Sunday, May 10, 2015

2015 Letters Carriers Food Drive

The first delivery of donated food arrives.

Here are some photos from our sorting for the Letter Carriers Food Drive from our letter carrier friends from the North Adams Post Office. More than 45 people volunteered and we collected and weighed 7995 lbs. of food. This will surely go over 8,000 lbs. as late donations trickle in.

We utilized the former Sleepy's mattress store at the corner of American Legion Drive and Main Street as our sorting center. Several of enjoyed the spring expo on Main Street during the inevitable lulls between deliveries. Dan Bird and Kevin Tyree also took a rented van out and picked up food in places such as Village East.

Stan Owczarski and Steve Green at the weighing station.

Sorting the food.

Another delivery arrives. And then another.

Above, the sorting operation seen from the back.

One of our four Williams students who volunteered brings in some food. Below, a good view of the sorting process.

Here's the rented van used by Dan and Kevin to help pick up food.

Lois Hescock and others sorting. Below, Owen, along with his sister, Megan, were powerhouses of collecting and sorting the whole day. Their little brother, Tyler, also pitched in.

Below, Sharon May writes down the 6 p.m. total. As noted above, we finished at 7995 lbs.

Thanks to the letter carriers, everyone who donated and all the volunteers who helped on Saturday!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Our Big Move Next Door to 45 Eagle Street

On Saturday, May 2, about 25 total volunteers, including three MCLA students and one McCann high school student, helped us move from 43 Eagle Street next door to 45 Eagle Street and help our wonderful landlords, Mike and Lois Daunis, move their books and furnishings from 45 over to 43 Eagle Street. 

So we have moved from a roughly 750-square-foot space over to a 1,280-square-foot space. We will have a lot more room for our visiting pantry member friends. Sign-ins at the pantry will still take place at the Eagle Street Room of the First Baptist Church of North Adams.

Here, two volunteers take one of our racks from 43 Eagle Street over to 45 Eagle Street.

The Dickinsons helped us move stuff over, also.

Rich Wolfe with one of our rolling food racks, which helped greatly with the move. 

 The MCLA students were a huge help, here with Steve Green. Below, Nick from McCann's at right. He stayed until the end. With Fran Morandi, back to camera, Steve Green at right, and Kevin Tyree in green shirt (you can't see all of him).

Stan Owczarski and Dan Lampron were among those working on the windows.

Our friends and landlords, Lois and Mike Daunis, moved their books and other items, with help mostly from the MCLA students but from some pantry volunteers, too.

Dan Bird and Al Nelson. Dan helped pull up the duct tape we had secured the rugs down with at 43 Eagle Street. 

Our sign is now up at 45 Eagle Street. As is our window display, below, both courtesy of Stan Owczarski and Louise Zocchi.

I took it upon myself to clean the trash out of the little park next to the building.

My friend and collaborator Al Nelson is amazing. Rich Wolfe cleans the front entryway.

All six of our refrigeration units in a row.

This waiting area in the front nook is one of my favorite features of the new space. We'll see how it works on Wednesday.

Somehow I took all these photos without one of Rich Davis, our food distribution coordinator, but he shows up earlier and works longer than everyone else!

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 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


 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,


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,