Four of us visited the Pope John Paul Charity Center in Adams on Tuesday, between noon and 1:15 p.m. What a revelation! They have a super operation in a large space in the basement of St. Thomas Church. I would encourage our members to visit.
Larry Clairmont, who is the leader of the effort, took us through their operation. The Charity Center has a comprehensive, but also non-intrusive, system for identifying who they are serving. They verify if the people who come live in Adams, Cheshire or Savoy. They serve 783 households in those communities. Those they serve get an ID card, with a number. The center distributes food every other week and clothes every week. Larry said they are the only food pantry in Adams, Cheshire and Savoy.
The Charity Center has a food pantry and gets food both from the Western Mass. Food Bank and from the USDA, etc. The center also offers some household items and also at times distributes diapers. I have never in my life seen a clothing distribution center on the order of what they have there, with children's sections and ladies sections, etc.
The Charity Center, which has been open since July, 2009, has 30 volunteers. Larry said they are excellent. They CORI check their volunteers. This is done through the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. The Charity Center is set up as a separate non-profit, separate from the parish that houses it.
I was particularly pleased to hear that volunteers for the Center are not all members of St. John Paul the Great parish. I was even more pleased to hear that a class of six students from Hoosac Valley High School regularly volunteer as do students from the High School's Leo Club, which is a junior version of the Lions Club. The Plunkett Elementary School has done a food drive for the center.
I came away from the visit energized about what they are doing. Think about the level of need, though! 783 households in just three towns. As we said to Larry and others there, we will be serving points north. And, I'll add here, a base with more population: North Adams, Williamstown, Florida, Stamford and, perhaps, Readsboro. We'll have to see what BCAC does with food distribution and evaluate if we are going to set a geographical limit for those we serve.
Larry and the other volunteers there when we visited told us that they take a nonjudgmental attitude toward all they serve, though a small percentage might be trying to work the system. This, of course, is the proper attitude to take. Once the Friendship Center is up and running, I'm sure it will be a revelation in many respects.
Developments, ideas and random thoughts about this have come forward fast and furious in the past few weeks. Here are some developments and ideas:
• After some planning with Al Nelson, I have designed a sign for the Friendship Center. I will bring a copy of the design to the meeting. I gave a rough draft of it to the North Adams building department and planning board. I realized later that I could do a better job that would show things better, so I developed a four-page design and re-submitted it, including a copy to the mayor.
• We are starting to get both food donations and monetary donations. We need to design thank-you notes and have someone in charge of making sure they are sent where they need to go. The Charity Center not only send out thank-you notes to monetary donors, they have an excellent and attractive certificate for businesses that support them to post where people can see it. I will bring a copy of this to the meeting also, along with a couple of other forms the Charity Center uses.
• Kim McMann, of Target Hunger and the Western Mass. Food Bank, has a great idea about having an intern from Williams College help the Friendship Center Food Pantry during the summer. Kim's idea also includes presenting workshops for the people who utilize the Center. She will present her ideas at Friday's meeting during our discussion section.
• As noted above, the Charity Center has teen volunteers, and it works well. Incorporating teens as volunteers in our efforts, as well as seniors and eventually some of those we serve, is a high priority for me. I have been in contact with the new North Adams Youth Commission. They invited me to speak to them at Thursday's meeting this week, but work commitments prevent me from attending. I hope I can make their next meeting.
• Another wonderful faith-based operation that we should check out is located in Bennington, Vt. Bennington Interfaith Community Services currently runs a free medical clinic and has a food and fuel fund. They are now opening a food distribution center in a former tanning salon. The goal for opening is March 1. I know about this because as the religion editor of the Bennington Banner I wrote about it earlier this month. I will bring a copy of the article to Friday's meeting.
• Finally, I have created a Facebook page for the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative Friendship Center. It is a way to raise our visibility, and "everyone" seems to be on it these days. I see it as a complement to our blog. I would encourage people to visit the page and "Like" it. The more people who interact with the page, the more others will become aware of it. You have to join Facebook to comment and contribute to our page.
Anyway, I thank your all and God Bless,
(Top: Joyce Lincourt, Al Nelson, a volunteer at the Charity Center, Larry Clairmont, and Shirley Davis during our visit Tuesday. Bottom: Another view of the Charity Center.)