Saturday, December 21, 2013

We Live in a Very Generous Community

Receiving the check and food at the Abbott School. Woman on the left is from the Berkshire Humane Society.

Donations, donations, donations

It has become hard to keep up with the number of donations we receive. Here, I will deal mainly with donations of food, but the donations of money we receive are just as remarkable. Here goes:

 One of the most memorable for me came recently when I went to Abbott School in Florida to pick up a $450 check and 642 lbs of food.

This came from a Project 351, a non-profit that inspires and helps eighth graders in every city and town in the state develop leadership skills and do service. This project was led by student Ambassadors Mackenzie Wright, Autumn Tynan and Ambassador Alumna Tilly Brule. Their coach, Heidi Dugal, is also principal of the Abbott School.

Other students who participated were Nathan Richardson, Jack Gibeau, and Paris Sumner.

The project consisted of a long food drive at Abbott School and McCann Technical Vocational High School for both the Friendship Center and the Berkshire Humane Society. The “Oh, Be Thankful” Pie Contest held on Nov. 26 at the American Legion in North Adams raised nearly $1,200 for us the Humane Society and for the American Legion’s annual Christmas Dinner.

Al Nelson watches as the group from the Clarksburg School loads up our cart.

• In another town we serve, Clarksburg, the Clarksburg School has been great in running a food drive each year we’ve been open. In past years, one of us would go up and get the food.

This year, parent Heidi Blake, along with her twin daughters, Hope and Hannah, along with Abby Smith and Brandon Vallone visited on Saturday, Nov. 29, and delivered 233 lbs of food. Al Nelson and I had a could discussion with the visitors and explained how the pantry operates in detail. An enjoyable visit.

Mayor Alcombright at the Friendship Center on Friday, Dec. 20, with Ellen Sutherland and Darcie Bellows.

• Also for the third year in a row, the City of North Adams, both the schools and the municipal side, ran a food drive for us. Some 682 lbs. of food arrived on Friday, Dec. 20. Mayor Alcombright — who is a great supporter of our work — and Darcie Bellows from the city and Ellen Sutherland from the schools came to the Friendship Center for some media coverage.

Our friend Aleta Monchecci of BCAC (center) with two helpers delivered food from the first Harvest Haul to the Friendship Center back in October.

• Lest I forget, on Oct. 19 our friends at the Berkshire Community Action Council held their first Harvest Haul, which benefitted a number of organizations. After having been set up at Wal-Mart in North Adams, some BCAC folks came over and delivered 219 lbs. of goods.

• I would be remiss not to mention all the produce that local farmers and gardeners donate to us, including all the produce that Kathy Keeser and other volunteers with Hoosac Harvest glean (ie. pick up overlooked veggies off the ground) at local farms. (Am hoping to do a post here soon on local produce.)

These donations which I have photos for are just a small percentage of the food and personal care product donations we receive, many from generous individuals. Here are some other recent donations:

• Spitzer Center, Dec. 3, 120 lbs.

• Clarksburg VFW Post 1994, Dec. 2, 58 lbs.

• Everyday Health, Nov. 27, 68 lbs.

• MCLA Center for Service and Citizenship, Nov. 26, 108 lbs.

• Florida Baptist Church, Nov. 26, 48 lbs.

• MCLA Hunger Banquet (held Nov. 24),  146 lbs., plus $118 donation.

• Storey Publishing Co., Nov. 26, 78 lbs.

• Williams College Center for Learning in Action, Nov. 25, 406 lbs.

• North Adams Regional Hospital SEIU 1199, Nov. 22, 200 lbs.

• St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Nov. 19 & Nov. 26, 386 lbs. total

• VNA & Hospice of Northern Berkshire, Nov. 19, 219 lbs.

