Saturday, May 11, 2013

Letter Carriers Drive a Smashing Success

Al Nelson with his running list of food received and when it arrived.

Letter carriers working from the North Adams Post Office serving North Adams, Clarksburg and Florida on Saturday, May 11, gathered a total of 15,150 lbs, of food. This exceeds last year’s total on the day of the drive, 10,500 lbs. by more than two tons.

More food is likely to come in during the first days of next week to increase the total amount collected in this very successful drive.

Totals in Northern Berkshire seem to be up overall. Preliminary totals indicate that some 5,500 lbs. was collected in Adams, up 800 lbs. from last year. In Williamstown, about 4,500 lbs. of food was collected and dividied between Sts. Patrick’s-Raphael Food Pantry and the Community Bible Church, up from about 3,000 lbs last year.

Al Nelson, co-organizer of the Interfaifaith Action Initiative (NBIAI), estimated that when late returns came in, the total from Northern Berkshire would be mre than 26,000 lbs. compared to about 21,000 lbs. last year.

It’s hard to say exactly what’s behind the increased donations, but special bags from Price Chopper combined with special high-quality canvas bags from the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition’s Mass in Motion program, in cooperation with the NBIAI, likely had something to do with this, as did the first-class multimedia effort to promote the drive in Northern Berkshire.

Of over 500 produced — though not all were given out — at least 180 of these bags were returned with food inside for the drive. Lois Hescock, a volunteer with NBIAI’s Friendship Center Food Pantry, is to be commended for distributing them at Village East on the Mohawk Trail, as that development had virutually 100 percent use of the canvas bags.

The most grateful thanks goes out to the letter carriers for their work with this project. One came back to the Friendship Center with literally a ton of food in his standard-sized mail truck. We were happy that several of the carriers came into our sorting area at 107 Main St. to share pizza and beverages provided through the support of the Northern Berkshire United Way.

This is the third year volunteers of the NBIAI’s Friendship Center have been involved in the drive.  This first year we did not know what we were doing and were seriously short of volunteers. This year we had a plentiful number of volunteers and due to a model system for sorting the food developed by Rich Davis and Mark Lincourt, we were able to get food sorted within a half hour of its arrival.

To provide some assistance on their routes, Mark Lincourt  again rented a U-Haul truck and with Phil Krutiak and Mark Rondeau, helped mail carriers with several locations in North Adams and at the Clarksburg School.

In all, more than 45 people volunteered to help sort the food at 107 Main Street over nearly eight hours, including volunteers of the Friendship Center, Salvation Army, and the Berkshire Dream Center. Food from the drive will go to each of these entities, though most will go to the Friendship Center as it serves the most people.

Volunteers included at least 6 young people who helped carry in food during one delivery and then left. We appreciate their support.

All in all this was a fun and productive event, which provides thousands of dollars worth of food, enough to keep the Friendship Center operating for a month.

Finally, we want to thank all of you who donated, without you  this would have not been possible. Thank you for helping us help our neighbors in need.

Here are some photos of how the day progressed:

Once our volunteers brought the bins in the door, the first task was to weigh them.

We had spaces reserved in front of 107 Main St. to unload the food from the trucks.

Stan Owczarski weighs a bin while North Adams Postmaster Joan Bates looks on and takes a photo.

Letter carrier Gary Ghidotti shows how much he can carry by various means.

Up at Rock Manor Park, Mark Lincourt and Phil Krutiak help the letter carrier with a large load of donated food.

Back at 107 Main St., a big pile of food builds up.

We gathered donations at Village East in a pouring rain, but thanks to Lois Hesock, everyone put their donations in our canvas bags. They are much easier to carry and so we did not have to pick them up in rain very long. I don't know why there is a smiling spider on the truck.

Here, Richard Markhan, Ruth Hansen of the Salvation Army, and Denise Krutiak, with bag in tront of face, sort food.

Stan with letter carrier Keith Howard.

Letter carrier Dick Dassatti and David Babcock, Eric Wilson, and Phil Krutiak.

Letter carrier Henry Bourdon, with Steve Smachetti, Al Nelson, and Phil Krutiak.

Eric Wilson and Erik Wobus help Fran Berasi and Ruth Hansen sort food.

Corinne Case (green shirt), husband Tim and one of their sons helped out.

Steve Green did a fine jobs keeping track of the weights of incoming food.

Pastor Dave Anderson, of First Baptist North Adams, stopped in to say hello with his daughter, Abby.

These four young people were curious about what we were doing and helped us unload this truck.

Some of the sorted food. We sorted it along two long lines of tables along each long wall, in boxes under labels for each type of food.

Rich Davis, the man who developed our system for sorting the donated food. To his right is Stuart Crampton, our treasurer.

Several of our local letter carriers are women. Unfortunately, I don't know this carrier's name.

Right before 6 p.m. the last truck arrived.

