Saturday, March 26, 2011

Two Important Local Events


Two friends have informed me of two important upcoming local events at the beginning of April. One is to aid the people of Japan, who have suffered from triple disasters. The other is to support the human right of workers to organize themselves, a right which is under attack in Wisconsin and other states.

Solidarity Rally in North Adams

Dick Dassatti of North Adams has informed me of a rally at North Adams City Hall which will be held from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m. on Monday, April 4, in support of workers’ rights, which are under attack in Wisconsin and other states. There will be signs, speakers and music at the rally.

A planning meeting will be held on March 29 (Tuesday), at 7 p.m. at Mark Hopkins Hall (2nd floor conference room) at MCLA. At this meeting, rally supporters and participants will be making signs and preparing for the April 4 rally.

The theme of the rally is is “We are One: Repect Our Rights.” April 4 is the anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. He was in Memphis that day supporting the right of city sanitation workers to organize for better working conditions.

Although it seems largely forgotten in the U.S. today, my faith tradition (Catholic) also has a strong history of supporting worker rights. I will not be able to attend the rally but I hope many of you reading this will be able to.

For more information, visit

Berkshire Benefit for Japan

Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Japan in this time of crisis. Here is a way to help — and have a good time in the process. What follows is part of a press release from Susan Jameson, a friend and supporter of the Interfaith Action Initiative:

Shirakaba Guest House, Healing Winds and Humanity in Concert are coming together to create the Berkshires Blossom for Japan Relief Concert, a benefit concert to raise funds for Japanese victims of one of the worst earthquake and tsunami disasters in history, to be held in the Shakespeare & Company’s Founders’ Theatre on 70 Kemble St. in Lenox, on Sunday, April 3.

This musical marathon runs from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. A donation of $5 or more for children and $10 or more for adults would be deeply appreciated.

The concert will include some of Berkshire County’s best musicians including the B.T.U.’s - Steve Ide, Bobby MacVeety, Rick Leab, Butch Amiot, the Rev Tor Band, Bella’s Bartok, Divinitress, Sherri James Buxton and Bob Shepherd, the Wanda Houston Duo, Robin O’Herin, Barbara and Graham Dean, Jordan Weller, Rodney Mashia, and students from the Berkshire Music School. Grammy Award flute player Joseph FireCrow has joined the galaxy of stars performing in this very special concert.

The Berkshire Anime/Manga Japanese Animation Club will screen several short Anime films wonderful for the whole family.

One hundred percent of the money raised will go to the relief effort. Some will go directly to the Komatsu family, a Lanesboro resident’s family in Japan who lost everything as the tsunami surged ashore. The rest will aid the Japanese Red Cross.

All are welcome to come at 1 p.m. and stay until 10 p.m. for the entire event, or drop in anytime to hear a favorite performer. Wristbands will be given so attendees may leave the concert and come back at any time. Healing Winds is making a special request to please donate vegetable seed packets for Japanese families and non-perishable foods for local food pantries. There will also be a drawing at the end of the night (you need not be present to win) from all attendees for a one night stay in the Take No Ma Suite At Shirakaba Guest House with a six-course Japanese dinner for two in their traditional tatami mat room.

Tickets will be available at the door of the Founders’ Theatre on Kemble Street in Lenox. For more information please call Healing Winds at 413-443-2481, Berkshire Shirakaba House at 413-458-1800 or go to,

If unable to attend but you would like to help, please send a check to TDBank 660 Merrill Road Pittsfield MA 01201 and make check payable to Ritsuko Robinson Family Fund and put Louise I. Palmer on the memo line.

God Bless,


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More Friends Than Ever!


On Wednesday, March 23, the food pantry at the Friendship Center served 65 families, by far our largest number of households/families on a Wednesday so far. We also jumped from 72 signed-up members to 121. Things got quite hectic for a while but one gets the satisfaction of making connections and being in involved in something so clearly needed.

We served 40 families in the first hour — talk about busy! Unless I'm wrong, and math isn't my thing, that's one family every minute and a half.

Thanks to Al Nelson for saying our opening prayer, something which has quickly become a tradition before we open the front door.

Val Schwartz from the Berkshire Food Project dropped in for a while as did Kim McMann from Target Hunger and other friends. Other friends also dropped in to say hello and get a quick tour of the Center, including my sister and a cousin. Friends don't have to get food to stop in and see what we do. All are welcome.

I'd like to thank Larry Clairmont of the Charity Center for calling me on Tuesday and offering nine cases of Wheaties "Fuel." I got them Wednesday morning. They flew off the shelves and if it hadn't been for this donation, we would have run out of cereal quickly.

