Monday, August 8, 2011

MCLA LEAD Academy students visit Friendship Center

(The students with Spencer Moser, yellow shirt; Al Nelson speaks; Mark Lincourt speaks to the students.)

On Monday, Aug. 8, about 35 students from the MCLA LEAD Academy visited the Friendship Center with Spencer Moser, Center for Service and Citizenship and the LEAD Academy. Al Nelson, Mark Lincourt and Mark Rondeau explained what we do and why we do it.

MCLA LEAD students will be putting up flyers on Tuesday to publicize the food drive the North Adams Public Library is conducting, and on Wednesday a group of them will be helping at the pantry.

Here is an information sheet writtten for the students:

Welcome to the Friendship Center!

Volunteers of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative (NBIAI) have been running a food pantry at the Friendship Center at 43 Eagle St. in North Adams since mid-February. The Frienship Center also serves as headquarters of the NBIAI.

The NBIAI formed in May 2010 as an effort of people of various faiths and denominations, in conjunction with others of good will, to find ways to serve our community. The Initiative meets the third Friday of every month at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. Our meetings include a time of silent prayer and faith sharing, leading up to discussion of a major topic. All are welcome.

After forming, members of the NBIAI held discussions over several months with social workers and community activists in such areas as work with the homeless and youth mentoring, seeking ways to help that would not duplicate existing efforts. We discoverd an important opportunity to serve when food pantry capacity in North Adams declined just when need was rocketing upward in a severe recession.

We are continuing and expanding in a new location under new management the North Adams food pantry that the Berkshire Community Action Council (BCAC) no longer had the space or staff to run effectively. This 800-square-foot space has been donated free of charge by Mike and Lois Daunis; the utilities are paid for by BCAC. The entire staff of the Friendship Center is volunteer. The NBIAI received a $1,000 grant — our first ever — earlier this summer from the Northern Berkshire United Way for additional shelving. In addition, we have received a number of private monetary donations, the largest so far being $2,000.

About 450 member households, eligible to receive food every other week, belong to the Friendship Center. The food pantry is open every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m. Our busiest day so far was on July 27, when we served 86 households in our first session and 28 in our second session, for a total of 114. At our busiest, we need between 10 to 14 volunteers in various tasks to operate the pantry effectively. Before opening the door each Wednesday, we gather for a brief prayer.

We give out an average of 1,900 lbs. of food per week to Northern Berkshire residents, and this total, like our number of member households, is constantly growing. As of July 1, we had received 14,291 lbs of food from the Western Mass. Food Bank via BCAC and received 9,900 lbs. in private donations, 8,000 lbs. of this from the annual Letter Carriers Food Drive.

Our volunteers may differ in motivation, but we are united in wishing to serve our guests with respect and affection as brothers and sisters. We seek to build positive relationships and community connections. We have found that this has generated a great deal of good will in the community. Several of our volunteers also receive food here. People are eager to help and support us. We have fun every week, even though at our busiest the activity resembles barely controlled chaos!

Memorable moments include the woman who said she didn’t feel poor at the Friendship Center; the time one of our volunteers took a visiting infant into her lap and started to read to him; and the many, many people who thank us for being here. Challenges include finding enough food.

During your time here in North Adams, you will always be welcome to stop in at the Friendship Center to chat, to volunteer, to do research, or to get food. For more information, visit our blog at, call 413-212-7756 or email

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