Healthy Donations

Our friend Amanda Chilson, as part of the Mass in Motion effort has given us a list of suggested healthy foods. We have offered it out several times already to groups wanting to do food drives for us. Here it is:

• Beans
• Tuna
• Peanut Butter
• Instant Brown Rice
• Whole Wheat Pasta with Pasta Sauce
• Low Sodium Canned Vegetables (Tomatoes) or Soup
• Oatmeal
• Whole Grain Cereals (Low Sugar)
• No Sugar Added Canned Fruits

Well, that’s it for now. To my Christian friends, Merry Christmas. To everyone else, Happy Holidays. And to all, God Bless You,


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Unloading 4,900 lbs. of Food

This is my favorite, showing Stan Owczarski loading potatoes on our cart from the back of the truck.

On Tuesday, Nov. 27, several volunteers picked up and then unloaded about 4,900 lbs. of food from the Food Bank of Western Mass. We rent a U-Haul truck and pick up the food in Pittsfield. All the volunteers involved were: Rich Davis, Steve Green, Fran Morandi, Stan Owczarski, Dick Netherwood, Frank Goodermote, Henry Bounds, Al Nelson, and Mark Rondeau. Plus one young man started helping us who I did not know. He just came in off the street. It happens.

In fact, just before I left, while all these volunteers were still stocking the shelves for Wednesday, I answered a call to the Friendship Center from a man visiting the area who wanted to help with a charitable effort while he is in town. If all goes according to plan, he will be helping out during the second shift on Wednesday.

Here are some more photos:

The truck arrives around 12:35 p.m.

We start unloading the truck. Three pallets and a fourth broken down because it would not fit otherwise.

Fran Morandi carries a bag of potatoes into the Friendship Center.

Rich Davis and Dick Netherwood in foreground. With everything inside, it becomes time to stock the shelves.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Need remains high; resources decrease

Attendance at the Friendship Center Food Pantry went “through the roof” in October (see graph). 

While this September was just a 26-household increase from September in 2012, this October we had our highest monthly attendance ever: 782 families in five weeks. This is compared to last October, when we had 640 households in five weeks. 

That's 142 households more -- like an extra Wednesday of visiting families!

Now, SNAP (food stamp) benefits, are being cut back. What will we see in November, and what can we do about it? Come to the November meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative to see what’s going on. More below.

Interfaith Action meeting to discuss decrease in SNAP benefits

The Friday, Nov. 15, meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative (NBIAI) will focus on SNAP (food stamp) benefits, including the decrease in monthly benefit amounts in November.
A funding boost passed by Congress in 2009 expired at the end of October. Households will see benefit cuts ranging from $11 to $36 per month.
Our presenter will be Michael Morelli, benefits paralegal with Community Legal Aid in Pittsfield. The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. in the Eagle Street room at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. All are welcome to attend.
In addition to the decrease in benefits, Mr. Morelli will also provide information about applying for SNAP, general rules about these benefits such as income eligibility and household units, and the rights that SNAP applicants and recipients have, such as appealing denials, reductions and terminations.
For more information about this meeting and recent NBIAI events, visit

October meeting a learning experience

Bear McHugh (pictured above), of Berkshire AHEC, gave us a very helpful presentation about suicide prevention at our October Interfaith Action meeting. Bear is a great guy and we learned much from him. He was a particularly good sport as he came to our July meeting at which the heat was incredible and only three people were present. So we rescheduled to October, and are very glad we did.

I have much more to write about, but no time (or energy) now. God Bless You All,


Saturday, October 5, 2013


Some of what we have to offer. More photos below this post.

    In this post: Clothing Sale Saturday; Youth Suicide Prevention presentation on Oct. 18.

It’s finally here: The Second annual Clothing Sale to benefit the Friendship Center Food Pantry. This sale will be held on Saturday, Oct. 12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at All Saints Episcopal Church on Summer Street in North Adams (please use lower-level entrance facing big parking lot).

Offered will be a great selection of gently used clothing at reasonable prices. All proceeds will support the food pantry — a service of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative (NBIAI) — which has more than 1,400 member families in North Adams, Clarksburg and Florida.

The pantry, located at 43 Eagle St. in North Adams, has been open since February 2011. Currently it is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. every Wednesday.

The food pantry is busier than ever, with 3,000 lbs. of food delivered by truck every Tuesday. We set a one-day record on Wednesday, Sept. 25, with 204 families served. 

