Friday, April 22, 2011

On Food and Friendship


“I don’t feel poor when I’m here.”

These words came recently from a visitor to and member of the Friendship Center food pantry, and we discussed this comment some at the April 15 meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative.

We covered a lot of ground at this meeting and had a dynamic and informative discussion about the food pantry and the upcoming letter carriers’ food drive on Saturday, May 14.

It was indeed an informative discussion. I, for one, did not understand how the letter carriers’ food drive worked until we discussed it that day with Dick Dassatti and others who have been involved with it in the past.

For the sake of not presenting too much at once, however, I am going to break the April 15 meeting up into two blog posts — the first on the evaluation of the food pantry and the second on the food drive.

So far, we have served — as I write this on April 22 — 27, 14, 36, 21, 65, 53, 55, 49, and 62 households. We now have just over 200 households signed up as members.

At the beginning of evaluating our food pantry operation at the meeting, I said I thought we deserved an "A" in our first eight weeks of operation. I was pleased when Shirley McDonald of the Berkshire Community Action Council also said she thought we deserved that grade.

But, as I said at the meeting, as important as giving out food is the attitude of treating our visitors with respect, as friends, as brothers and sisters. Our time of prayer before we open the front door each Wednesday helps remind us of this.

Our discussion focused on ways of getting more food and other necessities from the Food Bank and through working with local supermarkets and stores like CVS. Al Nelson brought up the very good point about an action plan for each of these items.

We need people to fully investigate our relationships with the three supermarkets in North Adams, and Wal-Mart and CVS. To an extent, members are already taking this upon themselves. We can see how that goes over the next several weeks and see if we need to take some more concerted effort.

We also need an action plan to reach out to our houses of worship for food, funds and volunteers. In developing an action plan for faith communities, things can get a bit more complicated than in reaching out to local grocery and general items stores, which are mostly located in North Adams.

For instance, though we are an Interfaith group for all of Northern Berkshire, in seeking to connect with faith communities for donations of food and funds do we need to confine our efforts just to the communities we serve with the food pantry — Ie. North Adams, Florida and Clarksburg? This hesitancy is because these communities each have their own food pantries, and we don't want to impinge on their efforts. As the pantry in Williamstown is small, perhaps we can work out a cooperative sharing arrangement for food and funds and perhaps can freely recruit volunteers from there.

Indeed, we do need more volunteers. We are open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Wednesday at 43 Eagle St., next to Papyri Books.

Volunteers do such things as fill orders of food from our shelves for those who come for food, help with the registration process and record keeping, and greet people at the door. Volunteers do not have to serve the whole three hours or every week — even working one hour or one day occasionally can give a regular volunteer a break.

Those interested in volunteering may contact volunteer coordinator Denise Krutiak at

As for funds, as Shirley McDonald said at our April 15 meeting, if we wish to get more food, we need to start fundraising. Fortunately, we already do have some donated money in the bank. But we could use more.

Right now, the biggest reason to seek more funds is because of cuts in funding of programs for the poor in the federal budget. It’s already happened for the remainder of this fiscal year and very likely to continue in the next. So we may end up having to buy food ourselves to have enough to give out.

In addition, it’s important to note a very interesting aspect of the food pantry “business” — pantries usually can get more mileage out of a direct cash donation of money than a donation of food. The reason is simple: Food can be purchased from food banks by food pantries for less than supermarket prices — often for much less than supermarket prices. So the donated dollar can go much further than one spent for a can of food at a supermarket.

Anyone wishing to make a monetary donation to the food pantry shoud make a check out to the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative and send it to 43 Eagle St., North Adams MA 01247.

We eventually may put a Paypal feature on our Facebook page, but we’re not there yet.

Our next meeting

The next meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative will be held on Friday, May 20, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams (use Eagle Street entrance).

Our meetings, which are open to people of all faiths, begin with a time of silent prayer and faith sharing, followed by announcements. People of all faiths and all people of goodwill are welcome to attend.

In May, the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative will be one year old. We may or may not have a birthday cake at the next meeting. But what an interesting year it’s been. From a drumming circle at the Downtown Celebration in August to a Friendship Center and food pantry in February!

We may have a discussion on affordable housing with a group from Boston at our May meeting, but as I write this I have not yet heard back from them.

Other thoughts

• Our volunteers continue to be incredible. So many wonderful people so many of whom I didn’t know a year ago.

• I went into the Friendship Center today and discovered that Stuart Crampton has made a wonderful certificate (suitable for framing and public display) that we can give to businesses that help us.

• I wish to thank John McDonald of Williamstown for giving us a desktop Canon copier in good working condition. (See photo below). And thanks to Liz Boland for letting me know it was available.

• Mike and Lois Daunis are still the people, more than anyone else, who have made the Friendship Center and the food pantry possible.

• I hope all my Jewish and Christian friends have had and are having good holy days in their respective traditions.

God bless you all,


Photos: All 21 of us present at the April 15 Interfaith meeting at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. Photo by Bert Lamb. Below: The copier donated to the Friendship Center by John McDonald of Williamstown.

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