

As the poster indicates, the meeting will start at 10 a.m. at the Eagle Street Room of the Friendship Center at the First Baptist Church North Adams. All are welcome.

I am working to gain some information in advance of this meeting. Here are two interesting resources gathered so far: Loving your enemies during a Trump administration.  And a guide for fighting hate in your community. 

Our Volunteer Dinner on Dec. 4. 

Thanks to our new Volunteer Coordinator, Sheila Bounds, about 30 of us had a great Friendship Center Food Pantry volunteer dinner on Sunday, Dec. 4, at the 96 House in Williamstown.

Strange as it seems, that's only about two-thirds of our number of volunteers at any one time. Several of our most dedicated volunteers did not attend this event. We are, of course, an all volunteer

We had a great time with a great dinner. Thanks particularly to Sheila for organizing it!

                   Al Nelson at right with Susan and Bob Dubriel.

  Tracy Finnegan, Fran Berasi and Dan Bird.

Several but not all of us, lined up at the bar to get drinks.

Al Nelson in his rightful place at the head of the table!

A presence at the Holiday Walk

 Thanks to Anna Singleton, we receive an invitation to participate in the Williamstown Holiday Walk, specifically the non-profit fair in the Lasell Gym. Mark Rondeau and Dan Bird (pictured in the second photo) manned a table between BFAIR and the Williamstown Youth Center. It was quite an event and we raised $70 in donations and gave out some literature.


You can see how many people attended from this photo taken from the upper level jogging track. The second photo gives you a good view of Dan and of our table.


Some other recent highlights


Chip Joffe-Halpern, executive director of Berksire AHEC, former executive director of Ecu-Healthcare and Karen Baumbach, current director of Ecu-Healthcare, were the presenters at our October public interfaith meeting. They shared plenty of good information about the local healthcare scene. We did not have a public meeting in November.


 In November, all the departments of the City of North Adams again did a food drive for us, raising more than 900 lbs. That's Mayor Dick Alcombright on the left helping bring the food in. At right, is Rich Davis, Friendship Center Food Distribution Coordinator.


 Fran Berasi was again our judge at the Project 350 Oh, Be Thankful Apple Pie Contest at the North Adams American Legion. This event and efforts by the Gabriel Abbott School in Florida have benefited us and other non-profits the past several years. No more specifics to report at this time about this event.


 We have a prayer box at the Eagle Street Room each week, and we regularly pray as a group and as individuals for our food pantry friends - and others for that matter. Today I walked in to discover that someone had made us a new prayer box, right behind our sign. The old, original, reddish orange box can be seen behind it.


Thats all for now. God Bless,

 Mark Rondeau


Friday, September 16, 2016

Communication Across Barriers' and more!

That's Kim McMann, third from the left.

We had a great interfaith meeting today, with old friend Kim McMann, who many of you know from when she led Target Hunger in Northern Berkshire, speaking on the anti-poverty approach “Communication Across Barriers.” Among Kim's many qualifications, she is a certified speaker on this topic.

Her hour-long discussion was great and included some interpersonal exercises. Kim was a big help when we started the Friendship Center Food Pantry. It was great to see her again.

Linda Huebner, with Allan Dallman from the Food.

Our first speaker was Linda Huebner of the Yes on Question 3 campaign, which will be on the Massachusetts ballot in the November election. In short, it is intended to prevent the cruel confinement of farm animals. It also has food safety and environmental implications.

I intend to recommend to our Board of Directors at our next meeting that we officially endorse this campaign

In all, 13 people attend this, our first public meeting since the spring. Our next Interfaith meeting will be held on Friday, Oct. 21, at 10 a.m. at First Baptist. We don't have a topic yet, so let me know if you have an idea: nothernberkshireinterfaith@gmail.com

The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative monthly meetings are a time of prayer, fellowship and informational discussions and presentations.

The NBIAI and its Friendship Center Food Pantry are the work of people of different faiths and denominations working with others of good will to serve our community. For more information about this meeting or any of our activities, visit http://northernberkshireinterfaith.blogspot.com, call Mark at 413-664-0130 or call the Friendship Center at 413-664-0123.

Al Nelson enveloped in light, because I was too lazy to get up and take the photo from a different angle.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Friendship Center holds Open House - Updated

Today, Wednesday, Aug. 17, the Friendship Center Food Pantry held an Open House at its location, 45 Eagle Street, North Adams, during the annual North Adams Downtown Celebration. 

Earlier in the day, we served a total of 123 families in our morning and afternoon sessions. For the Open House, our recently installed Volunteer Coordinator, Sheila Bounds put out a beautiful spread for our visitors. Thanks to all who volunteered.

"We got some foot traffic, signed up some new volunteers and educated others about what we do," wrote our grants and computer wizard Fran Berasi in her weekly Wednesday report. "So all in all, a good day."

The original date for the Open House was last Wednesday, but it was cancelled, along with the Downtown Celebration, because of the threat of rain.

We invited to the Open House those we wrote to in our annual letter campaign for the Friendship Center Food Pantry. Everyone else was welcome, too.

Those who want to make a donation may make it out to the Friendship Center Food Pantry, 45 Eagle St., North Adams, MA 01247. All contributions are tax deductible through our parent organization, Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative Inc.

Our multi-tasking dynamo, Kevin Tyree, took these photos and we thank him!

 Anne Nelson and Sheila Bounds talk to an unidentified man.

Some visitors and some volunteers.

 Volunteer Ray Moore at the desk.

Dan Bird, Eagle Street Room foreman and much more

 Rich Davis, food distribution coordinator

 Some of volunteers, including Sharon May, at left in back, talk with a visitor.

