Monday, May 4, 2020

Help From Many People and Groups

Marayam Kamagar, of Goodwill, has been working with us and our pantry friends for years. She has been key in getting the Goodwill truck help us and other programs during this pandemic. Below, the truck arrives on Friday, May 1, with our four pallets of food from the Food Bank of Western Mass.

Goodwill Helps Us Get Food Orders

Transportation is always a major issue when you’re dealing with food distribution. We are happy that one local organization is helping us and several other programs with this.
We’d like to thank Goodwill of the Berkshires and Southern Vermont. For the last few weeks and all the way through June, the Goodwill truck will be picking up our food order every week at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield. Ordinarily, we rent a U-Haul truck every week and drive it to the Food Bank and back. So this saves us money and time. The size of their truck also allows us to get more food, without having to send a second truck to Hatfield.

On Friday, May 1, the truck brought in our order of 6,397 lbs. of food!
Through this arrangement, Goodwill is also helping several of our fellow programs. These include the Berkshire Food Project, Louison House, the Community Bible Church and the Williamstown Food Pantry.

Adams Center Pantry Reopening

We have official confirmation that the food pantry in Adams is reopening this Wednesday, May 6, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those in line at 1 p.m. will be served. See photo of the sign below for more information. The Center Food Pantry is located on Route 8 in downtown Adams, in the basement of St. Thomas Church. The door is on the Route 8 side at street level and is located across from the end of Hoosac Street and the Berkshire Mill Apartments and diagonally across the street from Chee’s.

Though we never turn away anyone who comes to us for food, we ask that those from Adams, Cheshire and Savoy use the Adams pantry in the future. It has been our pleasure to serve you in recent weeks.

Measuring the Increase of Need

We have been serving more households since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the increase has not been as dramatic as in other areas of the country. In March 2019 we served an average of 121 households per week. This year in March, as the pandemic came to the forefront, we stayed about the same in household visits, with an average of 122 per week.

In April, at our new temporary location at the St. Elizabeth Parish Center, we have seen about a 10 percent increase in visits. In April 2019 we averaged 121 household visits per week. This year this has increased to an average of 133 visits per week.

One main reason why we have not seen a dramatic increase is that Northern Berkshire has been so great in pulling together to provide additional food resources. This includes our public schools. Following is just a partial list of the food opportunities available.

Other Local Food Sources

Food Pantries

The Community Bible Church Food Pantry, 160 Bridges Road, Williamstown, has food and are more than willing to distribute it. They are open to give out food every day. Just call Phyllis Babcock at 413-663-6094 and she will meet you at church at your convenience.

Williamstown Food Pantry at St Raphaels & St Patrick Church, Wednesdays, 9:30-12 at 53 Southworth St. Enter the church grounds from the Mission Park Drive entrance north of the church and exit onto Southworth Street. Drive Thru method, do not get out of the car. For information call: 413-458-4946, ext. 1.

Mobile Food Bank

The Mobile Food Bank of the Food Bank of Western Mass comes regularly to Adams and North Adams. On the second and fourth Tuesday of each month it comes to the Adams Council on Aging, 3 Hoosac St. in Adams, from 10 to 11 a.m. On the first and third Friday of each month, it comes to the North Adams American Legion, 91 American Legion Drive, from 10 to 11 a.m.

Meal Site

Berkshire Food Project-Monday, Wednesday and Friday-11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Grab and Go Lunch. Pick up is outside under the tent at kitchen door entrance.

Local Farm Food

The North Adams Farmers Market is online and mobile. Delivering to North County ONLY.  A limited amount of orders will be taken Monday during Grab and Go Lunch Distribution at the Berkshire Food Project, 11:30-1 or Wednesday at the Al Nelson Friendship Food Pantry at St. Elizabeth’s Parish. Delivery will be on Friday and Saturday. You can use credit card and debit orders if you would like to order online.

EBT payments will be accepted in person during the pre-order opportunities, and doubling up to $30 in benefits. Orders will be taken in person and payments must be made in person upon delivery. There will be FREE delivery for EBT customers. This was made possible by a grant from the Berkshire United Way's COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund for Berkshire County.