We conduct sign-ins for the pantry during its first session at the First Baptist Church of North Adams, not far south of the pantry on Eagle Street. This additional space has allowed us, through partnering with other agencies, to offer staff from other agencies the chance to connect with our visiting pantry members. The cooperating programs, so far, are: The Family Place, Mass in Motion, Project Reconnect, and, most recently, a nurse from North Adams Regional Hospital. We look forward to increasing such collaborations in the future.

The NBIAI is a group of local people of various faiths who, along with others of goodwill, are working together to serve our community. We meet monthly on the third Friday of the month at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. All are welcome.

Oct. Interfaith meeting topic: Youth Suicide Prevention

The Friday, Oct. 18, Interfaith meeting will feature Bear McHugh, of Berkshire AHEC, giving a presentation on Youth Suicide Prevention. The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. All are welcome to hear and discuss our presentation on this important topic.

A total of 15 people attended the September NBIAI meeting. This, our first-ever spiritual retreat, was led by the Rev. Jennifer Gregg of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Pittsfield and Sue Walker, pantry volunteer, NBIAI Steering Committee member and retired psychotherapist. 

Through various means, pantry volunteers and others connected with the theme “Time Apart: An Invitation to Rest after Feeding 5,000,” letting the Spirit guide their individual thoughts and our resulting group reflections in new directions.

- Mark

Here are some more photos of items we had put out as of Friday, Oct. 4 — more than a week before the sale, with many more to come.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


A U-Haul filled with bagged clothes arrives Saturday at All Saints Church in North Adams. The sale will be held in the church hall.

The second annual Clothing Sale to benefit the Friendship Center Food Pantry will be held on Saturday, October 12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at All Saints Episcopal Church in North Adams. (Between the NA Post Office and the big parking lot).

Donations of clothing, including children’s clothes and  winter clothes, are still being accepted. In addition to the many donations we have been receiving, we’re again getting a large amount of the clothing left over this year from the ABC Sale in Williamstown.

Prices will be quite reasonable. All proceeds from the sake will benefit the Friendship Center Food Pantry, which serves more than 1,400 member households in North Adams, Clarksburg and Florida. Need is great and the pantry served a one-week record 204 (just revised) households on Wednesday, Sept. 25.

On Saturday, Sept. 28, a great group of volunteers helped us fill a U-Haul with fine clothes left over from the ABC Sale.

Those who helped, whose names I know, include Fran Berasi, Bert Lamb and Liz Boland (aka, the Amazing Berasi Sisters). Also, Sue Walker, Al Nelson, Ed Oshinsky, and Mark Rondeau. Greatly appreciated are the efforts of two recent MCLA LEAD Academy Graduates, Ben Hoyt and Nichole Klemchuk. More thanks go out to Carolyn Behr, who does an awesome job leading the ABC Sale and who has been most gracious to us; thanks, tooo, to Jack Hockridge at All Saints. Thanks, too, to Corinne Case and her group of teens.

Finally, we thank those, students and others, who were at the ABC Sale and helped us bag the clothes and fill the U-Haul. It was hard work but fun. Here are some photos:

We started loading bags downstairs at the ABC Sale, and at first it seemed kind of daunting. But the odd items in this room lifted our spirits. Above: Fran Berasi and Sue Walker. 

Bert Lamb at a rack of costume clothes. If you want graduation gowns, we now have several.

With Dozens of people working, it didn't take long to bag the items in the big hall upstairs. Pictured here is only a fraction of the bags, however.

Ed Oshinsky drove the U-Haul and helped load and unload, too.

Ben Hoyt from MCLA was a huge help in Williamstown and North Adams.

We unload the truck at All Saints in North Adams. Bert in the truck holds a pair of ice skates, which weren't put in a bag because of the sharp blades.

Nichole Klemchuk of MCLA was a great help when we unloaded the truck in North Adams.

