Monday, March 17, 2014

Lots of Pantry and Interfaith news to share

Come to our meeting on Friday


We have a lot of news to catch up on.

First, I want to announce that our next Interfaith public meeting will be held on Friday, March 21, at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. Please use Eagle Street address. All are welcome.

Debbie Valieres, from Little's Pharmacy, will speak about Medicare Part D drug coverage problems and solutions for people with financial need. She will also talk about Part B coverage, and medication compliance as a means to decrease hospitalizations and re-admissions.

Come and see what we're up to! We will share announcements, insights and provide a time of silent prayer.

Some new pantry statistics

On Thursday, Jan. 30, the Friendship Center for the third year in a row welcomed the latest class of community outreach workers from the Northern Berkshire Neighbors program of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.

As I write this on March 17, the Friendship Center Food Pantry (FCFP) has served so far in 2014 an average of 133 families per week, on average 95 families in our 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. session and 38 in our 4 to 6 p.m. session. Volunteer support remains great. So does agency support at the Eagle Street Room. We regularly have a nurse from Northern Berkshire Healthcare there every Wednesday, Barbara Cariddi, and Maryam Kamangar from Goodwill also. Frequent visitors also are Sherri Dunne from the Family Life Support Center/Louison House; people from the Family Place; and Amanda Chilson and others from Mass in Motion. We also have at times representatives from WIC, Community Legal Aid, the Food Bank of Western Mass, the Reconnect Center and more...

Stuart Crampton has compiled and shared with the board some fascinating statistics. Summarizing, in 2013 the FCFP served 1,060 different households, representing 3,413 individuals, about one third of whom were children.

It is interesting to see how many households came only one time (214), two times (116) or three times (103). Households visits multiplied by the number of times they visited gives a measure of the total amount of food distributed to households that came that number of times. Crunching his numbers, Stuart concludes that "the households that come regularly account for only a small proportion of the food distributed. Evidently, most households come only in emergencies."

Of the roughly 230,000 lbs. of food the FCFP distributed, free government food from the Food Bank accounted for 96,424 lbs. and other free food from the food bank provided 30,095 lbs. Local food drives and gleaning provided another 41,721 lbs. of free food. We bought 47,338 lbs from the Food Bank and another 13,012 lbs. from local businesses. Total free food was about 75 percent of the total by weight. Nevertheless, we spent $45,685 for food.

It takes lots of donations — food and money and volunteer effort — to keep the pantry operation going, and we thank you all!

Plates for Increased state Food Funding

This is my plate. Both volunteers and pantry members are filling them out.

Speaking of funding for food, we at the pantry are participating in a paper plate campaign, organized by the Food Bank of Western Mass., to let our legislators know — and help make the case to their colleagues — that we need increased state funding for emergency food. The plates have a space to fill in your name and address and plenty of room to write a message. We will start sending the plates to Representatives at the beginning of March (like now) and to Senators at the beginning of April. Here is part of the info sheet from the food bank for volunteers and pantry friends in support of the effort:

Paper Plates for More MEFAP Food!

The Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP) is an important food resource for many food programs, including this one (the Friendship Center Food Pantry). Each year, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts sets aside money for food banks, like the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, to buy MEFAP food. Then that food goes to meal
sites and food pantries. Last year, the Massachusetts legislature decided to increase the funding for MEFAP to $14 million, which was helpful. However, that was the first time in many years that the funding for MEFAP had increased. That means that $14 million still doesn't buy enough food.

This year, the governor's budget proposes the same level of federal funding for MEFAP as last year. Since food prices keep going up, that money buys less food than it used to. At the same time SNAP [food stamps] and Unemployment benefits have been cut, so there is more need for MEFAP food. We are asking our state senators and representatives to increase the amount of money for MEFAP this year from the $14 million the governor proposed to $16 million. The $2 million increase would be spent on more food across Massachusetts that would be distributed through programs like meal sites and food pantries.

