Saturday, August 13, 2011

Faith Communities Preparing for Emergencies

Next Interfaith Action Initiative Meeting Aug. 19

The next meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative will be held on Friday, Aug. 19, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. (Please use the Eagle Street entrance).

Our discussion topic this month will be Faith Community Partnering for Emergency Preparedness with Vivian Orlowski of the Berkshire County Boards of Health Association.

Other topics to be discussed include forming a fund and food raising committee for the Friendship Center Food Pantry, formation of an NBIAI Steering Committee, and an update on the Northern Berkshire emergency voucher system.

Here is information Vivian sent me. Beneath that is the tentative meeting agenda for Friday.

Faith Community Partnering for Emergency Preparedness

Going about our daily lives, most of us assume having access to food, water, electricity, telecommunications and transportation as well as police and fire protection.

What would happen if we couldn’t count any or all of these vital resources for a few days or even for a few weeks?

That is a question that many people, including those in the local faith community, have been asking in the tragic aftermath of hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters since then. As we’ve seen in Western Massachusetts with the recent tornado devastation and the severe ice storms in 2008, we need to prepare for an all-hazards approach. Our public health and safety officials are in the forefront of local and regional preparedness, but should we just relax and leave everything up to them?

Not according to experienced emergency planners. They agree that, along with well-organized officials, the best defense against disaster is a caring community of people ready and willing to help each other during emergencies — certainly that includes most religious congregations. Mutual aid works best by making back- up preparations — thus minimizing the impact of the emergency.

By developing new capacity for emergency resilience within the faith community, this project seeks to protect lives, to minimize physical/psychological trauma from disasters, and reduce peak demand on first responders. Under the auspices of the Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council and in cooperation with the Region 1 Public Health Preparedness Coalitions, Berkshire County Boards of Health Association is coordinating the project in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire Counties.

Taking an inclusive approach for those with access and functional needs, the Faith Community Partnering for Emergency Preparedness project directly builds on previous work with community organizations and schools to help serve the needs of individuals requiring additional assistance in emergencies.

Clergy and members of the faith community will participate in focus groups and conferences and be offered specialized resources in print and online. Along with advancing preparedness planning for faith community organizations and their members, the project will open new lines of communication between the faith community and first responders, emergency management directors, public Health officials and the Medical Reserve Corps.

For more information, please contact project director Vivian Orlowski at Berkshire County Boards of Health Association (


Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative

Meeting: Aug. 19, 2011, 10 a.m. to Noon

First Baptist Church of North Adams

1). Welcome/introductions.

2). Moment of silent prayer.

3). Faith sharing.

4). Announcements.

5). Vivian Orlowski: Partnering for Faith Community Emergency Preparedness

6). Formation of NBIAI Steering Committee

7). Formation of Fundraising/Foodraising Committee

8). Williams College Food Drive and visit to Friendship Center on Saturday, Sept. 3, 10:30 a.m.

9). Voucher System Update

10). Report on homelessness meeting in Pittsfield.

11). Upcoming meeting topics, October and November.

12). Adjourn.

Monday, August 8, 2011

MCLA LEAD Academy students visit Friendship Center

(The students with Spencer Moser, yellow shirt; Al Nelson speaks; Mark Lincourt speaks to the students.)

On Monday, Aug. 8, about 35 students from the MCLA LEAD Academy visited the Friendship Center with Spencer Moser, Center for Service and Citizenship and the LEAD Academy. Al Nelson, Mark Lincourt and Mark Rondeau explained what we do and why we do it.

MCLA LEAD students will be putting up flyers on Tuesday to publicize the food drive the North Adams Public Library is conducting, and on Wednesday a group of them will be helping at the pantry.

Here is an information sheet writtten for the students:

Welcome to the Friendship Center!

Volunteers of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative (NBIAI) have been running a food pantry at the Friendship Center at 43 Eagle St. in North Adams since mid-February. The Frienship Center also serves as headquarters of the NBIAI.