For more information, visit: For Questions Call: 413-664-6180 or Email:

Community Coalition Weekend Meal Delivery Program

This is a new program paid for through the Berkshire County COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to coordinate a weekend meal delivery service through from local restaurants to those community members who are currently unable to leave their homes and unable to access food on the weekend. This initiative is open to people who reside in any one of the seven north Berkshire towns (Williamstown, North Adams, Clarksburg, Florida, Adams, Cheshire, and Savoy). At this time, they have budgeted for 150 meals for each weekend.

This program is intended to reach individuals and families with no other access to food resources on weekends. They strive to reach those families and individuals who are not already connected with a food pantry or meal program.

Organizers ask interested participants what food resources they are already accessing in order to avoid any duplication of efforts and so that they can expand the community's ability to provide for vulnerable populations.  

If you know of any individual who is in need of food on the weekend because they are dependent on food delivery services at this time, provide them with the Coalition main phone number, 413-663-7588. Coalition staff will be taking phone calls Monday through Friday, 9 3 p.m. Orders for weekend delivery will be placed on Fridays at 3 p.m. and deliveries will be coordinated for Saturday at a designated time. 

This program is free of charge, as the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition uses the funds it was awarded by the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to compensate both the restaurant and the delivery driver for their service

Dick Netherwood and Frank Risati, both wearing masks, get to work unwrapping and shelving a pallet of food from the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, on Friday, May 5.

Thanks for Contributions and Offers to Volunteer

Above is a very impressive list of groups and organizations doing their best to help in this difficult time. It’s not only groups, however, who are helping so much. Since the start of this pandemic, we have received dozens of monetary donations from individuals, and almost as many offers to volunteer. We are grateful and appreciate all of them.

We have not to this point been able to utilize all of the volunteers who have offered, but we greatly appreciate them answering our call. We do not think this pandemic is going to be over soon, and when it mercifully is over there will still be lots of people in need. So we foresee many opportunities to help going forward. The first people we contact as new needs for help arise will be those who have already volunteered to help. Again, thank you!

New State Order on Masks

We here pass along information about the state order regarding wearing masks in public. All volunteers with our food pantry began wearing masks or face coverings while here two weeks ago. Though cloth face coverings are best for preventing one from giving COVID-19 to another, studies show that when two people interacting are both wearing masks the possibility of virus transmission goes way down. Though our food distribution is outside, we greatly appreciate it when our visiting friends are wearing a face covering.

With that said, here is more information from the Northern Berkshire COVID 19 Operations Center:

Per the Governor's order, face coverings are being required when entering stores and on public transportation starting on May 6th in order to help deter the spread of COVID19 and protect the health of our friends, neighbors and families.The requirement applies to all workers and customers of businesses and other organizations that are open to the public. Below is the link for today's press release: 

Don't worry if you cannot find masks online or in stores. There are any number of ways to make effective face coverings from materials you already have in your home such as scarves, bandanas, and old clothing.  

The link to the CDC recommendation and instructions on how to make a face covering from household items is included below:

For additional information:

Help spread the word. If you have questions or have trouble finding information, contact the North Berkshire Operations Center at 413-662-3614 or by email at

If you cannot find or make a mask, let us or the Operations Center know and we can probably find one for you.

Who We Are

As so many people are new to us, and we to them, during this pandemic, a few words about who we are.

The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative Inc., the parent organization of the Al Nelson Friendship Center, is a 501c3 non-profit organization. We were founded ten years ago as a group of people from various faiths and denominations working with others of good will to serve our community.

The Friendship Center Food Pantry opened on Eagle Street in North Adams in February 2011. It has been an all-volunteer operation since its inception and is considered a model program by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

It was named the Friendship Center because we consider those we serve with our food pantry, and associated services, as friends, not clients. The name Al Nelson was added in 2018 after the passing of our beloved co-founder, Arlon “Al” Nelson. More information about us and our history can be found on this blog.