The paper plate is one way that you can tell your state senator or representative that you support an increase in funding for MEFAP. Legislators care about what the people they represent think. [The rest of the message tells ways the plate(s) can be delivered to the legislators. We at the Friendship Center are mailing/delivering them.] This is the first time we have done this kind of advocacy — which by the way is full compliant with the non-profit status we seek — and the plate campaign has started slowly. We feel confident, however, that we will be able to submit to our legislators all 50 of the plates we receive filled out by pantry members, volunteers and supporters.

Service for Mental Health Recovery and Understanding

North Adams Mayor Dick Alcombright reads at the second annual Service for Mental Health Recovery and Understanding Jan. 21 at New Hope Methodist Church. At left, sits Rev. Dan Randall, pastor of New Hope. Below, NBIAI Co-Director Al Nelson lights a candle during the service.

Our second annual Service for Mental Health Recovery and Understanding was held on Sunday evening, Jan. 27, at New Hope United Methodist Church in Williamstown. About 30 people attended this ecumenical service of readings, candle-lighting and support. We thank the Rev. Dan Randall for planning and leading the service. Dan, by the way, is a volunteer on the Wednesday evening shift at the Friendship Center. Addressing the group at the opening was Marilyn Moran of the Berkshire Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and yours truly on behalf of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative.

Though attendence was a bit down this year compared to last, we plan to continue this event, as it is an interfaith endeavor to reach out to friends and neighbors in need.

We don't need justification for our focus on this issue, but I note with interest that mega-evangelist Rick Warren is now venturing into this field, one year after the suicide of his son. According to a recent article by the Associated Press,  "Warren, founder of Saddleback Church and a best-selling author, will team with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and the National Alliance on Mental Illness to host a daylong event next month focused on helping church leaders reach parishioners who are struggling with mental illness.

"The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church grew out of private conversations Warren had with the local Catholic bishop, Bishop Kevin Vann, after his son's death and his own writings in his journal as he processed his grief. Matthew Warren, 27, committed suicide last April after struggling with severe depression and suicidal thoughts for years."

Marilyn Moran speaks about NAMI at the service. Below are most of those who helped plan and/or present the service. Rev. Peter Elvin, Rev. Mark Langhurst. Kathryn Remillard, Rev. Dan Randall, Carrie Crews, Eric Wilson, Mayor Dick Alcombright, Mark Rondeau, Corinne Case, Marilyn Moran. Below (Al Nelson and group photos courtesy Robert Scott)

Our January and February meetings

Above, Chip Joffe-Halpern of Ecu-Health Care (left), with Al Nelson. Below, Paul Austin of Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity.

It's been a while since we've caught up here on our monthly meetings. We've had two good and informative ones so far this year. On Friday, Jan.17, we welcomed Chip Joffe-Halpern of Ecu-Health Care. He spoke to us about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Massachusetts. On Friday, Feb. 21, we hosted Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity. Paul Austin, John Case and Habitat homeowner Alecia Briggs gave a great presentation. We dicussed as a group ways to get our local faith communities more involved and to cooperate as an Interfaith group with Habitat.

Alecia Briggs speaks about her family's experience with Habitat. More faith congregations in Northern Berkshire should see the presentation NB Habitat offered us at our meeting!

Donations in memory of Henry Bounds

In the four years of this blog, the most popular post — more than 1,300 views in less than a month — was the one above this post about Henry Bounds, who passed away unexpectedly on Feb. 22. Henry’s church, Florida Baptist, and the Friendship Center Food Pantry were listed in his obituary as places to send memorial donations. So far, we have received more than 50 generous donations from individuals, families, businesses and institutions honoring Henry. 

I did not find out until after his death that Henry had written an autobiography, “The Secret of The Black Onion (God’s Cure for Cancer).” I ordered a copy from and have found it to be both an entertaining and inspiring book. (See ) I wish I had known about this book a year ago.

Well, we certainly miss Henry. His passing reminds me that we’re all just pilgrims on this side, whether we recognize it or not. Anyway, I will here end with a quote from Pope Francis:

“The encounter with God in prayer again pushes us to ‘come down from the mountain’ and back down into the plain where we meet many brothers and sisters weighed down by fatigue, injustice and both material and spiritual poverty.”

God Bless,


Sunday, February 23, 2014

We’ve lost a dear friend

Henry, in black jacket, helps unload the truck at the Friendship Center Food Pantry on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013.

