Saturday, February 26, 2011

Food Pantry sees successful opening


We need not have worried that no one would show up. Even with no publicity effort beyond signs put in the window that morning, 27 families — a “family” ranging from one person living alone on up — received food Feb. 23 during the first day of operation of the food pantry at the Friendship Center of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative.

The pantry, at 43 Eagle St. in North Adams, next to Papryi Books, is open on Wednesdays from 11 to 2 p.m. Depending on circumstances, evening hours may be added. Individual families may come every two weeks for food. The 43 Eagle St. location also serves as headquarters of the Interfaith Initiative. In accord with the faith-based nature of the effort, Henry Bounds, pantry volunteer and associate pastor of the Florida Baptist Church, led the volunteers in prayer before the pantry door opened.

The leadership team running the pantry consists of Mark Lincort as food distribution coordinator, with support from Joyce Lincourt; Stuart Crampton as treasurer, backed up by Al Nelson, and with support from Liz Boland; and Denise Krutiak as volunteer coordinator, backed up by Mark Rondeau. Al Nelson and Mark Rondeau remain as co-organizers of the Interfaith Initiative and serve as general coordinators of the food pantry operation.

Right now, Shirley McDonald of Berkshire Community Action in Pittsfield, is doing a fantastic job helping us open the pantry and signing up people to use it.

In addition, we have been blessed so far with several other great volunteers. Running the pantry is a large-scale operation and we will need plenty more volunteers as time goes on, particularly when we expand to evening hours.

Anyone interested in volunteering with the food pantry may contact Denise Krutiak at

The next meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative will be held on Thursday, March 17, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams (use Eagle Street entrance). Our meetings include announcements and a time of silent prayer and faith sharing. Our agenda will include the food pantry but also touch on other aspects of our efforts to serve the community, including a possible church voucher system and our ongoing survey of the local faith community.

For more information about the Interfaith Action Initiative, e-mail, call Mark at 664-0130, or visit In addition, the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative Friendship Center is now on Facebook.


• It was hectic but fun on Wednesday. In addition to friends getting food, we had plenty of friends who stopped in just to say hello. One woman even played piano for us for a while. We have to get her a chair!

• It should go without saying that our existence is not to take away from any of the existing food pantries in North Adams, Williamstown, Clarksburg or Florida. In fact, when we look at the level of need, we wish there were more up an running at this time time. I can say that I’m very pleased there is a first class operation such as the Charity Center taking care of Adams, Cheshire and Savoy.

• There will be a free basic Food Safety Education Class for those volunteering or interested in volunteering at the food pantry on Thursday, March 24, at 11 a.m. It will last about an hour. Please call Mark at 664-0130 by March 18 to pre-register. The class will be held at the Friendship Center.

• Everyone should know and should if possible support a food drive from Feb. 28 to March 11 to help stock the food pantry sponsored by the North Adams Commons Nursing and Rehabilitation Center:

Non-perishable food will be accepted at the following businesses throughout North Adams: Price Chopper Supermarket, Big Y Supermarket, Stop & Shop Supermarket, Hoosac Bank, TD Bank, Greylock Federal Credit Union, Berkshire Bank, Legacy Bank, Landmark Credit Union, Village Pizza, Boston Seafood Restaurant, and the City Clerk’s office at North Adams City Hall.

Non-perishable food may also be dropped off at North Adams Commons Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, 175 Franklin St.

Maureen E. Goodreau, of at North Adams Commons (664-4041, ext. 243, or has generously invited me to appear with her on the Opinion program on WNAW at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, March 7. I hope to explain who were are and why as much food as possible is needed through this drive.

• In the interest of getting the word out and hopefully getting local youth involved in and active in support of the food pantry, I will be speaking to the North Adams Youth Commission this Thursday at 6 p.m. I hope to persuade them to get involved.

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


(Photos from our opening day. Including Shirley Davis from the loose item table. Thanks to Henry Bounds for documenting the day.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Wonderful Example & Friday's Meeting


Four of us visited the Pope John Paul Charity Center in Adams on Tuesday, between noon and 1:15 p.m. What a revelation! They have a super operation in a large space in the basement of St. Thomas Church. I would encourage our members to visit.

Larry Clairmont, who is the leader of the effort, took us through their operation. The Charity Center has a comprehensive, but also non-intrusive, system for identifying who they are serving. They verify if the people who come live in Adams, Cheshire or Savoy. They serve 783 households in those communities. Those they serve get an ID card, with a number. The center distributes food every other week and clothes every week. Larry said they are the only food pantry in Adams, Cheshire and Savoy.

The Charity Center has a food pantry and gets food both from the Western Mass. Food Bank and from the USDA, etc. The center also offers some household items and also at times distributes diapers. I have never in my life seen a clothing distribution center on the order of what they have there, with children's sections and ladies sections, etc.

The Charity Center, which has been open since July, 2009, has 30 volunteers. Larry said they are excellent. They CORI check their volunteers. This is done through the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. The Charity Center is set up as a separate non-profit, separate from the parish that houses it.

I was particularly pleased to hear that volunteers for the Center are not all members of St. John Paul the Great parish. I was even more pleased to hear that a class of six students from Hoosac Valley High School regularly volunteer as do students from the High School's Leo Club, which is a junior version of the Lions Club. The Plunkett Elementary School has done a food drive for the center.

I came away from the visit energized about what they are doing. Think about the level of need, though! 783 households in just three towns. As we said to Larry and others there, we will be serving points north. And, I'll add here, a base with more population: North Adams, Williamstown, Florida, Stamford and, perhaps, Readsboro. We'll have to see what BCAC does with food distribution and evaluate if we are going to set a geographical limit for those we serve.