We appreciate All Saints letting us use their fine facility.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


This chart shows the monthly totals for visits to the Friendship Center Food Pantry for every month since we opened in February, 2011, to August, 2013. 2011 is illustrated in pencil; 2012 in blue ink and 2013 in red. The 2013 September resullts, which just came in with Wednesday’s totals, are 582 in four weeks. This compares to the total households served during September 2012, 558 in four weeks. This is in keeping with us running at somewhat higher numbers over last year but not greatly so.

This week we trucked in and unloaded thousands of pounds of food to feed hundreds of people. We also offered a new service for the first time: the presence of a nurse.

On Wednesday, Sept. 25, the Friendship Center Food Pantry served 135 families in its 10 to 2 session and a whopping 67 families in its 4 to 6 session for a record total of 202 families served for the day.

Our previous record for one day was 186, which we achieved once. Treasurer and pantry evening shift supervisor Stuart Crampton said, “It was a bit too much but not much too much....We ran out of many, many things, but everyone got quite a lot.  Less produce than last week, but we had two good looking beets left.”

We also signed up 13 new members. We now have served in 2.5 years of operation more than 1,400 families in North Adams, Clarksburg, and Florida.

Our volunteers are wonderful and continue to amaze.

Also on Wednesday, Amanda Chilson of Mass in Motion visited to offer healthy food samples from the types of foods we offer at the pantry. We also have a pretty consistent presence at the pantry from The Family Place, another intiative that has grown out of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.

In an extremetly exciting development, nurse Barbara Cariddi came to the Eagle Street Room, where we sign people in for the food pantry and they fill out their menus, to offered people blood pressure checks, other screeenings and information about programs such as Ecu Health Care.

Barbara will be visiting frequently and at some point will offer flu shots as well.

Anyone who wishes to help us to continue to do what we do is encouraged to take part in our benefit clothing sale. Here is the announcement I sent out for the bulletins of houses of worship this week:

Benefit Clothing Sale Seeks Donations: The second annual Friendship Center Food Pantry Benefit Clothing Sale will be held on Saturday, Oct. 12, at All Saints Episcopal Church hall (located next to the North Adams Post Office) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Organizers are seeking donations of all types of clothes and particularly children’s clothes and winter clothes. Donations may be dropped off at the offices of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition 61 Main St., Suite 218, North Adams between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.; at the Friendship Center Food Pantry between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, or you may call Mark at 664-0130 and leave a message to arrange pick-up. All proceeds from the sale will benefit the food pantry, which in 2.5 years of operation has served more than 1,400 households in North Adams, Clarksburg and Florida.

Hope to see you at the sale!


Amanda Chilson of Mass in Motion offered a crock pot of health soup and more information about healthy eating choices. Below, we offered apples at the Friendship Center itself.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Retreat Meeting a Great Success

Sue Walker and Rev. Jennifer Gregg lead the retreat, while Stuart Crampton looks on. Below, the circle we started out in. (More photos below post).

The Friday, Sept. 20, meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative broke new ground — it was our first retreat meeting — and was a great success.

Some 15 people attended the mini-retreat, which was led by the Rev. Jennifer Gregg, pastor of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Pittsfield, and Sue Walker, a member of our steering committee and regular Friendship Center volunteer.

The topic was “Time Apart:  An Invitation to Rest after Feeding 5,000” and we relaxed and meditated up on the Gospel accounts of Jesus feeding a crowd by multiplying loaves and fishes. The mini-retreat was meant for those who serve, particullarly those involved with the Friendship Center Food Pantry.

Using the technique of “lectio divina” — or sacred reading — each was us picked out some word from the text that particularly spoke to us. We spoke of its impression on us and were then invited to express this is some creative way.

I chose the word “mountain” — the place to which Jesus retreated to pray after the miracle. My painting chose to illustrate Him going up the mountain. Others chose to draw, mediatate or free associate.

Rev. Gregg has offered and will likely facilitate further meetings for us.

Our Oct. 18 NBIAI monthly meeting will feature Bear McHugh, of Berkshire AHEC, who will give a presenation on youth suicide prevention. The meeting will start at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. (Please use Eagle Street entrance).

God Bless You All,


We broke out into different activities to express the insights of our reflection. The people at the table are drawing or painting. Below, I did a painting of Jesus ascending a mountain to pray alone after feeding the 5,000.