Our mailing address is PO Box 626 North Adams, MA 01247. Phone: 413-664-0123. Email: Website:

Thanks and God Bless,


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Art in the Window, Fundraising, City Food Drive

Something New Student Art in our Window

Thanks to long-time volunteer, weekend cleaner and board member Sharon May, we have something new in our front display window -- art by local students. Specifically, watercolors in the Drury High School Visual Arts Program for grades 7 and 8, taught by Ms. Manville.

Come on down to get a better look! 

Fundraising Letters Go Out 

Every year we do a fundraising letter campaign. This year the back of our letter looks different, thanks to Bert Lamb, Fran Berasi and Becks Printing. If you want to donate financially and aren't on our mailing list, you can do so at our new website,

Below, the front of our current fundraising letter. Above, the back of the letter.

Annual City-Wide Food Drive

North Adams is holding its annual CITY WIDE FOOD DRIVE. All donations will go to the Al Nelson Friendship Center Food Pantry. If you are able, please consider making a donation of non perishable food and/or personal care items to benefit the Al Nelson Friendship Center Food Pantry. Dropoff locations include City Hall, the North Adams Public Library, the Mary Spitzer Senior Center, the North Adams Public Schools, the North Adams Fire and Police Departments, and Northern Berkshire EMS.

Please see graphic for the types of items most needed.

Mayor Tom Bernard is seeking to double the amount of food and personal care items donated, to 2,000 lbs. this year. Thanks to the Mayor and All City and School Employees and Departments, Residents and everyone else involved. We live in a generous community! 

And Finally

And finally, here are some of our great volunteers on a Tuesday stocking the food we just brought in on a rental truck from the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, in Hatfield, like we do about 50 of the 52 weeks in a year.

Bob Dubriel, at right; Jocelyn Barrett, at left; Rich Davis in blue hat in back. Also pictured in part Dick Netherwood, Rich Wolfe and Fran Morandi.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Our Interfaith Origins

 Al Nelson, center, at our first-ever public event: a drumming circle at the August 2010 North Adams Downtown Celebration.

The following reflection began our Board of Directors' retreat today, April 8.


Al Bashevkin, who is leading our retreat today, suggested that we being this retreat with a review of our origins as a group. I agree and think this would be both informative and helpful in looking forward.

All this started with the idea of greater cooperation for the common good among people of faith and houses of worship in Northern Berkshire. We did not have a project at the beginning.

The very start was the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition forum of April 9, 2010 -- almost nine years ago to the day. The topic was The Intersection of Faith and the Community. Several local clergy members attended.

During this discussion Al Nelson and I suggested that the local clergy should be doing more to foster interfaith cooperation in the community. Some of the clergy present turned this right back on us. Especially the Rev. Carrie Bail, then of the First Congregational Church of Williamstown, and Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser, then rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams.

Why don't you do something,” is what they responded, to us as people of faith.

So Al and I decided to hold meetings for what we tentatively called the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative. We held monthly meetings at the Eagle Street Room at First Baptist to look for project ideas. We wanted to find something that was needed and wasn't a duplication of effort.

We had a diverse group of people at our meetings: protestants from various denominations, some Catholics, a Muslim, two people into native American spirituality and one or two agnostics. One of our most active participants was rabbi Goldwasser.

We examined a number of possibilities for service and we also considered such activities as an interfaith Thanksgiving celebration. We couldn't agree on anything. But we did manage to have a drumming circle led by Otha Day at the 2010 North Adams Downtown Celebration.

Service possibilities we examined included Big Brothers Big Sisters – still present then in Northern Berkshire – and helping out at Louison House.

Interfaith groups of various kinds can be found all over the country. They do everything from conducting interfaith discussions between Jews and Muslims in cities such as Chicago to running service projects and agencies all over. One such group can be found in nearby Bennington, Vermont.

A large part of my interest in interfaith work came from my experience with the interfaith group in Bennington, Vermont. The Interfaith Council and its service arm, Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services Inc. (GBICS) is a group of both laypeople and clergy.

It has a part-time executive director and runs the Kitchen Cupboard Food Pantry, which started just a few months before we started one; a free medical clinic and a fuel fund. Among other things, members of this interfaith group meet regularly and submit columns about faith weekly to the Bennington Banner.