Larry and the other volunteers there when we visited told us that they take a nonjudgmental attitude toward all they serve, though a small percentage might be trying to work the system. This, of course, is the proper attitude to take. Once the Friendship Center is up and running, I'm sure it will be a revelation in many respects.


Developments, ideas and random thoughts about this have come forward fast and furious in the past few weeks. Here are some developments and ideas:

• After some planning with Al Nelson, I have designed a sign for the Friendship Center. I will bring a copy of the design to the meeting. I gave a rough draft of it to the North Adams building department and planning board. I realized later that I could do a better job that would show things better, so I developed a four-page design and re-submitted it, including a copy to the mayor.

• We are starting to get both food donations and monetary donations. We need to design thank-you notes and have someone in charge of making sure they are sent where they need to go. The Charity Center not only send out thank-you notes to monetary donors, they have an excellent and attractive certificate for businesses that support them to post where people can see it. I will bring a copy of this to the meeting also, along with a couple of other forms the Charity Center uses.

• Kim McMann, of Target Hunger and the Western Mass. Food Bank, has a great idea about having an intern from Williams College help the Friendship Center Food Pantry during the summer. Kim's idea also includes presenting workshops for the people who utilize the Center. She will present her ideas at Friday's meeting during our discussion section.

• As noted above, the Charity Center has teen volunteers, and it works well. Incorporating teens as volunteers in our efforts, as well as seniors and eventually some of those we serve, is a high priority for me. I have been in contact with the new North Adams Youth Commission. They invited me to speak to them at Thursday's meeting this week, but work commitments prevent me from attending. I hope I can make their next meeting.

• Another wonderful faith-based operation that we should check out is located in Bennington, Vt. Bennington Interfaith Community Services currently runs a free medical clinic and has a food and fuel fund. They are now opening a food distribution center in a former tanning salon. The goal for opening is March 1. I know about this because as the religion editor of the Bennington Banner I wrote about it earlier this month. I will bring a copy of the article to Friday's meeting.

• Finally, I have created a Facebook page for the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative Friendship Center. It is a way to raise our visibility, and "everyone" seems to be on it these days. I see it as a complement to our blog. I would encourage people to visit the page and "Like" it. The more people who interact with the page, the more others will become aware of it. You have to join Facebook to comment and contribute to our page.

Anyway, I thank your all and God Bless,


(Top: Joyce Lincourt, Al Nelson, a volunteer at the Charity Center, Larry Clairmont, and Shirley Davis during our visit Tuesday. Bottom: Another view of the Charity Center.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Agenda for Feb. 18 Interfaith Meeting


Meeting Friday, Feb. 18, 10 a.m.

First Baptist Church of North Adams

(Use Eagle Street entrance)

10 a.m.

1). Welcome/Introductions

2). Period of silent prayer.

3). Faith sharing.

4). Brief announcements (other than related to new headquarters/food pantry, which we will discuss during second half of meeting.)

10: 20-11:10

5). Presentation by Christina Maxwell of Western Mass. Food Bank.

11:10 to noon

6). Discussion of food pantry/headquarters.

8). Next meeting Friday, March 18.


9). Adjourn to 43 Eagle St. with Dale West of the Western Mass. Food Bank for inspection of food pantry.

Thursday, February 10, 2011



The temperature was in the teens, but volunteers kept warm on Wednesday morning, Feb. 9, helping John from the Berkshire Community Action Council (BCAC) unload the first delivery of food for the Northern

Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative’s Friendship Center Food Pantry.

I want to thank Mark Lincourt, Kathy Keeser, Al Nelson and Corinne Case for responding to help on short notice. I also want to thank Lois Daunis for her help in puttting down door mats and getting us keys to the back door. Thanks also to John, and Shirley McDonald, of BCAC, who have been a pleasure to work with. Stuart Crampton has been instrumental in getting our shelves set up and in other ways.

We will be opening the pantry between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Wednesdays, beginning either Wednesday, Feb. 16, or Wednesday, Feb. 23. Whether we open for distribution or not on Feb. 16, we will be receiving another food donation between 9 and 9:30 a.m. that day.

After our experience Feb. 9, it's clear that ideally we could use six volunteers to unload each time we receive a delivery. And I would imagine we would need four or five volunteers for the hours we are open. Eventually, we will have evening hours when the pantry will be open.

With that said, I would now like to ask for those who can volunteer between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on all or any of the following Wednesdays to let me know which days and hours you can work: Wednesdays, Feb. 16, 23, March 2, 9, 16, and 23.

You can send me an e-mail at,, or call me at 664-0130. Or if you wish, put your information in a comment at the bottom of this blog.

We plan to eventually be open in the evening also. So those of you with day jobs (I happen to work nights) should also let us know if you are interested in volunteering and when you would be available. We will need volunteers for the long haul, so everyone who wants to will get a chance to be part of this.

A volunteer training

There will be a Food Safety Education Class for those volunteering or interested in volunteering at our food pantry on Thursday, March 24, from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. at the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative Friendship Center and Food Pantry at 43 Eagle St. Everyone is encouraged to attend. There is no cost, and we need at least 10 people. This will be valuable basic information for anyone who in anyway participates. Please RSVP soon to Mark Rondeau at 664-0130 or by e-mail if you plan on attending.

Next Initiative meeting

The next meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative will be held on Friday, February 18, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams (use Eagle Street entrance). In addition to our usual moment of silence and faith sharing, we will have a presentation from the Western Mass and reports on other activities in which our members are involved.

All are welcome. God Bless.


Top: Mark Lincourt looks at all the boxes to be unloaded. Bottom: Al Nelson and Kathy Keeser bring boxes into the Friendship Center.