Monday, December 13, 2010

Opportunities Knock

The Dec. 17 meeting will be important. We have some exciting news. There is a possibility that we will get the use of storefront in North Adams. This will be a main item on our agenda. The person who made the offer has expressed interest in this Interfaith effort from the start and will attend the meeting. We likely will take a brief “field trip” to see the space.

On Monday I saw this 800-square-foot-space, with restroom, space for an office and ample storage space and am quite impressed with it.

As for the survey of what local faith communities are doing to meet basic human needs, an analysis of the results so far of our survey reveals several interesting patterns that show more exciting opportunities. For instance, some of the churches we have surveyed have food pantries from which they distribute food on a periodic basis. Two we have surveyed so far actually make trips to the Western Massachusetts Food Bank to pick up food to distribute. While great, these efforts are not coordinated with each other and could be expanded beyond once a month.

At last Friday's meeting of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition (NBCC), a representative of the Western Mass Food Bank expressed interest in working with us on distributing their food through faith communities.

So there is an opportunity for us to be instrumental in widening the availabllity of food through faith communities in Northern Berkshire. The space we will visit could play a part. Many churches in Northern Berkshire already collatorate in the Take and Eat program, delivering Meals on Wheels to the elderly, the ill and shut-ins on weekends and holidays. I participate through the St. Anthony Kitchen at St. Elizabeth of Hungary in North Adams. This new opportunity could allow us to make more food available to families and those who do not receive Meals on Wheels.

I think to be most effective in establising what we can do on food distribution — and other areas such as providing clothing — we should try to wrap up our faith community survey by the end of January. We already have a great start. I hope on Friday to provide a list of communities we have not yet connected with. I think we should give every faith community the opportunity to comment on our survey.

When we have gathered as much information from faith communities as we can, then we can summarize and publicize our findings. I have already produced a three-page informal summary that I used as notes for the Dec. 10 meeting, which I would be happy to share with anyone interested. So producing an analysis we can publicize when our survey is complete should not take long. I will bring my preliminary summary to Friday’s meeting.

I think a positive result of our effort so far has been more of a place at the table for the faith perspective: at the North Adams downtown celebration, at the Coalition discussion of the tattered social services safety net and, upcoming, the new Systems of Care effort that the NBCC is helping start, which I mentioned in the last post. The invitation I received for this mentioned that they wanted to have the faith community represented. With clergy being stretched enough as it is, the existence of the Interfaith Action Initiative allows for greater faith representation at various community efforts and discussions.

I mentioned in the last post the end of the Williamstown Ecumenical Association and the end of its voucher system. It was suggested to me by Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser that we invite someone with knowledge of the voucher program, such as the Rev. Peter Elvin, of St. John's Episcopal in Williamstown. I think this would be a good idea, especially as the nature of this voucher program will necessitate strong clergy involvement if it continues.

I also think we should consider inviting someone from the Western Mass Food Bank, since they are interested in our effort, and from Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services, which runs a food and fuel fund and a free medical clinic in Bennington.

Also, we should consider going to Pittsfield for a meeting of Co-Act, which is involved in interfaith service (one of their members has came to our last meeting); and perhaps visiting Brattleboro, where there is a strong interfaith effort.

There are a couple of exciting upcoming events to mention. MLK Day in January, which will once again be a community service day. And the North County Christmas Concert willl be held at First Congregational Church in North Adams (at Monument Square) on Sunday. Dec. 19, at 4 p.m. Proceeds will benefit the St. Anthony and St. Vincent de Paul Kitchens (part of Take and Eat program) and the Berkshire Food Project.

Well, there's a lot going on to think — and pray — about.

As always feel free to comment. I hope to see you Friday.

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