It is with shock and sadness that we note the passing of our friend and volunteer Henry Bounds, who died unexpectedly on Saturday. I’m told he was up working at his church — Florida Baptist — in the morning when he was stricken.

Henry was a regular — and leader — of the Tuesday crew that unloads the truck of food we drive up from the depot in Pittsfield to the Friendship Center Food Pantry at 43 Eagle St. When the truck was getting near on its journey up from Pittsfield, Mark Lincourt — and later — Rich Davis would give Henry a call and he would come over with a group of guys from McDonald’s.

Henry was a man of faith and a man for others. I remember a Community Coalition meeting about four years ago about homelessness. A young woman there was in deep distress over being homeless. Henry was there and took her outside to talk to her. It wasn’t long before her situation was on track.

I remember two other times in the brief three-year history of the Friendship Center when Henry was there helping people with nowhere to go. Another time I was talking to a young couple in line — back when we had long lines stretchinig down Eagle Street. They were from the mountain — Florida. Did they know Henry? Of course they did and spoke very highly of him and how he had helped them.

One thing that epitomizes Henry for me was that he — unasked — documented the setting up and the opening of the Friendship Center back in 2011. He was there on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011 when we opened for the first time snapping away with his digital camera. He was an excellent photographer.

Next time we saw him he gave us a thick stack of developed prints and a CD with the photos burned onto it. Mark Lincourt later put many of these in a frame and this montage now hangs in the Friendship Center.

A former trucker, Henry was a physically strong man, though not tall. He was softspoken, good-humored, gentle — a joy to be around. You could sense his quiet inner strength. He was one of those people I was always happy to see and talk to. I’ll always remember him with a smile on his face.

What's unseen and beyond is a mystery, of course, but one can imagine the Master he served saying, “Well done.”

Our deepest condolences and prayers go out to Henry’s wife, Sheila, his children, and his extended family.

Mark Rondeau

A montage of photos Henry took and made prints of the Friendship Center Food Pantry getting ready to open and of opening day, Wednesday, Feb., 23, 2011. Below, Henry (back to camera) helps load a truck from a food drive at North Adams Commons on Saturday, March 12, 2011.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Service for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding Jan. 26

New Hope Church is well-named. A bright, cheerful, contemporary space, it was the site of the first Service for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding in January, 2013.

The second annual Interfaith Service for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding will be held at New Hope Methodist Church in Williamstown on Sunday, Jan. 26, beginning at 7 p.m. 

This will be an inclusive and supportive event in an informal setting. All are welcome.

New Hope is located at the corner of Main and Water Streets in the former TGL Photoworks building. 

Last year’s service was quite powerful and well-attended and this year’s service is shaping up to be the same. It will be led by the Rev. Dan Randall, the recently installed pastor of New Hope, who has planned the service. It will last about an hour. Refreshments will be available.

More than 40 people attended last year’s service, which was led by Pastor Kim Kie, who is now pastoring in Barre, Vt.

I am looking forward to it, and hope to see you there.

God Bless,


Ecu-Health Care at Jan. 17 Interfaith meeting

Michael Morelli speaks at our November Interfaith meeting, which generated much interest.

I have known Chip Joffe-Halpern, of Ecu-Health Care, for many years. First, writing about health access issues years as a reporter for The Advocate, pretty much from the time the program started on.

More recently, Chip helped both my mother with her prescriptions health benefits and later on me with managing some of my hospital bills after a major operation.

He is a great guy, very passionate about helping people get access to affordable health insurance. So I was very pleased and called me recently, wishing to present at one of our Interfaith Action Initiative public meetings.

The Friday, Jan. 17, meeting of the Northern Berkshrie Interfaith Action Initiative will feature Chip, who is the executive director of Ecu-Health Care.

The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. All are welcome. He will speak about health access issues and opportunities such as the Affordable Care Act.

Ecu-Health Care is a local nonprofit health care access organization, located in the Doctor’s Building on the campus of North Adams Regional Hospital.

The organization, which has been connecting uninsured and underinsured residents with affordable health care for the last 18 years, was recently named as one of 10 Navigator sites by the Massachusetts Health Connector.

