Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fall: Serious Meetings, Fun Events

Wendy Krom appears on “In the Company of Friends” on Channel 15.

In this post: A discussion of Buddhism on our TV show; outdoor clothing and volunteers needed for our Oct. 6 sale;  NAMI Berkshire County featured at our Sept. 28 meeting; our August 17th meeting was dynamic and challenging; recent food pantry statistics; next year: Annual Meeting, CROP Walk.

A good friend on ‘In the Company of Friends’

Wendy Krom, who is the Northern Berkshire Neighbors Coordinator with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition is the guest this month on “In the Company of Friends,” which is now airing on Fridays at 5 p.m. and Mondays at 1 p.m. on NBCTC Channel 15.

“First of all, to be asked that question is really a wonderful thing,” she said of being asked to be on the show.

“One of the things that I love so much about coming to the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative meetings is the faith sharing that you have and the way the meeting begins is always with a moment of silent prayer and then sharing of faith,” Wendy said. “So there's been a couple of times where I’ve brought a reading... so it's really an honor and a privilege to be asked to be asked to be on the show to talk about this.”

Wendy was not originally a Buddhist. When she had to fill out a medical form asking for religious affiliation, “the first time I put ‘Buddhist’ was 'wow, that'’ something.’ So the question is, how does a nice Methodist girl like me become a Buddhist.”

She had long been interested in Native American spirituality and done a lot of reading in that area. Later, she starting reading about Eastern thought, philosophy and religion. “Interestingly enough, the first book that I read that was in the Buddhist tradition was ‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism’  by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who was in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and is founder of the lineage that I study and practice. And he was one of the first monks to bring Buddhism to the West.”

For more of Wendy’s spiritual journey, watch the program. Our conversation on air went by much too quickly. She had brought many books to the show but was able only to share about one or two of them on-air.

As always, thanks to my co-host and co-producer Mark Lincourt and to our friends at Northern Berkshire Community Television Corp., especially the incomparable Paul Marino.

Interfaith group to discuss mental illness on Sept. 28

The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative (NBIAI) will hold its September meeting on Friday, Sept. 28, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. (Use Eagle Street entrance).

We will discuss the mission and work of the Berkshire County Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness with Kathy Quinn, a family advocate with NAMI Berkshire County. Part of this discussion will be the role faith communities can play to acknowledge the issue and offer support to individuals and families. In addition we will discuss ways our group might mark Mental Illness Awareness Week, Oct. 7-13. 

Kathy sent me a 15-page packet of information related to these issues and I hope to have a few copies of it available at the meeting. It is excellent material.

We also will make final preparations for our benefit clothing sale on Oct. 6.

The NBIAI is  a group of people of various faiths working with others of good will to serve our community. It operates the Friendship Center Food Pantry at 43 Eagle St. in North Adams and an emergency voucher system for Northern Berkshire County. Our monthly meetings include a moment of silent prayer and a time for faith sharing. To read posts on several different developments, visit our blog at

Clothing donations, volunteeers and customers needed!

On Saturday, Oct. 6, the NBIAI will hold a sale of fine, gently used clothing at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish Center in North Adams to benefit the Friendship Center Food Pantry. The sale will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free. Featured will be men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, both for summer and winter, underwear, footwear, outdoor winter clothing and linens, all at bargain prices.

Clothing donations

In conjunction with the sale, organizers are now accepting donations of clean, gently used men’s, women’s and children’s outdoor clothing, including jackets, parkas, hats, gloves, socks and boots from now until Oct. 3. Donations may be dropped off at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition/Family Place at 61 Main St., Suite 218, North Adams. They also may be dropped off at the Friendship Center Food Pantry, 43 Eagle St., during hours of operation on Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. Or to arrange for pick-up, call the Friendship Center at 664-0123 and leave a message, call Mark at 664-0130 and leave a message, or email Fran at

Volunteers needed

Volunteers are needed the day of the sale. We need cashiers, baggers, clerks, and crew for set up and cleanup, Friday Oct. 5, for setup, and on Oct. 6, the day of the sale, between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Those who can’t volunteer the entire time on Saturday are encouraged to volunteer for some portion of the day. Those interested in volunteer should email or

The all-volunteer-run food pantry currently has about 1,050 member families, each eligible to receive food every two weeks, in North Adams, Clarksburg, and Florida. For more information, call Mark at 664-0130 or email

Some Friendship Center Statistics

In the 20 weeks from the beginning of May to the second Wednesday of September, the Friendship Center Food Pantry served a total of 2,483 households on 19 Wednesday and one Thursday (July 5) sessions. This is futher broken down into 1,601 households in our first session and 882 in our second session.

This averages out to 80 households per week in our first, three-hour session and 44 per week in our two-hour afternoon session, with an average of 124 households a day. Serving 124 households in the 300 minutes that fill five hours averages to serving one household every 2.4 minutes.

But as the volunteers know, there are rushes at the start and lulls near the end. At our very busiest, I would estimate we serve one household every 1.5 minutes. Our desk people and baggers are wonderful. So are our stock people and our people up front.

By the way, we keep adding members every week. It shows no sign of letting up! 