Peak of Vegetable Season

Various succulent vegetables in the window of the Friendship Center on Wednesday, Sept. 18. Below, at the same time, we had bags of lettuce and more available at the Eagle Street Room at First Baptist Church.

The amount of produce we have been giving out at the Friendship Center Food Pantry has increased exponentially in this, our third growing season of operation.

In addition to having bought shares at Caretaker Farm, we receive generous donations from other local farms, including Many Forks Farm and Square Roots Farm. Some of these donations come from what is left over every week from the Williamstown and North Adams Farmers Markets. The local organization Hoosic Harvest helps us do this, particullarly at the NA Farmers Market.

Local activiist Kathy Keeser is a leader of Hoosic Harvest and a real go-getter on her own in gleaning at farms and giving the results to food programs such as ours. Most recently, she made sure we were able to  give out to our friends a fine assortment of locally grown apples.

In this account, I am sure I am leaving some names out, particularly of farms. For instance, I know of one farm from Washington, Mass., which comes to the NA Famers Market and has given us produce, but I can’t remember the name!

The whole idea behind this is to give our friends the opportunity to get their hands on fresh produce, which of course is healthier and can be significantly more expensive than less nutritious foods.

On Wednesday, Sept. 28, we had all types of vegetables available both at the pantry and at our staging and sign-up site in the Eagle Street Room of the First Baptist Church of North Adams down the street.

To help give ideas on how to prepare all this produce, our friend Amanda Chilson of the Mass in Motion program locally headquartered at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition will be giving a presentation on foods and recipies at the Eagle Street Room during pantry hours on Wednesday, Sept. 25.

Thanks to all who have helped make this explosion of produce happen!



Cynthia Davis did a good job of getting our visiting friends to take vegetables on Sept. 18.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Busy Summer for Interfaith Action Initiative


Important meeting July 19th

The topic of the Friday, July 19, Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative monthly meeting will be youth suicide prevention, featuring guest Bear McHugh, project coordinator with Berkshire AHEC (Area Health Education Center).

The meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to noon in the Eagle Street Room of the First Baptist Church of North Adams. All are welcome to come and discuss this very important topic.

We wil also speak with Jess Dennis, the Team Leader for the new strategy team that is forming in North Adams to look at youth alcohol and substance abuse prevention. She is interested in making connections and getting involvement from the faith community in this effort.

Hospice discussion very informative

A total of 15 peoplle attended the June 21 meeting of the Initiative, where we welcomed Gloria Richard, patient care coordinator for VNA & Hospice of Northern Berkshire. We had a great and wide-ranging conversation about this vital service.

Gloria Richard, foreground patient care coordinator for VNA & Hospice of Northern Berkshire, speaks at our June meeting.

Here is some of what Gloria had to say:

“Thank you for having me. I really appreciate being here. And hospice is something that is very near and dear to my heart. I actually took care of loved ones of my own before I became a hospice nurse. I was a nurse but I wasn’t into working for hospice at that point. 

“But I felt that it was just something so important and that I really
appreciated having hospice for family members that we kept at home to keep them comfortable, to live out what the hospice philosophy is, to be able to be in your own surroundings, the place of their choice where they want to be in, to be comfortable, to die with dignity and respect. I believe in what I work is basically what I want to say.”

She points this out to the nurses she works with:

“I try to train our nurses and tell, whether we’re in the homecare side or the hospice side, that when you’re going into somebody’s home, you’re entering their realm, they’re in charge, and you need to basically listen to them, listen to their wishes and desires and let our work be something that keeps them comfortable and have the dignity of respecting in their home.

“Hospice focuses on the whole family as a unit, not just the person that has the disease process. We treat everyone as a unit, whehter its a family member or a caregiver. It could be a friend, it doesn’t have to be a blood relative. We also take care of patients on the hospice program that will die in the nursing home. And that’s stiil their ‘home,’ and we treat it as we’re going into their home and that the nurses and home health aides and the caregivers that work for the nursing home are their family.