The Friendship Center

In late 2010, it became apparent that the Berkshire Community Action Council (BCAC) would no longer be able to run its food pantry in North Adams because of space. The consensus then was that there were not enough places offering emergency food in North Adams in particular.

Around the same time, our friend Lois Daunis had mentioned to us the possibility of using space she and her husband owned at 43 Eagle Street for a headquarters for our interfaith group. Soon, the idea of using that space to store the BCAC food or perhaps operating a food pantry was also in the air.

Well, needless to say: We had found our project. We worked with Lois and Mike and with BCAC and the Food Bank and Kim McMann of Target Hunger and got a crash course in running a food pantry. We modeled a lot of what we do from our visits to the Charity Center in Adams. Later, we visited the Kitchen Cupboard in Bennington.

We opened the Friendship Center in February 2011 at 43 Eagle St. The name was inspired by the name Charity Center. In our case the goal was to go one step beyond and offer friendship.

The emphasis of all of the early founders was to treat people with dignity and respect – as friends. This is why we don't use the word “clients.” Happily, this spirit and attitude has stuck.

We are not social workers – we are an all-volunteer organization of people motivated by the best traditions of faith and/or humanistic concern.

And that's an important point, which has evolved into our working mission statement: “The NBIAI is a group of people of different faiths and denominations working together with others of goodwill to serve the community.”

So far, it's a formula that works. And it also doesn't limit us to just a food pantry. Yes, that's our main task by far. But over the years we have broadened this to offering all manner of social services, including a nurse, at our sign-in point at the Eagle Street Room. We also offer books, diapers, personal care items and free rides home.

Love is creative. And there's a lot of love in what we do.

Other activities over the years

It's worth briefly mentioning that we picked up the ministry voucher system from the now-defunct Williamstown Ecumenical Association shortly after we opened the food pantry. This was introduced to us through one of our monthly public meetings that continued for years after the Friendship Center opened.

Those monthly public meetings provided an opportunity for faith sharing, idea sharing, telling folks about out work at the Friendship Center and learning about other programs. Presenters over the years at these meetings included Habitat for Humanity, the Fresh Air Fund, Western Mass. Legal Services, Berkshire County Jail Rehabilitation Services, and Berkshire Health Systems and many more. After Newtown we had a meeting on violence at which we decided to send letters to the media and Congress voicing our concern for gun safety legislation.

For two years after a presentation by the National Alliance on Mental Illness Berkshire County, we presented – with the help of the Rev. Kim Kie one year and the Rev. Dan Randall the next – an interfaith service for mental illness survivors and their families. The first one was particularly well-attended and attracted people from all over the county.

From the beginning we have had a blogspot blog, a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Now, thanks mostly to Fran, we have a website, too. For several years, with early volunteers Mark Lincourt and Corinne Case, we also ran a public access TV show called “In The Company of Friends.”


Our crown jewel is of course the work of what we now call Al Nelson Friendship Center, which most of us refer to simply as the “food pantry.” And we can be justly proud of it. It is considered a model program by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. Its volunteers over the years are the finest group of people, by far, I have ever been associated with.

But I'd like to draw on this backstory about our origins for a couple of concluding points. I see benefits now, as I did when Al and I worked to incorporate us, to being an interfaith group that runs a food pantry.

One is to keep alive the idea of people of different faiths and those of none working together in an intentional way to serve the community. We provide a social service but with a difference.

Defining ourselves as an interfaith group also makes it less of a leap to add programming – if it makes sense. Food pantries are usually adjuncts of larger groups – churches, community action councils etc. – and having an interfaith identity associates us with a venerable movement that takes many forms in the United States today.

Finally, in this time of division and scapegoating, what could be more important than bringing people with different perspectives about politics and religion together in voluntary service to the poor? Service that is friendly, respectful and given enthusiastically?

I would offer that how we do what we do is as important as what we do. We should think big, but in any case we should keep the eye on the ball: serving our local friends with dignity, respect and friendship in the best traditions of faith and humanism.

Thank you!

