Sunday, November 5, 2017

New BFP Director, Recipes from EB-3, Micah Awards

Kim McMann, new director of the Berkshire Food Project, at our Oct. 20 public meeting.

We have some news to pass along.

On Friday, Oct. 20, old friend Kim McMann came to our public interfaith meeting. Kim is the new director of the Berkshire Food Project. Back when she was with North Adams with Target Hunger she helped us out when we were starting the Friendship Center Food Pantry.

Kim replaces out old friend Valerie Schwarz, who ran the BFP from its inception.

Kim talked about her plans for the Food Project. And we talked about areas of shared cooperation. We are very excited she's back in Northern Berkshire.

Kim McMann, Gordon Clark and Jonathan Schwartz at our Oct. 20 meeting. Nine people attended in all.

EB-3 at the Eagle Street Room

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright at the Eagle Street Room for the EB-3 food sampling and recipe offering.

More recently, our friends from the North Adams Public School EB-3 alternative program, came to the Eagle Street Room on Wednesday, Nov. 1, with food samples from recipes they had been working on. They also had the printed recipes available for our pantry members.

The recipes included Seven-Layer Bean Dip, Spinach and Grilled Chicken Penne, French Toast Casserole, Chicken Cordon Bleu, Baked Ziti, Scrambled Eggs with Spinach & Parmesan, Rice Cakes, Black Bean Dip, Warm Cinnamon Apples, Potato Sausage Casserole, Chicken Stir Fry, Bacon, Egg and Cheese Bagel, and Pasta Salad.

This is not the first time EB-3 has worked with us. A couple of years ago they produced a very well-done cookbook for our food pantry members.

Another view of the EB-3 presentation (photo from North Adams Public School Facebook)

We honor two at Micah Awards Celebration

Corinne Case and Aubrey Armstrong. Photo from BIO 2nd Annual Micah Celebration program.

BIO First Vice President Jim Kolesar and Corinne Case at the celebration. (BIO photo)

You may know that the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative Inc. is a non-congregational member of Berkshire Interfaith Organizing. BIO's mission statement is: “We work together to make social justice real in our community and improve the quality of life for all in the Berkshires.”

How does BIO go about this?
“We bring together people of faith and values by sharing our stories to: Increase our power to act for justice; Develop skills to be more effective in the public arena; Take action on issues of common concern for our member groups; Ensure that those affected by the issues craft the solutions.

By doing this we: Build relationships and strengthen community Identify and develop diverse local leaders. Achieve systemic solutions.”

The annual celebration is based on the famous verse from the famous Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) book of Micah (6:8): “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

This year we nominated Aubrey Armstrong and Corinne Case for the award. Each BIO member organization had the opportunity to nominate one or two of its members.

The celebration was held on Sunday, Oct. 29, at the Stationery Factory in Dalton.

I wrote and read the nomination for our two nominees. Unfortunately, Aubrey was unable to attend, but Corinne did so.

In addition to Aubrey and Corinne, other of our friends and volunteers were honored at the Micah Awards by their congregations. For instance, BIO member First Congregational Church of Williamstown honored Phil and Susan Smith. Rev. Mark Longhurst, pastor of First Congregational, noted that Phil had the idea for the volunteer-driven rides-home program we now offer at the Friendship Center. He had heard how much we had been spending on taxi rides and resolved to do something about it! He and Susan were honored for a lifetime of service.

Phil and Susan Smith, center. The Rev. Mark Longhurst at right. (BIO photo)

St. John's Episcopal Church in Williamstown named Robin Lenz and Charles Bonenti as its nominees. Robin has participated in our rides program, and she and Charles run the church’s garden, from which they have given the Friendship Center plenty of produce.
To conclude, here my prepared remarks at the celebration:

The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative (NBIAI) is proud to nominate Aubrey Armstrong and Corinne Case as our co-nominees for the 2017 Micah Award. They both exemplify an honest, humble and effective attitude of service in all they do.

Both women have represented the NBIAI on the BIO Executive Board and other BIO activities. 

Aubrey Armstrong until quite recently was a member of the NBIAI Board of Directors, which is primarily occupied with running the Friendship Center Food Pantry in North Adams, our major ongoing project. Aubrey has supported the pantry in numerous ways. She has been key in helping us find ways of better serving the homeless people we encounter in our work. Her advocacy has also included being a liaison between the NBIAI and the Berkshire Food Project. Aubrey was a key member in BIO’s task force responding to the closing of the Price Chopper in North Adams, where her knowledge of transportation issues was particularly helpful.

Aubrey’s positive attitude, thoughtfulness and detailed knowledge of many subjects will be missed as she moves on. We hope she will check in from time to time as she is able with both the Interfaith Action Initiative and BIO.