 That's Fran Berasi at right behind the counter, talking with Anne Nelson.  At left is Bernadette "Bernie" Burdick from Florida Mountain.

 They also serve who only stand and wait...

 In back, Dan Bird; Dave Wesley, our treasurer; Al Nelson, co-founder, vice president and our conscience; Fran Berasi; Sheila Bounds, Sharon May; and Jessica the Frost Fairy; Seated: Anne Nelson and Bernie Burdick.

Much the same as before but with Kevin Tyree, front left, in front of the camera. Dan Bird probably took this photo.

That's Tuesday and Wednesday volunteer Jocelyn Barrett standing in back against the open door.

Rich Davis in this one.

Bob and Ruby Scott, two of our great evening shift volunteers.

Thanks to all and God Bless,

Mark Rondeau

Monday, April 18, 2016

Huge attendance at Food Insecurity follow-up meeting

 We had more than 20 people present, even before the E-3 Academy stopped by in their ongoing research into food insecurity!

We were very pleased that more than 30 people! attended our April 15 meeting to further the discussion of food insecurity.

Our first monthly meeting since last fall, we followed up the April 8 Northern Berkshire Community Coalition forum on food insecurity with a talk of our own on the subject, including recent trends in the number of participants, better coordination and cooperation among food programs, the response to the closing of Price Chopper, the Massachusetts Food Trust and more.

We had representatives present from the Berkshire Food Project, the food pantry at St. Patrick's in Williamstown, Berkshire Interfaith Organizing, the Berkshire Dream Center, the Letter Carriers Union, New Hope United Methodist Church, Williams College, the Family Center of Child Care of the Berkshires, Adult Basic Ed and several volunteers and board members of the Friendship Center.

We were joined about the half-hour mark by students and teachers of the E-3 alternative education program of the North Adams Public Schools. They are studying food insecurity and have come up with a cookbook using foods frequently available at the Friendship Center. We have mentioned these cookbooks here before but have not had many to give out; we hope to remedy this soon with the help of the program and offer them to our pantry members in the near future.

 Swiped this photo from the Berkshire Interfaith Organizing Facebook page, taken by BIO's associate organizer Jeff Lowenstein.

As usual, we will need plenty of volunteers on Saturday, May 14, to help gather, sort and weigh the food collected in the annual letter carriers food drive. The letter carriers of the North Adams Post Office collect it for the city, Clarksburg and Florida. The Friendship Center leads in the sorting process and we share the results with other programs. If you can help, call the Friendship Center at 413-664-0123 and leave a message.

Since we are getting back into the swing with meetings, we have scheduled another one for May. Our next public meeting will be on Friday, May 20, when Celeste Roeller Harp will make a presentation about the new Age Friendly Berkshires program. Our meetings are held at the First Baptist Church of North Adams, Eagle Street Room, beginning at 10 a.m. All are welcome.

Two more photos from Friday's great meeting: 


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Interfaith meeting continues food discussion on April 15

After a hiatus of several months, the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative will hold a public meeting on Friday, April 15, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams Eagle Street Room.

We will continue the discussion of food insecurity, the topic of the April 8, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition Forum. Topics on April 15 likely will include recent trends we've seen at the Friendship Center Food Pantry, the upcoming Letter Carrier Food Drive on Saturday, May 14, better coordination of the work of area food programs, the efforts in which we're involved to return affordable food sales in some form to the former Price Chopper store on State Road in North Adams, the Massachusetts Food Trust, and possible innovations in distributing food from the Friendship Center.

All are welcome to attend. Our meeting begin with a time of silent prayer and optional faith sharing. For more information, call Mark at
At the Coalition forum, volunteers held signs showing the different levels of food insecurity. Below, Abby Getman of the Food Bank showed 2010 census results about North Adams. The more red the area, the more poverty. Northeastern North Adams was one of the most red areas.

This food insecurity discussion will be even more interesting after what happened at the Coalition forum on Friday. Having examined 2010 U.S. Census data, the four representatives of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts present said there is a significant number of unserved people in North Adams. They are looking to get more food into the city.

For me, this raises a number of questions, and I hope we can discuss this at our April 15 meeting. Without going into much detail here, I will note that the number of households the Friendship Center Food Pantry serves each week peaked in 2014 into early 2015, then leveled off. In 2016, the number of households served per week has slipped to a notable extent.

For our April Board of Directors meeting, I went through our records and compiled this interesting statistic: Average number of household visits for the first 14 weeks of the year: 2012: 114. 2013: 143. 2014: 140. 2015: 151. 2016: 139.

Why this decline? An improving economy? People moving out of the area? We really don’t know. This said, I am sure we are missing some people, particularly shut-ins. This is why in March we have formed a sub-committee of the Board of Directors to examine how we can better help the homeless and the question of home deliveries for shut-ins.

The number of households served at the Friendship Center Food Pantry rose constantly from its opening in February, 2011, reaching a peak in 2014 (green line) and early 2015 (orange line). Since then, numbers have leveled off and dropped even more in the first few months of 2016.

Research is needed. Is the 2010 census adequate to 2016? Does the city, which does a census by mail every year, have better numbers, at least for population? Do we need to be open another day of the week? Can the Food Bank’s mobile food pantry help?

Is the stigma against receiving help overly operative in the city? How can we — and other groups, such as the Berkshire Food Project and the  Dream Center — get more food to people?

Please come to our discussion on Friday and help us figure this out. And, of course, there are other related topics on the agenda, such as the May 14 letter carrier food drive, the effort to get affordable and healthy food sales back to Price Chopper and better cooperation between area food programs.

Thanks and God Bless,