Monday, October 15, 2018

It's Now and Forever the Al Nelson Friendship Center

     Al Nelson: Our Man for All Seasons


On Monday, Oct. 15, 2018 at the First Baptist Church of North Adams, we held a tribute to our late co-founder, Al Nelson. We unveiled our new sign for the Al Nelson Friendship Center and the commissioned painting of Al above. Scheduled speakers were North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard; Christa Collier, executive director of the Northern Berkshire United Way; and Mark Rondeau, friend and collaborator with Al. As prepared for delivery, Rondeau's tribute follows.

I first met Al Nelson in 1996 when I was editor of the Advocate. I went to the Northern Berkshire United Way offices, then located at 85 Main Street, to do an article.

Immediately upon meeting Al, I recognized his voice from the radio. It was one of the voices I heard on WMNB growing up in North Adams decades earlier. I had moved away with my family in 1976 and moved back with my family in 1993. So other than his voice, Al Nelson and his work were completely unfamiliar to me.

I wrote a profile of Al for the paper. What a nice, interesting and unassuming man, I thought. Another of those people who made my hometown special.

Around the same time I started going to monthly forums of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. Al, of course, had been present at the creation of the Coalition. Then he served it as board member and treasurer for many years. I started sitting with Al at these Coalition forums.

He invited me to a prayer breakfast at this, his church. He knew I liked sports and invited me to meetings of the Sideline Quarterback Club at the Log in Williamstown. For the uninitiated this is the Williams College Football booster club.

(As an aside: the only time I ever heard Al yell in anger was at Williams football games.)

As the years wore on Al and I started to collaborate on the occasional project. At the Advocate I wrote about Al and Anne going on a mission trip to Romania. About 10 years ago, after a rough stretch of illness and death in my family, I had the idea of creating a local caregiver resource guide. The Coalition thought it was a good idea and we started having committee meetings of interested parties.

Who was present at all the meetings and actively involved? Al Nelson, of course.

A couple years later, in 2010, at a Coalition forum about the intersection of faith and community, Al and I thought there should be more collaboration between local houses of worship. The clergy present, under-supported and overworked as they were – and are – challenged us in turn to do something ourselves as laypeople.

So Al and I got talking. Why not launch an Initiative to bring people of faith and goodwill together to serve the community?

Along with some others involved, the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative was born. We started looking for a project to collaborate on and bring people together. We held monthly meetings looking for a project. We even held a drumming circle at the 2010 North Adams Downtown Celebration.

By the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011, things started coming together. The Friendship Center was born. Al and everyone else involved got a crash course in running a food pantry. I don't have to tell you the rest of the story. I can say that all of you here tonight have been part of the story as it has gone forward.

– – – – –

I'd like to shift here and ask a rhetorical question? Why are we here tonight? Right here in this place, on Saturday, July 21st, a nearly full church honored Al Nelson. Wonderfully well done and emotional as that service was, it was a closing of a book, like all such services. But we need to take this book with us – and keep the spirit of the story it tells alive.

We're here tonight to carry Al's life and example forward with us into the future, most specifically in the work we do at the Friendship Center – from now forward the Al Nelson Friendship Center. We're here to honor a man who came to this city for a job at the radio station and stayed to build a life, lift a community and walk humbly with his Lord.

I'll offer that we're here because the community needs Al Nelson. Who he was, what he stood for, what he did and tried to do, how he treated people are signposts along the way in a troubled, turbulent time. We're here to insure in our small way that Al Nelson is remembered, that he remains a known example to be imitated.

Al was a man of faith. It was a non-negotiable with him. As I told a Berkshire Eagle reporter working on a story about him, Al was one of the best Christians I ever met. He took his faith very seriously and lived according to its precepts.

Unlike some virtuous people, however, Al was not judgmental. He also – and this is very rare, in my experience – did not gossip or criticize people behind their backs. It wasn't that Al wore rose-colored glasses – anything but – he was a very realistic man who kept himself well informed and knew exactly what was going on.

Al's response to problems was very wise. Work steadily and quietly and don't get upset. Things will work out. Be secure enough and strong enough to calmly wait and see. Many times, in one way or the other, he taught me this lesson and led me to take this approach. I regretted it when I didn't.