Corinne Case is one of a small handful of people who founded the NBIAI in 2010, an opportunity for “people of different faiths and denominations to work with others of goodwill to serve our community.” She helped found the Friendship Center Food Pantry in 2011, and served on the NBIAI Board of Directors for several years. Corinne’s professional training and passion for service has been a huge benefit to our work. 

These include her current and past work in such fields as Adult Basic Education and Tobacco Cessation, among others. In addition, Corinne’s understanding of the interfaith aspect of the NBIAI was key in establishing this as a non-negotiable part of our identity. She is a regular presence during food pantry day at the First Baptist Church of North Adams, ready to help out visiting friends with their education needs and more.

On a personal note, I first met Corinne when she was running a grief support group for the VNA and Hospice of what was then Northern Berkshire Health Systems. She was a great help to me as I dealt with the loss of two family members. A few years later, after another loss, she again helped me deal with it in an unofficial capacity. I will never forget her help with this.

The NBIAI thanks BIO for the opportunity to honor these two wonderful people with the Micah Award.

Several hundred people attended the BIO awards celebration.

That’s all for now. God Bless!


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Where Am I? At the Friendship Center, That's Where

Here are the nine students from the Where Am I program who helped out on Saturday.

We were pleased on Saturday, Sept. 2, to host a group of Williams College students with the Where Am I? local community orientation and service program.

Most were first-year students, with two sophomores leading the group. They came from such diverse places as Queens, N.Y.; Boston; Los Angeles; and Ethiopia.

After a hearing a brief description of what we do, the students took on a wide array of tasks. NBIAI Board of Directors members Sheila Bounds, who is volunteer coordinator; Fran Berasi; and Mark Rondeau each had tasks for the students.

 Here are the students working on repackaging cat and dog food. The pet food comes from the Berkshire Humane Society and from private donations.

The students bagged cat and dog food, and a group went out to Stop & Shop and bought more with money they were given; they repackaged diapers; one students did data entry; they put return stickers and stamps on envelopes for our upcoming letter fund-raising campaign; one student made copies of our fund-raising letter and fact sheet. To top it all off before they left, the students made the weekend cleaning the Friendship Center much easier by thoroughly sweeping the floor.

Though we have had the Where Am I? program visit in the past, I have a hard time remembering the name, at times calling it You Are Here! or Where Are We? At any rate, on a long walk on Monday in Williamstown, I discovered from a sign along Main Street that they are involved in the habitat restoration project near the old Spruces site. In fact, last week I saw a group of young people working there, and they were probably the same students we saw on Saturday. (See photos below).

Working with local students is one of the many enjoyable things about this work.

  Students in the foreground are re-packaging pet food while the students in the back are re-packaging diapers. We get our diapers from the Berkshire Diaper Project.

 One of the Williams students did data entry for us, entering information about our volunteers onto a spreadsheet. That's volunteer coordinator Sheila in the background updating the volunteer board.

Here's the habitat restoration project in Williamstown that the Where Am I? Williams students also worked on.

We Celebrate Versatile Volunteer Kevin Tyree

Here's a photo Kevin provided in documenting a trip back and forth to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield.

Since the February 2013, Kevin Tyree has been an invaluable volunteer with the Friendship Center Food Pantry. Over the years he has been very involved in food transportation, picking up a rented truck and driving either to the local depot in Pittsfield or directly to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield, roughly a 100-mile round trip. Then after helping unloaded the truck he would return it to the rental agency.

For several years, he drove the truck on Tuesdays the great majority of the time. We could not have thrived as a food operation during this time without his help. He has ceased being involved in weekly food transportation, but fortunately he continues to help in other ways.

For instance, Kevin also has been a key presence during the annual Letter Carrier Food Drive during the second Saturday in May — not only helping on the Saturday itself but in setting up the sorting space downtown and in transporting the collected food over to the Friendship Center in stages.

 Here's photo I took of Kevin  a few years ago.

Kevin is a regular presence helping out at the food pantry during the morning and early afternoon session on Wednesday.. In the past he has helped in the evening at the Eagle Street Room with the setup and putting away of tables and cleanup. He has also over the years helped with various mechanical and technical aspects, such as when we changed and upgrades our door locks and putting new wheels on one of our hand carts. He's also taken photos of our activities from time to time.

Kevin is good with computers and often helps out during morning session when there’s a problem with the sign-in computer. In fact, just this past Saturday Kevin came down to pick up a start-up disk in an effort to get our new sign-in computer up and running properly.

Kevin is a cheerful and helpful presence, who cares very much about what we do and about the friends we serve. We greatly appreciate who he is and all he does.

Here's a photo of our celebration of the birthday of another stalwart volunteer, Lois Hescock. That's Kevin standing behind her in his cowboy hat. We have the best volunteers in the non-profit world.

~ Mark Rondeau

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 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:

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, 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.