One of the great things about Ecu-Health Care is that it started as an ecumenical effort!

November meeting well-attended

Our November meeting featured Michael Morelli, benefits paralegal with Community Legal Aid in Pittsfield, talking about SNAP (food stamp) benefits. Some 18 people attended this meeting of them, several for the first time.

About us

The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initative is a group of
people of different faiths and denominations work together with others of goodwill to find ways to serve our community. It runs the
Friendship Center Food Pantry in North Adams, an emergency voucher system in Northern Berkshire, and holds monthly meetings to discuss topics and programs of civic and religious concern.

For more information, call Mark at 664-0130 or visit our page on Facebook.

Many Partners Make for Productive Service

Michelle Sylvester of WIC made healthy treats at the Eagle Street Room recently.


Since we at the Friendship Center started about a year ago to have our visiting friends sign up first at the First Baptist Church of North Adams Eagle Street Room, the number of other programs that have come to help there have been amazing.

The Family Place of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition started visiting our people before this move, and the Food Bank of Western Mass. even did a food demonstration from the vestibule of the former Papyri Books store.

Both organzations have since come down to the Eagle Street Room, most frequently the Family Place. Another Coalition-sponsored program, Mass in Motion, has since come to the Eagle Steet room several times to encourage healthy eating.

The WIC program (see photo above) has had a presence at the Eagle Street Room, as had Bryan House of the Reconnect program aimed at young adults and run by the Berkshire Community Action Council.

One of the services we are most excited about is the presence of nurse Barbara Cariddi (photo below) almost every Wednesday at the Eagle Street Room, for such things as blood pressure checks and flu shots. And not only for our visiting friends but for us volunteers, too. In fact, I got my flu shot there from Barbara this fall.

She talled up here services between Wednesday, Sept. 25, and Wednesday, Nov. 27, and she saw 140 people, with a high number of 31 on Oct. 23.

Most recently, we have had Sherry Dunne from Louison House vist on a recent Wednesday to chat with our guests to see if they or anyone they know is homeless. Sherry is great and was an early attendee when the NBIAI was getting started nearly four years ago now.

Most recently, this past Wednesday, Jan. 8, in fact,, we welcomed Maryam Kamangar, commmunity development manager of Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires Inc. to the Eagle Street Room. She was informing people about Goodwill’s SuitYourSelf program, which helps people get suitable clothing to apply for and keep employment.

Maryam has spoken to me and others, and we feel there are some great opportunites for collaboration between our groups.

All of these collaborations are exciting and are part of what makes all this work a joy.

God Bless



Nurse Barbara Cariddi is available most Wednesdays during our first session at the Eagle Street room. She sees patients in a very accessible but quite private side room.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

We Live in a Very Generous Community

Receiving the check and food at the Abbott School. Woman on the left is from the Berkshire Humane Society.

Donations, donations, donations

It has become hard to keep up with the number of donations we receive. Here, I will deal mainly with donations of food, but the donations of money we receive are just as remarkable. Here goes:

 One of the most memorable for me came recently when I went to Abbott School in Florida to pick up a $450 check and 642 lbs of food.

This came from a Project 351, a non-profit that inspires and helps eighth graders in every city and town in the state develop leadership skills and do service. This project was led by student Ambassadors Mackenzie Wright, Autumn Tynan and Ambassador Alumna Tilly Brule. Their coach, Heidi Dugal, is also principal of the Abbott School.

Other students who participated were Nathan Richardson, Jack Gibeau, and Paris Sumner.

The project consisted of a long food drive at Abbott School and McCann Technical Vocational High School for both the Friendship Center and the Berkshire Humane Society. The “Oh, Be Thankful” Pie Contest held on Nov. 26 at the American Legion in North Adams raised nearly $1,200 for us the Humane Society and for the American Legion’s annual Christmas Dinner.

Al Nelson watches as the group from the Clarksburg School loads up our cart.

• In another town we serve, Clarksburg, the Clarksburg School has been great in running a food drive each year we’ve been open. In past years, one of us would go up and get the food.

