Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Unhidden Agenda: Friday's Interfaith Meeting


See below the agenda for tomorrow's (Friday, March 18) meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative. Below that is a summary of the history of the voucher system idea that has been active in Willliamstown and recent discussions about preserving and extending it. It was produced by Stuart Crampton, who has been doing fantastic work both for the food pantry effort but also on the voucher system. Copies of both the agenda and the statement will be available at tomorrow's meeting.

Hope to see you there,

Mark Rondeau



Meeting Friday, March 18, 10 a.m.

First Baptist Church of North Adams

1). Welcome/Introductions

2). Period of silent prayer.

3). Faith sharing.

4). a). Brief announcements b). Check on how many will be coming to Food Safety Workshop on Thursday.

5). Brief recollection on first month of Friendship Center and introudction of our guest for the meeting.

6). Discussion with Valerie Schwartz of the Berkshire Food Project and ways to help each other’s efforts.

7). Presentation of summary of work on voucher program. Brief discussion and suggestion that this be main topic of Aprii meeting.

8). More discussion of food pantry effort, including maintaining a faith aspect to it and having an interfaith open house.

9). Adjourn.

Next meeting: April 15 at 10 a.m. at First Baptist Church of North Adams.


Extending the Williamstown Fund through North Berkshire

Until the Williamstown Ecumenical Association disbanded last winter, its Ministry Fund supported a voucher system for providing small amounts of one-time emergency assistance to transients and others coming to Williamstown houses of worship with emergency needs. People in need of emergency food, transportation or shelter who came to one of the houses of worship during business hours were issued vouchers that were honored by local vendors with whom agreements had been secured in advance. People who called a house of worship or clergy phone after hours were directed to the police Station, which could issue vouchers drawn on the Ministry Fund. Communication by telephone and email allowed the different churches to keep track of those served at other churches, very recently and over longer periods. The vendors included five restaurants, three grocery outlets, four motels, two gas stations and the Williams Inn bus station. Vouchers ranged form $20 or so for food up to $50 or so for a motel room. Most of the Williamstown houses of worship contributed annually according to their means, from $50 to a few hundred dollars per year. Some 60 - 70 vouchers were issued per year. The vouchers were submitted by vendors to the lay treasurer of the Ecumenical Association. At first, transients comprised about 2/3 of the clientele. Recently, the number of transients declined until most of the traffic is from local residents, many of whom were from NB towns other than Williamstown.

When the Ecumenical Association disbanded, its remaining funds, including the Ministry Fund,was distributed back to the participating churches. A few of the churches that have experienced the most emergency assistance requests have agreed among themselves to carry on at least through August 2011. In the meantime, they have suggested that a similar system might be more effective if expanded throughout North Berkshire, coordinated with other providers of various kinds of assistance to those in need. NBIAI has begun to investigate this idea and is planning to create a task force to take it up in more detail. Issues include expanded costs, sources of funds for an expanded system, rapid and effective communication, and administrative support. BCAC and nbCC have both offered to help if something useful materializes.

Stuart Crampton for the NBIAI

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