And, finally, I could not resist this one, the oldest donation we are aware of receiving on Saturday: A can of New England Clam Chowder with an October, 1994 expiration date —

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Catching up on some news


It's been a while since I've had the time to post any new developments with the Interfaith Action Initiative. Several great things have happened and several great things are coming up.

Letter Carrier Food Drive Saturday 

First, on Saturday, May 11, volunteers will gather at 107 Main Street in North Adams around noon to help sort all the food that will be collected by North Adams area letter carriers as part of the 2013 Letter Carriers Food. Come on down if you feel like helping out. 107 Main is an empty store front on the west side of the intersection of Eagle and Main Streets. This will be the third year that volunteers from the Friendship Center will sort the food.

The food drive was the topic of the May edition of the public access cable television program "In the Company of Friends" on Channel 15. We welcomed letter carrier Gary Ghidotti, North Adams Postmaster Joan Beck, Amanda Chilson of the Mass in Motion program, and Amber Besaw of The Family Place. The program, co-hosted by Mark Lincourt and Mark Rondeau, is shown on Channel 15 on Fridays at 5 p.m. and Mondays at 1 p.m.

The NBIAI and Mass in Motion cooperated to produce nice green canvas bags for people to put their donated food into — they both hold more and will be easier for the carriers to handle. Many were made available at St. Elizabeth Church, for instance, and were quickly snapped up. Mine already is full (photo) and ready to put on top of the park mailboxes Saturday morning. These are nice bags. Now let's see if they come back to us filled with food!

God willing, there will be plenty of photos from the Letter Carriers Food Drive toting and sorting operation in this space next week.

CROP Walk discussed at May Interfaith meeting

The next meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative (NBIAI) will be held on Friday, May 17, at 10 a.m. in the Eagle Street room of the First Baptist Church of North Adams. All are welcome.

At the meeting, we will start planning to hold a Northern Berkshire CROP Walk in the fall; we will critique our handling of our end of the Letter Carriers Food Drive; and we will continue our discussion of transportation of food to people and people to food. The meeting will begin with our usual time of silent prayer, faith sharing, and announcements.

April Interfaith Meeting well-attended

On Friday, April 19, some 23 people attended our “food summit” meeting, at which among other things we discussed preparations for the Saturday, May 11, Letter Carrier Food Drive in Northern Berkshire. Above, Bryce Babcock, of the Williamstown Community Church food pantry program, and letter carrier Dick Dassatti.

Amanda Chilson, of Mass in Motion (foreground), Kathy Keeser of Hoosac Harvest, and Michelle Sylvester of WIC attend the April NBIAI "food summit."


Food Bank Director Visits Friendship Center

On Wednesday, April 17, the Friendship Center Food Pantry welcomed Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Mass., located in Hatfield, (above right, with Stuart Crampton and Mark Lincourt, in the Eagle Street room at First Baptist Church, where we are checking people in these days) to see us in operation. He seemed very impressed, particularly by the large number of volunteers we had during our morning session! Below, he talks with Tony Pisano (at counter) in the Friendship Center Food Pantry itself.

Friendship Center takes part in Eagle Street Rising

On Friday, April 26, we were pleased to be present at the North Adams Public Library when two of our great volunteers, Fran Berasi and Rich Davis, graduated from the Coalition’s Community Outreach Worker program. The next day, the Friendship Center held an open house during MCLA’s Eagle Street Rising makeover of that venerable street.

We raised more than $45 in donations — mostly proceeds from the organizers generously arranged to be donated to us from the sale of coffee and donuts — gave several tours, were interviewed for both a newspaper (the MCLA Beacon) and a film documentary, and signed up two new volunteers. A productive three hours! 

Mayor Dick Alcombright, left, talks with Joe and Carol Manning, of Northampton. Joe is a great friend of mine who has written the classic books about North Adams "Steeples" and "Disappearing Into North Adams." Below, Jennifer Munoz takes a couple of the special food drive canvas bags while Bert Lamb looks on.

Two Groups We Love

I do not have nearly enough time to detail here all that our friends at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition have done for us in the three years of our existence. In fact, we owe our very existence to the Coalition, for we grew out of a Coalition monthly meeting on faith and the community. Now, on Tuesday, June 4, the Coalition at its 2013 Annual Meeting will honor the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative with its Hero Award. The event will be held at the Williams Inn in Williamstown. It will run from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. For more information, visit or call 663-7588.

The other group is the Berkshire Food Project that feeds those in need daily meals at the First Congregational Church of North Adams, serving many of the same people we see regularly at the Friendship Center Food Pantry. To see how to make a donation to support the BFP's work, visit 

Some Young Friends Visit

And finally, we were pleased to welcome in early April North Adams Girl Scout Troop 11097, which delivered 56 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to the Friendship Center Food Pantry. Thanks!

Thanks for reading this, and God Bless all of you,

Mark Rondeau