I also want to thank Larry Koch and his woodworking students at McCann's Regional Technical High School for making us a great new coat rack (see photo). And also thanks to Bob Davis (Shirley's son) for installing it. It has been a great help (coats prone here and there take up a lot of surface space). And it looks nice.

Thanks to Holly Hardman for a generous recent monetary donation and thanks, too, to the Rev. Peter Elvin, of St. John's Episcopal Church in Williamstown, for his recent donation, which came in the first piece of mail we have received at the Friendship Center, which is located at 43 Eagle St. in North Adams 01247. And by the way, thanks yet again to Mike and Lois Daunis, this time for having the street address put on the front door of the Friendship Center in such an eye-appealing fashion.

And thanks as always to our wonderful volunteers.

Wednesday's intense activity again brought home again just how volunteer-intensive this work is. And we are just at 121 member households. When we visited the Charity Center in Adams well over a month ago, they had 783 households signed up, probably significantly more by now. They serve Adams, Cheshire and Savoy. We serve North Adams, Florida, and Clarksburg and, at least to this point, Williamstown, a larger population base!

God Bless,


(The top photo from March 23 is deceptive. We were extremely busy for much of the three hours we were open on Wednesday. At bottom, Al Nelson and Corrine Case clean up by the front door during a lull in

activity. Also pictured is the great coat rack made for us by Larry Koch's woodworking students at McCann Regional Technical High School.)

Update on March 18 Interfaith Meeting


We had a lively and moving meeting of about 10 people on Friday, March 18, at the First Baptist Church of North Adams, this despite five of our regular attendees being out of town or otherwise not able to attend.

Our guest at the meeting was Valerie Schwartz of the Berkshire Food Project and we touched on a number of ways our programs can assist each other. For one thing, Val and Kim McMann had Mark Lincourt and me on their local TV show later on Friday. The program aired on Sunday night on NBCTC Channel 15, and we were able to convey a lot of information about our effort. (It will be shown more times until a new show is recorded).

Valerie also has shelves available that we hope to be able to pick up on Friday and put into the back room of the Friendship Center. At Friday's meeting she also mentioned a possible source of food for us. For our part, we put up a flyer advertising the daily meals at the Berkshire Food Project at the First Congregational Church in North Adams and included the flyer in bags of food we gave out.

Another important item at the meeting concerned extending the Williamstown church voucher plan/fund throughout Northern Berkshire. I handed out a summary of the program written by Stuart Crampton, who

has spearheaded the exploration of ways of preserving and extending this program.

Our group discussion came to the conclusion that this is a worthy effort. We thought that it is a long-term project and an extended program may end up looking quite different than it currently does in Williamstown. There are many factors and possible complications to consider. The consensus of those present was that Stuart should go ahead and form a task force of interested people, do more research, and eventually come back to the wider Interfaith group with a proposal.

The idea for an expanded voucher system demonstrates that the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative is about more than just a food pantry.

Part of the future I envision for the NBIAI includes lobbying state and federal officials for adequate funding for necessary programs and working for interfaith tolerance and understanding. Religious intolerance — and ignorance — are major problems in our nation and world. Though we can be rightly grateful that we don’t have them in abundance here, who knows when they will become so? Our area has become more ethnically diverse over the years and will continue to do so.

Our group is an example of how people of different beliefs can work together for the common good.

The faith aspect

In addition, we want to preserve a strong faith aspect to our work, whatever that work turns out to be. On March 18 discussed maintaining a faith presence at the Center. We seemed to agree that bringing in our house of worship bulletins to make them available at the Friendship Center is a good way to preserve a faith presence and reach out to those who are curious as to what motivates us. We already have some of this literature down there, just not differentiated from the material we have for social services. I may just go ahead and buy a small rack we can put near the door to put them in. We already have some faith bulletins/literature a the center but it is currently mixed in with the social services information.

The next monthly meeting of the NBIAI will be held on April 15 at 10 a.m. at First Baptist Church of North Adams (use Eagle Street) entrance. All are welcome.

God Bless,


Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Unhidden Agenda: Friday's Interfaith Meeting


See below the agenda for tomorrow's (Friday, March 18) meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative. Below that is a summary of the history of the voucher system idea that has been active in Willliamstown and recent discussions about preserving and extending it. It was produced by Stuart Crampton, who has been doing fantastic work both for the food pantry effort but also on the voucher system. Copies of both the agenda and the statement will be available at tomorrow's meeting.

Hope to see you there,

Mark Rondeau



Meeting Friday, March 18, 10 a.m.

First Baptist Church of North Adams

1). Welcome/Introductions

2). Period of silent prayer.