Al's kindness, service and care of those in need were rooted in the Scripture and his daily walk with the Lord. He was a gentleman, unfailingly respectful to all. You know that he was a cheerful man, with a great sense of humor. He loved to talk to people. And he loved to needle you – but it was the most good-natured, loving needling in the world. He knew I worked late, so when I showed up late to the Eagle Street Room on a Wednesday, Al might proclaim: “He has risen!”

Al was a man of community. He was all about building relationships, making connections and reaching out to others. He was always concerned about how we could help and collaborate with other food pantries and related services in Northern Berkshire. He went out of his way, for instance, to include Adams and Williamstown in our efforts to promote and report on the results of the annual Letter Carrier Food Drive.

In doing these things, Al was a meticulous, precise and thorough man. People have a hard time reading my handwriting, but Al's penmanship was perfect. If I wanted to talk to Al but saw he was starting to write a note, I would go do something else, because it was going to take a while. Al did nothing in a half-baked fashion.

He was a retired radio journalist and he liked to ask questions. At many a board meeting of the Initiative and Friendship Center, I would think we could move on to another topic but Al would have one more question. Implied in this question-asking is the fact that Al listened to the answers.

Because Al listened and listened with empathy, he knew how to respond effectively to people in difficult situations. Often he would tell audiences of things our food pantry friends had told him: the man who had no pots or pans to cook with. The woman with no refrigerator and no bed for her or her child.

And Al never, never promoted himself – never. He was totally mission-oriented. He not only checked his ego at the door, he never brought it in the first place. In fact, he had probably stored his ego in a box one day and then forgot where he put the box. He wasn't falsely humble. He just knew exactly who he was and what he was about and that was enough.

Service, kindness, thoroughness, listening, respect, empathy, integrity, faith, love. Words, words that can be just words, empty of real meaning. Al Nelson filled them with reality. He embodied them with action.

– – – – –

I noted at the beginning that I had heard Al Nelson's voice on WMNB decades before I actually met him. I still hear his voice. I hear it in some of the closings he used in his notes and emails to me and others about Initiative and food pantry business.


“We shall overcome”

“Keep the Strength”

And my favorite:

“Stay out of trouble and keep the faith --”

Thank you

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Letter Carrier Food Drive a Success

Thanks to All Who Helped

It was a rainy day Saturday, but we thank all who donated, our volunteers and especially our North Adams letter carriers for a successful Letter Carrier Food Drive in the communities of North Adams, Clarksburg and Florida.

Our initial collection was 5,779 lbs. donated in the three communities. More food usually trickles into the post office, so we will give the final total when we have it. At least 40 volunteers helped with the gathering and sorting of the donated items at the former Sears store space in the Steeple City Plaza.

Here are some photos from the day:

Al Nelson, Fran Morandi and Jocelyn Barrett help unload a truck.

Rich Davis weighed most of the food and Fran Berasi, seated, recorded and added the weights.

Our donation sorting system in action.

In the late afternoon we had a big rush.

Al jokes around with two of our letter carriers. Thanks to the Northern Berkshire United Way we were able to offer them, and our sorting volunteers, pizza and water.

Al Nelson recorded the final total.

Thanks to All Involved!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Catching up on All Sorts of News

Letter Carrier Food Drive Saturday, May 12

In the years since I started this blog at the urging of Al Bashevkin, retired executive director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, I don't think I have gone this long without posting. At any rate, there's a lot to catch up on.

First of all, as the flyer above indicates, Saturday, May 12, will be the annual Letter Carriers Food Drive. The information on this flyer comes from our friend Amanda Chilson of Mass In Motion. On the day of the drive, we will be sorting the donations at the former Sears store in the Steeple City Plaza. See file photo below.

We sort the food the letter carriers pick up in North Adams, Clarksburg and Florida -- the same communities we serve as a food pantry.

We can always use volunteers. Let us know if you can help or just show up around 11:30 a.m. or so on the day of the drive.

Rich Davis at the former Sears space a few years ago. Volunteers will be sorting donated food there again this year on May 12. This is always a fun day. All are welcome to help out. Or just stop by and say "hi."

