Saturday, January 22, 2011

Real commitment, real results

Palpable excitement filled the air at the Friday, Jan. 21, meeting of the Interfaith Action Initiative as the group and represenatives of Berkshire County Community Action moved forward toward opening a food pantry at 43 Eagle St. in North Adams.

Details are being worked out, but BCAC will provide the necessary equipment, food and utilities and the Interfaith group supplying volunteers to open and operate the pantry.

Though several people who intended to attend the meeting could not due to several inches of snow overnight or previous committments, 15 people were present.

In subsequent e-mails after the meeting, it seems unlikely that a Feb. 2 opening (as had been hoped) for the food pantry is feasible, with mid-February seeming more realistic.

However, in order to further discuss the opening of the pantry, allow more Interfaith members to become more familiar with the space, and to identify and recruit more poential volunteers, a meeting will be held in the space at 43 Eagle St., next to Papryi Books, from 10 to 11 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 28.

Assessing the front window of the 800-foot storefront — which includes space for an office and a bathroom — for a temporary sign will be another task for the meeting this coming Friday.

As was discussed in the last blog entry, and during Friday’s meeting, the 43 Eagle St. storefront will likely be just a temporary location until a larger and more full-service location for the pantry can be found. At that time, the space at 43 Eagle St. would continue to serve as the Initiative’s headquarters, though our volunteers would be involved in an expanded services center.

To this end, we hope to develop a corps of volunteers of all ages, from teens to seniors. We may even have some training materials or training itself available through the Northern Berkshire Neighbors program of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. We would even hope eventually to incorporate some of those served as volunteers in an effort to build solidarity and to empower them.

The name of the center on our temporary sign will be the Interfaith Action Initiative Friendship Center. I will run the concept of such a sign by the mayor and the planning board.

Corinne Case had the wonderful idea of having a ceremonie/ceremonies by clergy to dedicate the new center. This would be fantastic. As soon as we have things up and running, this will be a top priority.

I again would like to thank Lois and Mike Daunis for their generous donation of use of this space for the Initiative and the food pantry.

While there are many details to be worked out, there seems to be plenty of will and plenty of means to make this dream a reality. The several months our Initiative spent trying to discern a course of action to serve the community are bearing fruit.

And bearing fruit not only in regards to the above initiative. For instance, Interfaith Action member Denise Krutiak is working to develop a mentoring arrangment with clients of Louison House. Our ongoing survey of what faith communities are doing to serve the less fortunate has already received a good response and made us more aware of what is going on and of opportunities for more cooperation. In addition, we are keeping in mind the possibility of an expanded voucher system through houses of worship for those in need in Northern Berkshire.

We also are providing a regular community forum where those motivated to community action by faith can freely share their ideas and concerns. For instance, at our Jan. 21 meeting both Denise and Sue Walker shared moving prayers and thoughts. Faith sharing and a period of silent prayer are a regular part of our monthly meetings.

Our next regular monthly meeting will be held on Friday, Feb. 18, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church in North Adams (use Eagle Street entrance). The meeting will include a presentation by Christina Maxwell of the Western Mass. Food Bank, who could not attend the Jan. 21 meeting because of the snow.

Speaking of snow, as mentioned above several people who intended to attend our Jan. 21 meeting could not attend because of the weather. And in the hours before it started people had questions whether or not the meeting would in fact be held. In the future, look to this blog on the morning of our meeting in the event of a storm. I will post whether or not there will be a meeting by 8 a.m.

Hope to see you this Friday, Jan. 28th!

Please feel free to comment with ideas, reminders and comments on this blog. Thanks, Peace, and God Bless all of you,


Friday, January 14, 2011

Now is the time, we are the people

The next meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative will be held on Friday, Jan. 21, at 10 a.m., at the First Baptist Church in North Adams (use Eagle Street entrance). We will formally accept an offer of space on Eagle Street for our headquarters/operations, and discuss the possibility of soon using the space for service. We also will hold a discussion of food distribution with a representative of the Western Mass. Food Bank. All are welcome to attend. For more information, e-mail or call Mark at 664-0130.

Discussions have been moving along rapidly behind the scenes since our last meeting in December, and we will have a packed agenda for our meeting on Friday. In fact, depending how things go, I may suggest having another meeting in two weeks.

On Friday, Christina Maxwelll of the Western Mass Food Bank will be speaking to us and providing information about the food resources in our area. Also on our agenda will be formal acceptance of the space at 43 Eagle St., next to Papyri Books, which some of us toured after our last meeting. (See above photo).

As for the space, it may lead us into our first major service endeavor and serve as a temporary distribution point for food. We would start out slowly, being open a few hours for one day a week and from there build up gradually. The current vision is that participants in the Interfaith Action Initiative would staff this distribution point, building experience, recruiting volunteers and working out policies for a more robust effort to help those in need as time goes on.

The mid-term goal is to find a more permanent, accessible and perhaps centralized place to serve as a distribution point. Local agencies, faith communities, and others would help us in locating a more permanent location. When it is found, a corps of already mobilized and trained volunteers could lead the way in staffing it. Several people have expressed interest to me about volunteering if something like this started. I see this as a potential opportunity to get everyone from teens to college students to senior citizens working together to help those in need.

Over the long run, I see the space at 43 Eagle St. serving as a downtown headquarters and meeting place for Interfaith Initiative, particularly after a food/services distribution operation has moved on to a better site.

On a related note, agency food pantries are in flux now in Northern Berkshire. In fact, preliminary results of our survey of faith communities shows that several churches do food distribution periodically. There seems to be room for more coordination and cooperation.

Please let us know

At the suggestion of Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser, I am now sending our announcements to all clergy in Northern Berkshire for whom we have e-mail addresses. If any of you who have not been contacted yet about the Interfaith Action Initiative’s survey on what local faith communities are doing to meet basic human needs and would like to provide us this information, please send me an e-mail at and I will send you a brief questionaire.

We have enough results at this point to issue a preliminary report, but with things moving along on other fronts I think we can afford to take some more time on the survey before drawing it to a close.

Other business: Vouchers, Louison House

In other important business, I would like here to thank Fr. Peter Elvin, of St. John’s Church in Williamstown, for speaking to us at our December meeting about the voucher system between churches that has been used in Williamstown to help people facing emergency needs. Unfortunately, this is going to be phased out in that town. Whether this can be continued on a wider scale will need to be dicussed in more detail at upcoming Initiative meetings.

Our efforts to work out a cooperative effort with Louison House are ongoing, and I hope we will have a verbal report on this for everyone at a meeting in the near future.

I would like to remind everyone that we have a faith sharing time at the beginning of each of our meetings, and everyone is invited to take a turn leading it.

I’m hoping that during this year we can see what’s going on on the interfaith level in the following communities: Bennington, Brattleboro and Pittsfield. Even if one or two of us go, we can come back and report to the group.

Finally, if I have left anything our, or if anyone wishes to make a comment, please feel free to do so.

That’s all for now. God bless, and hope to see you Friday.