25 people discuss the Initiative at Aug. 17 monthly meeting

Our August Interfaith meeting was a wonderful discussion with 25 people with varying perspectives about the Interfaith Action Initiative. 

With the help of Denise Krutiak and Wendy Krom taking notes, the entire group compiled a list of what is going right and what could be immproved upon. Suggestions not only included the Friendship Center Food Pantry, but other things we could be doing. First, here is the list of What Do We Do Right? What was written down is in black, with my added comments in plain type in brackets.

1. Lots of volunteers. 

2. How we do our work. [See no. 3].

3. Volunteers do their jobs with love. [In fact, one of our members at the meeting told us that we did a good job treating our pantry visitors witih respect and not as "pariahs."]

4. Number that we serve. [Now up to around 1,050 households in North Adams, Clarksburg and Florida.]

5. We are Northern Berkshire and communicate with other pantries. {In addition to staying in touch with others pantries and food sources, we are in particularly close contact with the Berskhire Food Project, which serves meals, and with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, which is our fiscal agent.]

6. Accept everyone. [We do not turn people away who come from communities we don't ordinarily serve. Rather, we make sure they know where the pantry in their community is,  or how to contact it, and give them food to tide them over.]

7. We have community support. [The food and financial support we have received for the pantry has been tremendous. Each of us could tell many stories of the generousity of our community. North Adams and the surrounding communities have a tremendous big-heartedness and deep sense of what really matters. This was most recently on display, I
think, with the return of the remains of PFC Michael Demarsico II and the deeply respectful manner in which residents reacted.]

8. People will do extra above and beyond. [I've said it many times and will continue to say it: We have the best volunteers in the world.]

9. Donated space! [The Friendship Center would not exist without this, and our Steering Committee recently took our great landlords, Mike and Lois Daunis out to lunch at the Hub to thank them.]

10. Creates an inner glow. [This describes what many of our volunteers feel from being of service to our sisters and brothers at the Friendship Center. I know what they mean — I feel it too!] 

11. Voucher system has become well-organized. [Thanks to the fine work of Stuart Crampton, Rich Davis, with help from Corinne Case and others].

12. We are a good example to other pantries. {In fact, we have been told more than once that we are pointed to by the Western Mass. Food Bank as a prime example of how a pantry should operate].

13. Coming together as people of faith. [From the very beginning, we have described the NBIAI as people of various faiths working with others of good will to find ways to serve our community. The Initiative does have a faith component. We begin each pantry session
with a prayer. We have a rack up front where each house of worship can put its literature or bulletin. And our monthly meetings with begin with a time of silent prayer and then faith sharing.  Some of our faith sharing activities have been deeply moving. I should also add that from the perspective of our Initiative and pantry leadership, personal prayer plays a vital part in our planning process. It helps in determining with each new development and idea whether it comes from above (or in secular terms has deep validity) or is an attempt at self-aggrandizement, or is unnecessary, or is a non-productive imitation of other programs, etc. In my case, daily Scripture reading also provides an important point of refrence in evaluating current events. You get the idea.]

14. Multiple sources of food supply. [In short, the Food Bank, donations, and our own regular monthly spending on food to supplement what we get from other sources.]

Of course, this is only half the story. What can we do better? What more can we do? Here’s that list:

1. Fundraising Concern: How can we be sustainable? [Being new, the Food Pantry has been quite successful in raising money. Will this last? How can we make this last? One way is to arract younger donors/volunteers. We also mentioned fundraising events. Our upcoming Oct. 6 clothing sale is one example.]

2. As emergency food becomes less available (from the government), consider new sources, such as fresh produce, involve legislators, advocacy.

3. The Sperry Avenue Garden didn't go well from the standpoint of getting our friends involved. 

4. Room to improve, use creative thinking about other food sources. Collaboration with other efforts such as Hoosac Harvest and Many Forks Farm, and gleaning and the "Grow a Row" program. 

5. Collaborate with the Salvation Army food pantry in North Adams.

6. Be aware of volunteer commitments. Get more volunteers involved in newer projects such as a gardens.

7. Think about capacity, ie. storage limitations. Need of bigger space. "Be planful"

8. Approach houses of worship to help more, adopt the pantry, grow gardens and donate therefrom to the pantry.

9. Communication and coordinator. Perhaps a monthly newsletter or calendar of events.

10. Use the Initiative to shine a light on the housing issues. [We had a meeting about this a year ago, and it was very gratifying].

11. Transportation: Consider coordinating with agencies who may help us transport food to people [or otherwise help us support those in need. By the way, would a dealiership like to give us a van?].

12. Working on employment/economic development.

13. Outreach to more "people of good will" ... and younger people through such programs as UNITY, school groups, service clubs, that foster a spirit of service. Especially transition age, 18-26

14. Consider 501c3 status. [I am  not in a big hurry to do this. I like the grassroots, collaborative nature of the Initiative as it now stands. Not to rule out official non-profit status in the future.]

15. Tracking system, regarding history of need or amount of food. Is it possible to predict the future?

I could add one or two more things, but this is quite long enough. I thank for God for all His blessings on me and on the Interfaith Action Initiative and all our Friends.


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