United Way to Recognize Al Nelson

Al wearing his light-up Patriots hat

We are very pleased to announce that our co-founder and co-director Al Nelson will be one of those recognized at the First Annual Spirit of Caring Awards and Celebration to be held on Thursday, May 17, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the MCLA Church Street Center. 

This event is being presented by the Northern Berkshire United Way. Al will be receiving the Spirit of Caring Award. Former North Adams Mayor Dick Alcombright, who did much to help the Friendship Center Food Pantry while in office, will receive the Spirit of Community Award, and Christine Hoyt of Adams will receive the Spirit of the Future Award.

Al is the conscience and personality of the NBIAI and the Friendship Center Food Pantry, perhaps the finest person I have ever met. I am looking forward to seeing him honored.

Individual tickets for this fundraiser are $50 each. RSVP by May 7. Northern Berkshire United Way, P.O. Box 955, North Adams, MA 01247. Phone: 413-663-9062. Email:

Al speaks to MCLA Lead Academy students in the early days of the Friendship Center

State. Rep. John Barrett III Visits Friendship Center

Our new Sate Rep. John Barrett III visited the Friendship Center Food Pantry recently. We had a productive discussion with him about the state's role in helping to meet food security needs in the state. 

This photo was taken by Kim McMann, director of the Berkshire Food Project, who attended the meeting. From right, counterclockwise, Michelle Geoffrey, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Rep. Barrett, James Swinchoski, MCLA senior and spring intern with us, and Al Nelson and Mark Rondeau, of the NBIAI/Friendship Center.

James, by the way, has been great to have around. He helped develop and conduct a survey for us of our food pantry friends and has worked on developing a website specifically for the Friendship Center!

North Berkshire Food Access Collaborative

The North Berkshire Food Access Collaborative held its second meeting on Friday, March 9, at the Green Space on Main Street in North Adams. More than 30 people attended. It was a very productive meeting and much interest was expressed by varied stakeholders from throughout Berkshire 
County in a Food Hub. What this would entail and mean has yet to be fully fleshed out but it could be quite exciting and many people are enthused about the idea.

The next quarterly meeting of the Collaborative will be on Friday, June 15. Stay tuned for more information.

Amanda Chilson speaks to part of those attending the March 9 meeting of the Collaborative. Below, the partial group discussion of a food hub generated much interest.

That's all for now. Thanks and God Bless,

Mark Rondeau

Sunday, November 5, 2017

New BFP Director, Recipes from EB-3, Micah Awards

Kim McMann, new director of the Berkshire Food Project, at our Oct. 20 public meeting.

We have some news to pass along.

On Friday, Oct. 20, old friend Kim McMann came to our public interfaith meeting. Kim is the new director of the Berkshire Food Project. Back when she was with North Adams with Target Hunger she helped us out when we were starting the Friendship Center Food Pantry.

Kim replaces out old friend Valerie Schwarz, who ran the BFP from its inception.

Kim talked about her plans for the Food Project. And we talked about areas of shared cooperation. We are very excited she's back in Northern Berkshire.

Kim McMann, Gordon Clark and Jonathan Schwartz at our Oct. 20 meeting. Nine people attended in all.

EB-3 at the Eagle Street Room

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright at the Eagle Street Room for the EB-3 food sampling and recipe offering.

More recently, our friends from the North Adams Public School EB-3 alternative program, came to the Eagle Street Room on Wednesday, Nov. 1, with food samples from recipes they had been working on. They also had the printed recipes available for our pantry members.

The recipes included Seven-Layer Bean Dip, Spinach and Grilled Chicken Penne, French Toast Casserole, Chicken Cordon Bleu, Baked Ziti, Scrambled Eggs with Spinach & Parmesan, Rice Cakes, Black Bean Dip, Warm Cinnamon Apples, Potato Sausage Casserole, Chicken Stir Fry, Bacon, Egg and Cheese Bagel, and Pasta Salad.

This is not the first time EB-3 has worked with us. A couple of years ago they produced a very well-done cookbook for our food pantry members.

