Saturday, June 11, 2011

Rising spirits accompany rising temperatures

The Food Pantry needs peanut butter and macaroni and cheese. If you have any to donate, you may bring it to the Friendship Center, 43 Eagle St., North Adams, on Wednesdays between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Or email or call 413-212-4890 and we will find a way to pick it up.



Much has been happening with the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative, so much that it is no longer easy for me to summarize the past month on this blog.

But here are some highlights:

• The next meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative will be held on Friday, June 17, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams (use the Eagle Street entrance).

We will discuss expansion of an emergency voucher program from Williamstown to the whole Northern Berkshire area, including North Adams and Adams. Stuart Crampton has been doing fine work on this, and I look forward to seeing what comes forth from this meeting.

• One of the things that grew out of the May meeting of the Interfaith Action Initiative was action on beginning a planning committee for the Initiative as a whole, which of course includes the food pantry at the Friendship Center.

We did not widely publicize the planning first planning meeting, which was held at the Friendship Center on June 10, but several of those attending the May Interfaith meeting expressed interest in participating and many of those people were able to attend on June 10.

Each of the 10 or so of us present discussed our vision and priorities for the Interfaith Initiative. I don’t have the time to go into all the details here, but it was an inspiring discussion. At the end of the meeting, each of those present took away tasks. Some of us (especially food distribution coordinator Mark Lincourt and volunteer coordinator Denise Krutiak) will be planning how to add a second set of (evening in this case) hours to the food pantry’s current hours of operation, using all the wonderful and dedicated volunteers who have stepped forward to help. Two of us will be taking a more proactive stance in trying to secure a larger donated space in North Adams, though moving from our current location is not something we want or are prepared to do at any time in the near future.

But if we do eventually find a bigger space, we may want to offer services such as a drop-in center, and possibly even a homeless shelter, so someone will be gathering more information on that. Another person said she would look into ways to get more help from the local faith community for things that we need, such as items like peanut butter for the food pantry. Another person, who has been involved in Interfaith efforts elsewhere, will be gathering some information from them, so we can compare what we do to what they do.

We will probably hold our next planning meeting in August. Those who want to be part of the planning process should contact Mark Rondeau at

• Though it did not get discussed much on June 10, Al Nelson brought up the idea of holding or sponsoring as an Interfaith Initiative some type of faith-based community event, particularly a Thanksgiving event. I agree. Though we did have some problems last year trying at the 11th hour to plan an Interfaith Thanksgiving service, that experience does not have to be the last word on the subject. I intend on bringing this up again in the near future. A prayer breakfast is another idea. This is something we will need the clergy to get behind.

• Another thing thrown into the mix of what the future might look like for the Interfaith Action Initiative is that the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition in conjunction with other community and state partners is looking to help create a substantial family support center in Northern Berkshire. The Interfaith Action Initiative may fit into this in one way or another, but right now it is not clear. Meetings on this organized by the Coalition will be happening in June and it certainly will be interesting and exciting to see how this unfolds.

• As I write this on June 10-11, the Friendship Center Food Pantry has been open for 14 weeks — 3-1/2 months. In the last four weeks, the number of households served has been 82, 80, 57 and 65. In general, numbers seem to go up at the end of the month — understandably as this is when household money runs out. We keep adding member households, and this week added 14 monre to bring our number to 328.

With temperatures rising greatly the first week of June, we have seen a need to revise some of our procedures. So we began to hand out bottles of water that Wednesday to our visiting friends and have started going out as a matter of procedure to give people the opportunity to sign up in the line that forms outside the Friendship Center during the first 45 minutes to an hour we’re open. On Wednesday, June 8, we handed out about 50 bottles of water.

• We continue to have wonderful volunteers. Many people stepped forward to help us in handling the nearly 8,000 lbs. of food we received in May from the Letter Carriers’ Food Drive. At times when we are very busy, I will look back from my spot at the front door and my heart will swell from seeing another familiar face — or one not so familiar — showing up yet again to serve our sisters and brothers in need.

As I suggested at the June 10 meeting, the awesome response and amount of dedicated interest from volunteers may be a sign from the Person Upstairs that we should not be afraid to use this volunteer-power to open one evening a week in addition to our current one late morning/early afternoon a week, from 11 to 2.

To help regularize and organize intake and utilization of volunteers, we have come up with a volunteer information form that Everyone involved with the pantry is filliing out. Among other things, it asks when people would be available to work!

• On the subject of the letter carrier food drive, we are still giving our the food from that. In fact, we have boxes of food stacked in the Friendship Center that we have brought over from our temporary storage site at 107 Main St. Everything left from the drive is now in our Center.

Yet, we have already run out of peanut butter and macaroni and cheese, and these are not items we are going to receive any time soon from our regular sources of food. Anyone with a donation of any size of these should contact me or anyone else connected with the Friendship Center Food Pantry. Or stop down at the Center at 43 Eagle St. on Wednesday when we’re in operation, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• Thanks to the Berkshire Community Action Council, we now have three refrigeration units, and a grant from the Northern Berkshire United Way will allow us to purchase three more sets of chrome wire shelves for in back and a side room in the Friendship Center such as we are already using in the front. A chance discussion a couple of weeks ago with our friend and supporter Jack Gould led to this grant application.

• On June 6, Al Nelson and I had a great discussion at the Friendship Center with Spencer Moser, head of the Center for Service and Citizenship and the LEAD Academy at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

We discussed having the MCLA leadership program tour our facility on Monday, Aug. 8, with the incoming students in this program possibly doing some volunteer tasks later in the week. The Friendship Center would be one of the places the students would tour and possibly help out at. We may end up with some great volunteers as a result of this, especially as the Friendship Center is within walking distance of the college.

In addition, we may have the possibility of having one or more MCLA students available as volunteers each week as part of the Americorps program, which would pay students toward their college costs in exchange for volunteering. Moreover, if a student were found with a special interest in, say, nutrition, it might be possible for them to provide a nutrition workshop for those we serve.

Al and I will have more to say about this opportunity in upcoming Initiative meetings.

Would just like to add that, despite any obstacles and extra effort it might take, incorporating young people in what we do, including local high school students, is in my vision part of what we should be doing — if we are going to build a lasting Interfaith organization and pass along a home-grown ethic of service.

From a purely faith perspective, our example will show young people who have grown up on popular culture caricatures of people of strong faith, a quite different and more realistic picture of what real religion is about.

• Our continued thanks to Lois and Mike Daunis for letting us use their space at 43 Eagle St. Without them this would not be possible, and their concern for us and patience with us is beyond measure!

• Finally, the affordable housing discussion with the Boston-based Citizens Housing and Planning Association, which had to be cancelled in June, may be reschuled for the NB Interfaith Action Initiative meeting in September. Stay tuned, there will be plenty of advanced notice when the meeting on this important topic is officiallly rescheduled.

If you read all of this, thanks. And God Bless all of you,


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