The NBIAI formed in May 2010 as an effort of people of various faiths and denominations, in conjunction with others of good will, to find ways to serve our community. The Initiative meets the third Friday of every month at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. Our meetings include a time of silent prayer and faith sharing, leading up to discussion of a major topic. All are welcome.

After forming, members of the NBIAI held discussions over several months with social workers and community activists in such areas as work with the homeless and youth mentoring, seeking ways to help that would not duplicate existing efforts. We discoverd an important opportunity to serve when food pantry capacity in North Adams declined just when need was rocketing upward in a severe recession.

We are continuing and expanding in a new location under new management the North Adams food pantry that the Berkshire Community Action Council (BCAC) no longer had the space or staff to run effectively. This 800-square-foot space has been donated free of charge by Mike and Lois Daunis; the utilities are paid for by BCAC. The entire staff of the Friendship Center is volunteer. The NBIAI received a $1,000 grant — our first ever — earlier this summer from the Northern Berkshire United Way for additional shelving. In addition, we have received a number of private monetary donations, the largest so far being $2,000.

About 450 member households, eligible to receive food every other week, belong to the Friendship Center. The food pantry is open every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m. Our busiest day so far was on July 27, when we served 86 households in our first session and 28 in our second session, for a total of 114. At our busiest, we need between 10 to 14 volunteers in various tasks to operate the pantry effectively. Before opening the door each Wednesday, we gather for a brief prayer.

We give out an average of 1,900 lbs. of food per week to Northern Berkshire residents, and this total, like our number of member households, is constantly growing. As of July 1, we had received 14,291 lbs of food from the Western Mass. Food Bank via BCAC and received 9,900 lbs. in private donations, 8,000 lbs. of this from the annual Letter Carriers Food Drive.

Our volunteers may differ in motivation, but we are united in wishing to serve our guests with respect and affection as brothers and sisters. We seek to build positive relationships and community connections. We have found that this has generated a great deal of good will in the community. Several of our volunteers also receive food here. People are eager to help and support us. We have fun every week, even though at our busiest the activity resembles barely controlled chaos!

Memorable moments include the woman who said she didn’t feel poor at the Friendship Center; the time one of our volunteers took a visiting infant into her lap and started to read to him; and the many, many people who thank us for being here. Challenges include finding enough food.

During your time here in North Adams, you will always be welcome to stop in at the Friendship Center to chat, to volunteer, to do research, or to get food. For more information, visit our blog at, call 413-212-7756 or email

Friday, August 5, 2011

We run faster than the dog days

Topics in this post: Food Pantry statistics; getting more food: supermarkets, food drives, churches, food planning meeting; collaboration with MCLA and Williams; voucher system steering committee formed; topics for August and October Interfaith meetings; need for Food Stamps grows tremendously; minutes of the July Interfaith Action Initiative Meeting.

So much has been going on with the Interfaith Initiative and the food pantry at the Friendship Center, as well as the overall Interfaith Action Initiative, that it’s difficult at times to know where to start.

Some statistics

First, it can be safely said that we have had a successful start to our evening hours, which began on July 13. We have had 16, 8, 28, and 11 families come to the Friendship Center during our second session since it started. During the same period, we’ve had 68, 78, 86, and 51 families for our first session.

This adds up to combined totals of 84, 86, 114 and 62 families served in the last four weeks. The July 27 total is a new record for one day.

(We are open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Wednesday.)

We now have about 442 member households.

After our July Interfaith Action Initiative meeting, Stuart Crampton reported that of our first 377 members, there have been 12 from Adams, 11 from Williamstown, 1 from Cheshire, 9 from Clarksburg and 3 from Florida, leaving 341 from North Adams.

Our Interfaith meetings continue to be well attended, with 18 people attending the July meeting. As for our Internet presence, this blog had 176 page views in July, down from our all-time high of 204 in June. Some 34 people “like” our Facebook page and even more people look at it, as we had 49 unique active users in July. The email list I use to send out monthly meeting announcements has about 145 addresses on it.