3). Faith sharing.

4). a). Brief announcements b). Check on how many will be coming to Food Safety Workshop on Thursday.

5). Brief recollection on first month of Friendship Center and introudction of our guest for the meeting.

6). Discussion with Valerie Schwartz of the Berkshire Food Project and ways to help each other’s efforts.

7). Presentation of summary of work on voucher program. Brief discussion and suggestion that this be main topic of Aprii meeting.

8). More discussion of food pantry effort, including maintaining a faith aspect to it and having an interfaith open house.

9). Adjourn.

Next meeting: April 15 at 10 a.m. at First Baptist Church of North Adams.


Extending the Williamstown Fund through North Berkshire

Until the Williamstown Ecumenical Association disbanded last winter, its Ministry Fund supported a voucher system for providing small amounts of one-time emergency assistance to transients and others coming to Williamstown houses of worship with emergency needs. People in need of emergency food, transportation or shelter who came to one of the houses of worship during business hours were issued vouchers that were honored by local vendors with whom agreements had been secured in advance. People who called a house of worship or clergy phone after hours were directed to the police Station, which could issue vouchers drawn on the Ministry Fund. Communication by telephone and email allowed the different churches to keep track of those served at other churches, very recently and over longer periods. The vendors included five restaurants, three grocery outlets, four motels, two gas stations and the Williams Inn bus station. Vouchers ranged form $20 or so for food up to $50 or so for a motel room. Most of the Williamstown houses of worship contributed annually according to their means, from $50 to a few hundred dollars per year. Some 60 - 70 vouchers were issued per year. The vouchers were submitted by vendors to the lay treasurer of the Ecumenical Association. At first, transients comprised about 2/3 of the clientele. Recently, the number of transients declined until most of the traffic is from local residents, many of whom were from NB towns other than Williamstown.

When the Ecumenical Association disbanded, its remaining funds, including the Ministry Fund,was distributed back to the participating churches. A few of the churches that have experienced the most emergency assistance requests have agreed among themselves to carry on at least through August 2011. In the meantime, they have suggested that a similar system might be more effective if expanded throughout North Berkshire, coordinated with other providers of various kinds of assistance to those in need. NBIAI has begun to investigate this idea and is planning to create a task force to take it up in more detail. Issues include expanded costs, sources of funds for an expanded system, rapid and effective communication, and administrative support. BCAC and nbCC have both offered to help if something useful materializes.

Stuart Crampton for the NBIAI

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Donated food, fellowship and fun

Mark Lincourt and Henry Bounds, at North Adams Commons, help load the truck with donated food on Saturday, March 12.


Kudos — I love that word — to North Adams Commons, generous residents of the Northern Berkshires, and several local businesses for donating and collecting 540 pounds of food for the Friendship Center Food Pantry.

On Saturday, Maureen Gaudreau, of North Adams Commons, and her husband, helped several volunteers to load a truck with food for the pantry. Down at the pantry a short time later, several additional volunteers helped to sort through the food and get it ready to distribute.

On a personal note, I must say that while the last six weeks have been at times exhausting for me as we have gotten the pantry project up and running, working with such a wonderful group of volunteers — many of whom I did not know before our Interfaith group started — has made it all worthwhile.

The food pantry will next be open on Wednesday, March 16, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Our March Interfaith Action Initiative meeting will be held on Friday, March 18, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams (use Eagle Street entrance).

We will have a training on Basic Food Safety on Thursday, March 24, from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. at the Friendship Center at 43 Eagle St. in North Adams. Please RSVP to Mark at 664-0130 if you are interested. The workshop is presented by the Western Mass. Food Bank, which supplies most of the food for our pantry. This training is required by the Food Bank and we need at least 10 people to attend. I believe we more than have that amount of people who have said they will attend, but I will be checking this week because we need to have an exact count of attendees for the Food Bank by March 18.

Now that the food pantry has been up and running on three Wednesdays — having served, 27, 14, and 36 families — some things are becoming apparent. One is how many volunteers we need.

Optimally, when people are coming into the Friendship Center for food, we need two people in front to help people get and fill out forms and the menu (some of whom can’t read and need focused help), two people at the desk to sign people in, and four or five at the shelves and in back to fill the orders and bring them up front. This means 8 to 9 — and perhaps 10 — volunteers on a Wednesday. The upper number is preferable to let people go to lunch and do errands.

We receive our food deliveries on Wednesday mornings around 9 a.m., and for this to go well, we need at least four, and preferablly six, volunteers to bring the food in and start stocking it on the shelves. These are usually the same people who volunteer later, though some have come down just for this.