Another view of the EB-3 presentation (photo from North Adams Public School Facebook)

We honor two at Micah Awards Celebration

Corinne Case and Aubrey Armstrong. Photo from BIO 2nd Annual Micah Celebration program.

BIO First Vice President Jim Kolesar and Corinne Case at the celebration. (BIO photo)

You may know that the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative Inc. is a non-congregational member of Berkshire Interfaith Organizing. BIO's mission statement is: “We work together to make social justice real in our community and improve the quality of life for all in the Berkshires.”

How does BIO go about this?
“We bring together people of faith and values by sharing our stories to: Increase our power to act for justice; Develop skills to be more effective in the public arena; Take action on issues of common concern for our member groups; Ensure that those affected by the issues craft the solutions.

By doing this we: Build relationships and strengthen community Identify and develop diverse local leaders. Achieve systemic solutions.”

The annual celebration is based on the famous verse from the famous Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) book of Micah (6:8): “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

This year we nominated Aubrey Armstrong and Corinne Case for the award. Each BIO member organization had the opportunity to nominate one or two of its members.

The celebration was held on Sunday, Oct. 29, at the Stationery Factory in Dalton.

I wrote and read the nomination for our two nominees. Unfortunately, Aubrey was unable to attend, but Corinne did so.

In addition to Aubrey and Corinne, other of our friends and volunteers were honored at the Micah Awards by their congregations. For instance, BIO member First Congregational Church of Williamstown honored Phil and Susan Smith. Rev. Mark Longhurst, pastor of First Congregational, noted that Phil had the idea for the volunteer-driven rides-home program we now offer at the Friendship Center. He had heard how much we had been spending on taxi rides and resolved to do something about it! He and Susan were honored for a lifetime of service.

Phil and Susan Smith, center. The Rev. Mark Longhurst at right. (BIO photo)

St. John's Episcopal Church in Williamstown named Robin Lenz and Charles Bonenti as its nominees. Robin has participated in our rides program, and she and Charles run the church’s garden, from which they have given the Friendship Center plenty of produce.
To conclude, here my prepared remarks at the celebration:

The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative (NBIAI) is proud to nominate Aubrey Armstrong and Corinne Case as our co-nominees for the 2017 Micah Award. They both exemplify an honest, humble and effective attitude of service in all they do.

Both women have represented the NBIAI on the BIO Executive Board and other BIO activities. 

Aubrey Armstrong until quite recently was a member of the NBIAI Board of Directors, which is primarily occupied with running the Friendship Center Food Pantry in North Adams, our major ongoing project. Aubrey has supported the pantry in numerous ways. She has been key in helping us find ways of better serving the homeless people we encounter in our work. Her advocacy has also included being a liaison between the NBIAI and the Berkshire Food Project. Aubrey was a key member in BIO’s task force responding to the closing of the Price Chopper in North Adams, where her knowledge of transportation issues was particularly helpful.

Aubrey’s positive attitude, thoughtfulness and detailed knowledge of many subjects will be missed as she moves on. We hope she will check in from time to time as she is able with both the Interfaith Action Initiative and BIO.

Corinne Case is one of a small handful of people who founded the NBIAI in 2010, an opportunity for “people of different faiths and denominations to work with others of goodwill to serve our community.” She helped found the Friendship Center Food Pantry in 2011, and served on the NBIAI Board of Directors for several years. Corinne’s professional training and passion for service has been a huge benefit to our work. 

These include her current and past work in such fields as Adult Basic Education and Tobacco Cessation, among others. In addition, Corinne’s understanding of the interfaith aspect of the NBIAI was key in establishing this as a non-negotiable part of our identity. She is a regular presence during food pantry day at the First Baptist Church of North Adams, ready to help out visiting friends with their education needs and more.

On a personal note, I first met Corinne when she was running a grief support group for the VNA and Hospice of what was then Northern Berkshire Health Systems. She was a great help to me as I dealt with the loss of two family members. A few years later, after another loss, she again helped me deal with it in an unofficial capacity. I will never forget her help with this.

The NBIAI thanks BIO for the opportunity to honor these two wonderful people with the Micah Award.

Several hundred people attended the BIO awards celebration.

That’s all for now. God Bless!