“So when someone passes that’s been a resident there at the nursing facility for many years the family members are also the caregivers and they belong as well, so we offer social services and our bereavement program to the caregivers even in a facility, not just the families that take their people  iin their home.”

Hospice has a team that works together, Gloria said.

“The person’s primary care physician is always in the loop; they (tpatients) don’t necessarily have to go out to the doctor’s appointment to see the doctor; we have a very good working relationship with our local doctors;  and most all of them if we ask them to from the hospice perspective will make a home visit at some point in time if we really feel that that’s needed.”

Hospice volunteers can also give a caregiver a respite.

“We have medical social workers, we have home aides, certifiied nursing assistants that can do personal care, we have volunteers that can just go out and sit with patients. Say a family member has to leave, they just need a couple of hours for themselves, they need to go to the hairdressers for themselves because we also proport ‘take care of yourself’ because caregiving is so stressful and really we want to take care of the person that’s doing the caregiving as well.

“So we’ll coordinate for a volunteer to go sit for a couple of hours, read a newspaper to your loved one, play a game of checkers, do a puzzle, just be silent if that’s what they need but just for somebody to be there.”

She noted that it’s a difficult topic to talk about oftentimes. “A lot of patients don’t necessarily bring it up with their families. A lot of families may be afraid to bring it up with the person they love that’s going through the disease. The physicians may not feel comfortable bringing it up yet because they’re waiting for the patients to say ‘I’ve had enough, whay are my options?’

“I personally think it’s a very good idea for people to know a little bit about hospice before they need it, because so often we’re getting people actually coming on to service literally in the last days of their lives, and we just don’t have a lot of time to work with them.”

And “almost every insurance has a hospice component to it that they will cover services.”

Hospice is not only about terminal cancer but also  frequently applies to other end-stage diseases. There are occasionally cases where someone condition markedly improves.

“We actually have live discharges, and that’s OK, people have a right to revoke their benefit if they choose,” she said. “There is no penalty...your insurance covers that. “ People can go back on hospice and be covered by insurance if and when necessary.

Rev. Dave Anderson of First Baptist North Adams is the hospice head of pastoral care and our own NBIAI Steering Committee member Corinne Case provides pastoral care and bereavement support. In fact, I first met Corinne at a bereavement group she ran in 2010.

This is an important topic, and even though I have dealt with this issue in my own immediate family more than once, I still learned things from Gloria’s presentation, which went on much longer than presented here.

She noted that though hospice has been around in this area since the 1970s, there is “still not good enough awarenss because it’s a difficut topic for people to want to talk about.”

Mark Lincourt moves on, but not too far

Mark Lincourt gets ready to drive the spot relief truck during the 2013 North Adams Letter Carriers Food Drive.

In other news, the Friendship Center Food Pantry continues to be busy. At times it seems like things are leveling off, at other times not so much.

This May, for instance, we served just 8 more households during the month than we did in May 2012. This June, however, we served 92 more households than last June.

A bittersweet development is that Mark Lincourt, a founding member of the Initiative, largely responsible for making the food operations of the pantry successful from the start, has moved on — but not far. He has started a new position as Network Capacity Coordinator for Berkshire County for the Food Bank of Western Mass. 

The good news is that we will be seeing a lot of Mark in his new role and possibly as special guest host of our Initiative cable TV show “In the Company of Friends.”

Taking over as food distribution coordinator and taking Mark’s seat on our nine-member Steering Committee is Rich Davis, who has ably helped run the food operation — and more — since the pantry opened.

This change will necessitate some adjustments. We need a handful of special volunteers to take on some vital behind-the-scenes tasks for the food pantry. We need a relief driver one or more Tuesdays a month to bring our food back from a depot in Pittsfield. 

We also are seeking volunteers to help clean the Friendship Center on weekends (vacuuming, mopping, dusting etc.).

If interested in either of these jobs, please call Mark Rondeau at 664-0130 or email him at

Rich Davis, center, at 107 Main St, hub of activity during the 2013 Letter Carriers Food Drive.

Thanks for reading all or part of this and God Bless,

Mark Rondeau