Thursday, February 23, 2012

Community Outreach Workers Visit Friendship Center

On Thursday, Feb. 23, Wendy Krom and Annie Rodgers of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition brought the latest crop of Community Outreach Workers to the Friendship Center to learn about the Interfaith Action Initiative and the Food Pantry. It was an enjoyable discussion and tour. Mark Lincourt, Corinne Case and Mark Rondeau from the IAI and The Friendship Center explained what we do and answered questions. Corinne and Mark L. are or were Outreach Workers themselves.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Food Pantry enters second year; Initiative going strong

Friendship Center Food Distribution Coordinator Mark Lincourt (center) presents a plaque of appreciation to Peter Lafeyette (right) and another Berkshire Bank official for their recent $1,000 grant to the pantry. Sorry for the blurry!

Contents of this post: Happy Birthday to Us; Our Interfaith meeting Friday; We prepare to raise funds; Hats off to Stuart Crampton; Two important drives; Blankets and jackets — and a Food Bank tour; Other generous donations; Faith Communities Partnering for Emergency Preparedness.

Happy Birthday to Us


Wednesday, Feb. 15, will be the Friendship Center Food Pantry’s 52nd week of operation. We continue to add member households and are now up to about 760. 

In 2012, we have been serving an average of 105 households per week total in our morning and evening sessions. We had our busiest week yet on Wednesday, Jan. 25, when we served 105 families in our first session and 29 families in our second session, for a total of 134 households served, a one-day record by 12 households. Our volunteers were fantastic, as always.

The Interfaith Action Initiative, parent of the Food Pantry and the voucher system, will be celebrating its second birthday this May.

Our Interfaith meeting Friday

The Friday, Feb. 17, meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative will focus on issues conerning the food pantry and future directions for the Interfaith Action Initiative. It will begin at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams (use Eagle Street entrance).

As for the Initiative, possible new directions include doing more advocacy, aimed toward Boston and even Washington, for a more just and equitable distribution of resources.

I also hope that going forward we can be part of home-grown economic development in Northern Berkshire. So I am pleased with the creation of the Northern Berkshire Organizing Project and that some of those involved with it are also involved with the Interfaith Action Initiative. 

It seems important to me to keep the Initiative strong and not let it be swallowed up or overwhelmed by the voucher system — or more likely, by the demands of the food pantry. As it is, the Initiative already serves as an important alternative community forum. Issues we have discussed in recent months include affordable housing, affordable assisted living, faith communities partnering for emergency preparedness, and the Northern Berkshire Systems of Care Committee.

What do you think about the future of the Interfaith Action Initiative? What else can we do? What else can we discuss? Come tell us. We look forward to a lively discussion of this and other issues on Friday. 

About 20 people attended the Jan. 20 Initiative meeting, which focused on affordable assisted living in Northern Berkshire. We expect an investigatory committee to be formed in the near future to look further into this important and complicated issue. Thanks to Ce Swanson for bringing this important issue to our attention.

The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative is a group of people of varied faiths working with others of goodwill to find ways to serve our community. Our meetings, which are open to everyone, include a time of faith sharing and silent prayer. For more information about the Food Pantry, call 664-0123 or visit its page on Facebook. 

For more information about the Interfaith Action Initiative visit call Mark at 664-0130.

We prepare to raise funds

In January we were informed that we would be losing our main source of funding for the Friendship Center Food Pantry, a loss we estimate that had in the first 11 months of our existence paid for about $350 per week of expenses. That alone, creates a loss of about $18,000 annually. 

So we are preparing to launch a letter campaign at the beginning of April; our treasurer Stuart Crampton is agressively seeking grants; we soon will be approaching local financial instutions; and other means of fundraising are being considered.

The Friendship Center also has been the recipient of generous donations, such as the one from Berkshire Bank noted in the photo above and $2,000 from Stop & Shop. Additionally, we have been recipient of numerous other generous monetary donations in our first year operation.

All in all, we are confident that the Friendship Center will meet this financial challenge and continue to serve our sisters and brothers in need with respect and affection.

Donations to the Friendship Center Food Pantry are tax deductible and may be made by check and sent to The Friendship Center, 43 Eagle St., North Adams, MA 01247. The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition is our non-profit fiscal agent.

Hats off to Stuart Crampton

Stuart Crampton, at left, accepting donations for the Friendship Center from Williams College students last September.

Stuart Crampton, treasurer of the IAI and the food pantry, deserves much praise both for his work to expand the ministry voucher system in Northern Berkshire and his work for the Friendship Center Food Pantry.

Stuart has kept excellent records of donations we receive and has been key in many areas, such as in our efforts to thank those making dontions and in designing such things as our Friendship Center membership cards. When we were first opening the friendship center, Stuart built the mailbox inside the door and bought and put down the carpeting we have in many places on the beautiful hardwood floors.

As the convener, or chairman, of the Fundraising Committee, Stuart has been a ball of fire, getting us in fine shape to launch our first fundraising effort with a letter campaign at the beginning of April. He is also presently applying for several grants (four, I think) to keep the Friendship Center going strong.

If that weren’t enough, Stuart regularly volunteers on the evening shift at the Friendship Center and is often available at the morning session to help out until the main body of our volunteers arrive to help us meet the initial rush.