This year, parent Heidi Blake, along with her twin daughters, Hope and Hannah, along with Abby Smith and Brandon Vallone visited on Saturday, Nov. 29, and delivered 233 lbs of food. Al Nelson and I had a could discussion with the visitors and explained how the pantry operates in detail. An enjoyable visit.

Mayor Alcombright at the Friendship Center on Friday, Dec. 20, with Ellen Sutherland and Darcie Bellows.

• Also for the third year in a row, the City of North Adams, both the schools and the municipal side, ran a food drive for us. Some 682 lbs. of food arrived on Friday, Dec. 20. Mayor Alcombright — who is a great supporter of our work — and Darcie Bellows from the city and Ellen Sutherland from the schools came to the Friendship Center for some media coverage.

Our friend Aleta Monchecci of BCAC (center) with two helpers delivered food from the first Harvest Haul to the Friendship Center back in October.

• Lest I forget, on Oct. 19 our friends at the Berkshire Community Action Council held their first Harvest Haul, which benefitted a number of organizations. After having been set up at Wal-Mart in North Adams, some BCAC folks came over and delivered 219 lbs. of goods.

• I would be remiss not to mention all the produce that local farmers and gardeners donate to us, including all the produce that Kathy Keeser and other volunteers with Hoosac Harvest glean (ie. pick up overlooked veggies off the ground) at local farms. (Am hoping to do a post here soon on local produce.)

These donations which I have photos for are just a small percentage of the food and personal care product donations we receive, many from generous individuals. Here are some other recent donations:

• Spitzer Center, Dec. 3, 120 lbs.

• Clarksburg VFW Post 1994, Dec. 2, 58 lbs.

• Everyday Health, Nov. 27, 68 lbs.

• MCLA Center for Service and Citizenship, Nov. 26, 108 lbs.

• Florida Baptist Church, Nov. 26, 48 lbs.

• MCLA Hunger Banquet (held Nov. 24),  146 lbs., plus $118 donation.

• Storey Publishing Co., Nov. 26, 78 lbs.

• Williams College Center for Learning in Action, Nov. 25, 406 lbs.

• North Adams Regional Hospital SEIU 1199, Nov. 22, 200 lbs.

• St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Nov. 19 & Nov. 26, 386 lbs. total

• VNA & Hospice of Northern Berkshire, Nov. 19, 219 lbs.

Healthy Donations

Our friend Amanda Chilson, as part of the Mass in Motion effort has given us a list of suggested healthy foods. We have offered it out several times already to groups wanting to do food drives for us. Here it is:

• Beans
• Tuna
• Peanut Butter
• Instant Brown Rice
• Whole Wheat Pasta with Pasta Sauce
• Low Sodium Canned Vegetables (Tomatoes) or Soup
• Oatmeal
• Whole Grain Cereals (Low Sugar)
• No Sugar Added Canned Fruits

Well, that’s it for now. To my Christian friends, Merry Christmas. To everyone else, Happy Holidays. And to all, God Bless You,


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Unloading 4,900 lbs. of Food

This is my favorite, showing Stan Owczarski loading potatoes on our cart from the back of the truck.

On Tuesday, Nov. 27, several volunteers picked up and then unloaded about 4,900 lbs. of food from the Food Bank of Western Mass. We rent a U-Haul truck and pick up the food in Pittsfield. All the volunteers involved were: Rich Davis, Steve Green, Fran Morandi, Stan Owczarski, Dick Netherwood, Frank Goodermote, Henry Bounds, Al Nelson, and Mark Rondeau. Plus one young man started helping us who I did not know. He just came in off the street. It happens.

In fact, just before I left, while all these volunteers were still stocking the shelves for Wednesday, I answered a call to the Friendship Center from a man visiting the area who wanted to help with a charitable effort while he is in town. If all goes according to plan, he will be helping out during the second shift on Wednesday.

Here are some more photos:

The truck arrives around 12:35 p.m.

We start unloading the truck. Three pallets and a fourth broken down because it would not fit otherwise.

Fran Morandi carries a bag of potatoes into the Friendship Center.

Rich Davis and Dick Netherwood in foreground. With everything inside, it becomes time to stock the shelves.