To handle the food drive donations we received on March 12, we had four people go up to the nursing home to load the truck. Back at the Friendship Center these four plus four more prepared our shelves and sorted the donated food, eight total.

This is volunteer-intensive work, and we now have a better idea of how many we need as we plan for the future. If you are interested in volunteering, contact Denise Krutiak, our volunteer coordinator, at

I will stop there for now. God Bless all of you and hope to see you on Friday.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Connecting with many friends


The Friendship Center food pantry served 36 families on Wednesday, March 9. This is up from 14 last week and 29 the week before. We served 19 families in the first 45 minutes we were open — our team of volunteers was really hopping!

On Wednesday we signed up 20 new members, and the Friendship Center now has a total of 62 families signed up as members.

But it's not about numbers, it's about helping people, making connections with our friends in the community and among each other. It’s about serving God in and through our neighbors.

So far, we seem to be on the right track. We have some fantastic volunteers, and we would welcome more, in a number of capacities. We need your help. Contact volunteer coordinator Denise Krutiak at or me at We are looking for volunteers who can help during our daytime hours and those who could help in the evening when we add evening hours down the road.

Friends from the community who are not in need of food are always welcome to come in and see what we are doing. I would love to see more of those I know and love stop in and visit.

I want to thank the members of the North Adams Youth Commission for letting Al Nelson and me speak to them last Thursday about the food pantry and ways to get youth involved. I was encouraged by the meeting that this will happen, and happen in varied ways.

I also want to thank Mike Garland and WNAW for having Maureen Gaudreau, Mark Lincourt and me on the Opinion program on Monday morning to talk about the Friendship Center food pantry and the food drive that Maureen and North Adams Commons has organized in several locations in North Adams through Friday. From what people who heard it tell me, we did OK.

God Bless,


(Photo above: Getting ready before we opened the doors at 11 a.m. are (l-r) Denise Krutiak, Gail Obrest, Shirley Davis and Sue Walker.)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Please Support this Food Drive

As one of our friends noted recently on Facebook, there are food receptacles in a number of North Adams businesses to accumulate food for our food pantry.

The publicity for this food drive, sponsored by the North Adams Commons Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, states that it is for the Community Action Food Pantry. And in fact the Friendship Center Food Pantry is the continuation of the BCAC Food Pantry that closed. Indeed, two great people from BCAC are currently helping us each week learn the ropes and successfully run the pantry.

The food drive is running from Feb. 28 to March 11 to help stock the food pantry.

Non-perishable food will be accepted at the following businesses throughout North Adams: Price Chopper Supermarket, Big Y Supermarket, Stop & Shop Supermarket (though I did not see a receptacle there when I looked March 5th), 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.

Radio show Monday

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 in turn have invited Mark Lincourt, our food distribution coordinator to accompany me.

I hope we can explain what the Interfaith Initiative and Friendship Center are about and why as much food as possible is needed through this drive.

Items needed

In a related matter, Shirley McDonald, from BCAC, who is doing so much to help us every Wednesday, gave us a list of the most needed items for a food pantry.

Fruit juice, juice boxes, cold cereals, hot cereals, macaroni and cheese, baked beans or pork and beans, canned beef stew, canned pasta (Ravioli, etc), peanut butter, jelly, canned fruit, rice, canned or instant potatos, Bisquick/pancake mix and syrup, coffee and tea, soups, tuna, canned meats, packaged food (such as Rice-a-Roni, Lipton’s, etc.), spaghetti sauce, pasta, canned vegetables, condiments (such as ketchup, mayo, mustard, etc), cake mix, brownie mix, puddings and powdered milk.

Also needed are such things as baby food and formula, disposable diapers, shampoo, tooth paste, paper goods and toilet paper.

God bless all of you,


(At top: The receptacle for the food drive at the BigY in North Adams. Photo taken Saturday, March 5).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Another rewarding Wednesday


Wednesday, March 4, was a second rewarding week of the Friendship Center Food Pantry. Traffic dropped off at bit from last week's 27 families — who will be eligible to come back for food next week. This week we had 14 families come to the pantry, and with our "soft opening" successful, we will put the word out into the local media this week that we're open for business.

In another great development, our new sign is done and up and looks great. Thanks to Al Nelson for paying for the sign and for hanging it up. Katherine Montgomery dropped off a food donation and a picture to beautify the Friendship Center, and Deacon Bruce Ziter dropped off a sizable donation of food. We also received the help today of two great new volunteers.

Here are some photos. The new sign. Shirley Davis and Al Nelson clean the front windows. The sign in place. The view of St. Francis Steeple from the front window of the Friendship Center.

God Bless,