Stuart is yet another of the great people I did not know before the start of the Interfaith Action Initiative and the founding of the Friendship Center. Meeting and becoming friends with such people has just in itself made the whole effort worthwhile.

Two important drives

I would like to point out two upcoming drives, one for personal care items and one for food:

• The UNITY Youth Leadership Program will be conducting a drive for hygiene and personal care items from Feb. 13 to March 13. They are looking especially for toothpaste and toothbrushes, feminine products, diapers, men’s shaving products, clean washcloths and towels, soap and shampoo.

In addition to the Friendship Center Food Pantry, this drive will benefit the Pope John Paul the Great Charity Center in Adams, the Williamstown Food Pantry, and Louison House.

Collection boxes will be located at WalMart in North Adams, the First Congregational Churches of Noth Adams and Williamstown, All Saints Episcopal Church in North Adams, Drury High School, and Mount Greylock Regional High School.

For more information contact Annie Rogers at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition at 663-7588.

UNITY is the Coalition’s great youth development program, and we thank them in advance for this effort for those in need. 

• North Adams Commons will once again be sponsoring a mid-winterfood drive to benefit the Friendship Center Food Pantry, between Feb. 27 and March 9, with delivery to the Friendship Center on March 12. This will be the second year they’ve done this for us, for which we are grateful.

Blankets and jackets — and a Food Bank tour

The blankets and jackets donated to the Friendship Center by Catholic Charities.

I want to thank a wonderful friend, Kathryn Buckley-Brawner of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Springfield, for again thinking of us in North Adams. She called me a couple of weeks ago about new blankets and clothing she had set aside for us in Northern Berkshire. All we needed to do was to meet her halfway, so to speak, between Springfield and North Adams to pick them up.

So on Friday, me and my friend Dewey Whitney got into my car and we drove to the Western Mass Food Bank in Hatfield, where we met Kathryn and picked up boxes and bags of new blankets and jackets which we will be distributing over time at the Friendship Center. 

While we were there, Dale West and Gordon Clark of the Food Bank took me and Dewey on a Tour of the Western Mass. Food Bank. What a nice facility! (I wish I had brought my camera).

Dale has been a big help to us from the start. And many of us were pleased this week to meet and start to get to know Gordon, who is filling the new position for the Food Bank of Network Capacity Coordinator for Berkshire County. His job is to help us to become more successful in doing what we’re doing.

Other generous donations

The generousity of the Northern Berkshire community keeps on astounding me. Here are just a few recent highlights:

Coming back home from Mass Saturday night, I stopped in the Friendship Center to find a healthy check from the Northern Berkshire Business and Professional Women’s club. 

Our neighbors to the north, in Stamford, Vt., have recently been extremely generous to us. Stamford Community Church has been regularly giving us some wonderful small clothing items, including mittens and sweaters, and the Stamford Valley Food Coop gave us 15 lbs of food on Feb. 7.

The Mass MoCA Jammers continue to raise food for us, led by great volunteer and Friendship Center fundraising committee member Tony Pisano. In addition, our friends at Price Chopper recently gave us 70 pounds of food. 

By the way, the total amount of food given to us as a result of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in January was 877 lbs. We received a whopping 354 lbs. of food from the North Adams Council on Aging Spitzer Center on Jan. 30.

Those conducting the vigil against its closing at St. Stan’s Church keep giving us regular donations of food, as does my parish, St. Elizabeth’s in North Adams, most recently 147 lbs. on Feb. 1. 

Those who help my cousin Evelyn Disanti collect the donated food at St. Elizabeth’s and bring it over to the Friendship Center are Evelyn DiSanti, Linda Garafano, Judy Franzoni, Alice Mirante, and Rose Gaspardi.

I haven’t even mentioned the many individuals who regularly give us food.

Many thanks to all of you!

Faith Communities Partnering for Emergency Preparedness

Some of the emergency preparedness literature given out at the Feb. 2 forum in Lenox.

Two of us from the IAI  attended the “Faith Community and Emergency Responders Forum” held on Feb. 2 at Cranwell in Lenox. The subtitle of the event was “Building Whole Community Preparedness Partnerships.”  

The forum was very good, attended by about 150 or so people from Western Mass. The panels included a handful of health and public safety officials from Northern Berkshire. The topics discussed included:

• Congregations Responding to Recent Disasters 
• Autism Spectrum Disorder and Emergency Preparedness/Response 
• Congregation Emergency Planning Workshop 
• Emergency Responders Workshop 
• Tabletop Exercise: Whole Community Emergency Response Scenario 
• Leading by Example: A Caring Community Starts with You 

The keynote speaker was the Rev. David L. Myers, director, center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security.

Emergency preparedness and response is a complicated topic and it is difficult to know where to start. I was disappointed that only four attendees that I know of came from Northern Berkshire faith communities. I have a multitude of literature (see photo) and would be happy to speak with anyone in Northern Berkshire about what we learned at the conference on how faith communities can become partners with the existing emergency management infrastructure. 

I am afraid that with the changing climate, weather emergencies such as Tropical Storm Irene will keep occuring. It seems only right that the faith community explore how it might best fit into the emergency response picture and prepare accordingly. This is not an endeavor that any one individual or even the IAI — without several clergy and houses of worship on board — can even hope to take on alone.

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Thanks for reading all or part of this. God Bless you all,