Seeking food, and finding it

Our volunteers have been extremely proactive and productive in finding sources of food. For instance, we have had productive meetings and have set up, or are in the process of setting up, arrangements with all three supermarkets in North Adams. In fact, we received our first delivery of “salvage” from Price Chopper on Aug. 3. (And we also received fresh vegetables on Aug. 3 from The Berkshire Food Project. Thanks, BFP. for the unexpected added benefit for our friends!)

And our volunteers have sprung into action, such as Tony Pisano, who arranged a food drive at the July 24 SteepleCats game, which netted 105 pounds in food donations and some cash for food purchases.

Thanks to Joan Owczarski, who is a librarian and another of our great volunteers, the North Adams Public Library is holding a non-perishable food drive to benefit our efforts to feed our friends, family and neighbors in need. The drive will run through Sept. 6. Donations can be dropped off at the front circulation desk. (See photo above).

I must say that I am pleased with the amount of food donations we have received from local churches. We make sure that all such donations are acknowledged promptly.

At my church, St. Elizabeth of Hungary in North Adams, my cousin, Evelyn Disanti, does great work in bringing the food donated there over to the Friendship Center periodically. One of my jobs is as bulletin editor there, and I recently put in the following announcement, which may serve as a model for others to follow:

Food Donations Welcome

The Friendship Center Food Pantry, located at 43 Eagle St. in North Adams, has been open since mid-February and now has a list of close to 400 member families, who are eligible to receive food every two weeks.

The pantry, which is an effort of the ecumenical Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative, is open on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and later in the day from 4 to 7 p.m. On the most recent Wednesday before this bulletin was printed, the pantry served a total of 114 families.

The pantry currently needs cans of tuna and boxes of macaroni & cheese. All other non-perishable foods are also welcome. If you wish to make a donation of food, please leave it in the receptacle in the back of the church. Thank you and God Bless.

Our Initiative planning meeting this coming week will deal with acquiring more food as we add more pantry members. Our great food distribution coordinator, Mark Lincourt, will be setting the agenda and and leading this meeting.

Speaking of food, Mark just gave me these statistics: As of July 1, we had recievd 14,291 lbs. of food from the Western Mass. Food Bank via BCAC at a total cost of $411.73 to them, mostly for salvage (items such as dented cans supermarkets donate or sell).

We have recieved 9,899 lbs. from private donations, 8,000 lbs. of which was from the Postal Carriers’ Food Drive. We have invested $306.58 in food.

Our grocery bag weight is 18 to 20 pounds. At the present time, our average weekly draw is at 1,900 lbs. per week — and growing!

Collaboration with MCLA & Williams

The main topic of our July meeting (see meeting minutes below) was collaboration with local colleges, and things are starting to happen.

On Monday, Aug. 8, about 40 people, mostly students, from the MCLA LEAD Academy will visit the Friendship Center as part of their City Tour. On Tuesday, a team of students from the Academy will be distributing flyers promoting the North Adams Public Library

Food Drive for the Friendship Center. (See photo above).

On Wednesday, the students will help us out at the Friendship Center, starting out helping with the morning food delivery and stocking shelves and later helping with our first session.

We hope much good will come from this collaboration. And the same is true with Williams College, as we are working with student Lauren Shuffleton and Chaplain Rick Spalding to arrange a similar orientation with students over the Labor Day weekend which would lead to a campus food drive in September.

More details will be forthcoming.

We can vouch for you

Continued kudos to Stuart Crampton for his work on establishing an emergency voucher system for Northern Berkshire. In July he established a steering committee, which includes David Ranzer and Al Nelson for North Adams, Tammy Scalise and Corinne Case for Adams, and Rich Davis and Stuart for Williamstown. The committeean will be holding a meeting at the Frienship Center in the near future. Thanks to all who are working on this.

Upcoming meeting topics

It looks like the main topic of our August Interfaith Action Initiative meeting will be a discussion with Vivian Orlowski, project director of the Faith Community Partnering for Emergency Preparedness program, of the Berkshire County Boards of Health Association. More details on this to follow.

And the meeting on Affordable Housing, which was postponed from June has been definitely rescheduled for the Interfaith Action Initiative meeting on Friday, Oct. 21.

The need is great

According to CNN, one in seven Americans is now on Food Stamps. New numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicate that nearly 46 million Americans now receive food stamps out of a population of 311 million. This number is up from 27 million in October 2007 and 37 million in 2009 — and is up almost 3 million from last October.

The headline on this item on newscaster Wolf Blitzer’s blog is “Hunger in America growing at staggering pace.”

The blog item concludes on a somewhat postive note: “By the way, the just-approved first round of nearly $1 trillion in debt ceiling spending cuts over the next 10 years exempted any cuts in the food stamps program.”

I wonder what the cost of food will be in 10 years....

Thanks for reading all this and God Bless. The minutes for the July Initiative meeting follow.


Minutes of the July Interfaith meeting

Attending: Al Nelson, Mark Rondeau, Denise Krutiak, Linda Greenbush, Tammy Scalise, Brittany Scalise, Enid Shields, Tony Pisano, Stuart Crampton, Holly Hardman, David Ranzer, Gail Obrest, Spencer Moser, Mark Lincourt, Sue Walker, Trancy M. Bean, Corrine Case, and Darlene Ellis.

Mark Rondeau opened the meeting at 10 am. Those already present introduced themselves. Al Nelson then called for a moment of silent prayer, followed by faith sharing. Mark Rondeau read a short note from Priscilla Lathrop, and Corinne Case expressed her appreciation for the way in which the Interfaith Initiative breaks down walls between different religious traditions. Al Nelson read a brief article describing how teens working together were able to rescue some professional boating people in an emergency, a story illustrating the importance of lay leadership in houses of worship.

Under announcements, Corinne Case introduced some information about the Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice, including opportunities for training. David Ranzer annnounced the appointment of Rachel Barenblat as the interim rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel. Stuart Crampton mentioned the van sharing system maintained by Berkshire Rides. If NBIAI were to join by paying a share of the annual upkeep of the five vans, houses of worship who were members of NBIAI would then have access to vans (with priority on one of them), paying only the cost of the gas. That is, the houses of worship could pool their funds to buy a single share. Linda Greenbush, who is on the Berkshire Rides Board, clarified several issues raised by those present about the van system and other transportation issues.

Mark Rondeau then introduced Spencer Moser from MCLA, whose office introduces MCLA students to the Northern Berkshire community through short public service projects. For those with ideas of projects for him, his telephone number is 662 5251, and his email address is Mark Rondeau offered to open the food pantry for a visit by MCLA students on August 8, and there was discussion of further activity at the beginning of September. Mark then introduced Lauren Shuffleton from Williams, where she is involved with the Lehman Service Council and also works through Chaplain’s Office to promote interactions of Williams students with the local community. The “Where Am I” program over Labor Day weekend will introduce new Williams students in groups of ten to the local community through service projects. There was some discussion of ways in which NBIAI might be involved. Spencer Moser offered to share information with Lauren about past MCLA experiences of that sort. Anyone with an idea for Lauren can reach her at

Mark Rondeau then described the recent purchase and installation of new shelves for the food pantry, thanks to the United Way money. He raised the question of what to do with the roughly $280 left over. Suggestions included other infrastructure such as a telephone system and a laptop computer. Denise Krutiak mentioned the need to buy food, and it was pointed out that there are other funds for that purpose. Denise called for an accounting of our recent history of buying food, and Stuart Crampton offered to prepare a report. It was decided to have a planning meeting specifically for food on August 12.

Mark Lincourt reported on the first week of being open from 4-7 on Wednesdays. Only 16 members came, but about half of them were new. It was agreed to be a successful beginning. Mark Lincourt also offered to look into the ADTI training offered on Tuesday, July 26. Several of those present plan to go and report back.

Stuart Crampton reported that the response to the proposed Northern Berkshire Ministry Fund voucher system was sufficiently positive to warrant establishing a steering committee to plan the transition from the Williamstown voucher system to a broader Northern Berkshire system. It was decided to go ahead with the printing of triplicate vouchers, to establish a second IAI bank account through nbCC, and to establish a steering committee to move ahead on enrolling houses of worship and vendors.

The meeting was adjourned very close to noon. The next general IAI meeting will be August 19.