Saturday, September 6, 2014

Forging Ahead on All Fronts

The green line shows the number of household visits per month in 2014 to the Friendship Center Food Pantry. We’re busier than ever.

In this post: RX/Heroin addiction topic of Sept. 19 meeting; Letter Campaign Underway; LEAD Academy Visits; Recent Public Meetings; Volunteer Appreciation; Who We Are

Important Topic for our Sept. 19 meeting

The next public meeting of the Interfaith Action Initiative will be held on Friday, Sept. 19, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. All are welcome. Our guest will be Lois Daunis, chairwoman of the NB21 North Adams/RX Heroin Workgroup.

The meeting will be held in the Eagle Street Room. All are welcome to attend.

She will speak about the scope of the scope of the RX/Heroin issue in Northern Berkshire.

Lois is the grants manager for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. She and her husband, Mike, are also the landlords of 43 Eagle Street, home of the Friendship Center Food Pantry. They have been extremely generous to us over the years and continue to be so.

I am a member of the NB21 North Adams/RX Heroin Workgroup and it has done and is doing some important work. 

Upcoming on Tuesday, Sept. 30, from 7 to 9 p.m. will be a Candlelight Vigil at Noel Field in North Adams. The purpose of this will be to increase awareness of the disease of addiction, get resources to help someone currently addicted, provide a place for healing and remembrance for those who have lost a loved one due to a drug-related incident and celebrate the recovery of local residents.

Letter Campaign Underway

Mark Rondeau, Corinne Case and Al Nelson, all board members of the NBIAI, film “In the Company of Friends” on the topic of the need for funds to feed our Friends.

The NBIAI at the end of August began its annual letter fundraising campaign for The Friendship Center Food Pantry. 

Many of you who are reading this may already have received a letter in the mail asking for a monetary donation to support the food pantry, which serves residents of North Adams, Clarksburg and Florida.

Those who do not receive a letter but who would still like to make a tax-deductible donation, may make checks payable to The Friendship Center Food Pantry and send them to 43 Eagle St.. North Adams, MA 01247.

Need as expressed in the number of people showing up at the pantry every Wednesday is steadily increasing. In August, the Frienship Center Food Pantry served 163, 154, 189 and 198 households on successive Wednesdays. We served an average of 143 households per Wednesday in August 2013. This August we averaged 176 households per Wednesday.

In addition to increasing numbers, we also are facing some increasing expenses. None of our expenses are for salaries or any type of compensation, however  — we remain an all--volunteer organization.

Our mailing includes both a letter and on the back of it an information sheet.  Here are some of the infomation points that it contains:

• The Friendship Center Food Pantry is operated by members of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative (NBIAI), a group of volunteers, including people of faith and others of goodwill, seeking ways to serve our community. It was formed in May 2010. In our service activities we strive to reach out to our sisters and brothers with respect and affection. This is why we call our food pantry/headquarters “The Friendship Center.” 

• In 2013 we served 1,064 different households representing 3,423 different individuals, one-third who are children under 18. We distributed 230,000 pounds of food. The pantry is open to anyone in need living in North Adams, Clarksburg and Florida, Mass., but we never turn anyone away. We are members of the Western Massachusetts Food Bank, which provides free government food and other food at good prices. Our monthly average spent on food is around $3,800.  

• Due to limited space (800 square feet) at the pantry site, we have been using the Eagle Street Room of the First Baptist Church of North Adams as an intake center every Wednesday. From there, our members go down to the pantry as space permits. 

• Use of the Eagle Street Room has allowed us to partner with Berkshire Medical Center to provide a nurse to our members nearly every Wednesday. In addition, Goodwill, the Food Bank of Western Mass., the Family Place, WIC, Louison House and other programs regularly are present to offer their free services to pantry members.

Just within the last month or so, we have added to this list The Elizabeth Freeman Center and Childcare of the Berkshires.

Keeping the shelves full takes money as well as volunteer power. 

MCLA LEAD Academy Visits

Here are the students from the MCLA Lead Academy who volunteered during the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 6. They were a joy to have around.

For the fourth year, the Friendship Center Food Pantry was pleased to welcome students from the MCLA LEAD Academy, an introductory training program for especially motivated new students. 

On Monday, Aug. 4, we welcomed two groups of the new students. Al Nelson, Rich Davis and Mark Rondeau explained the NBIAI and the operations of the food pantry to them.

Then, on Wednesday, Aug. 6,  a smaller group of the students came and helped us on pantry day. They were a special help that Wednesday, because we did not have access to the Eagle Street Room for our visiting friends to sign in.

As I wrote on Facebook, these students were a joy to have around, and it’s great to have them in North Adams for their college studies.

Here are the two groups of students from the MCLA Lead Academy who visited the Friendship Center on Monday, Aug. 4.

Recent Meetings

The Rev. Jennifer Gregg, of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Pittsfield, presented on “Coping in a Chaotic World” at our June public meeting.

It’s time to catch up on our public interfaith meetings over the summer. In June, the Rev. Jennifer Gregg, of St. Stephen’s Church in Pittsfield, presented to us for a second time. At our suggestion, she addressed the topic “Coping in a Chaotic World.” 

She offered us insights from Margaret Whately on science and chaos theory and human interaction. Rev. Jen always goes above and beyond and we greatly appreciate her presentations.

At the July NBIAI public meeting, we welcomed State Rep. Gail Carriddi, who informed us on many aspects of what’s been going on with the Legislature. This included the recent state minimum hike to the highest in the nation, $11 by 2017. Gail also talked about funding for food. This was one of our best attended recent events, with 18 people present. Gail was very gracious to come and happy to answer everyone’s questions.

State Rep. Gail Cariddi, in striped shirt, spoke on many topics at our July Interfaith public meeting.

Volunteer Appreciation

Photo taken toward the end of the well-attended volunteer appreciation pot luck at Joan and Stan Owczarski’s home in North Adams on Aug. 21

On Thursday, Aug. 21, Stan and Joan Owczarski hosted a covered dish supper at their home in North Adams. It was a great and well-attended event. One of the best things was it helped introduce those who usually volunteer during the pantry 10 to 2 shift with those who volunteer 4 to 6 p.m. There’s not a lot of overap. And then we have the Tuesday crew, who help bring the food up from the depot in Pittsfield. 

The food was great, the fellowship enjoyable. Tuesday and Wednesday volunteer Kevin Tyree met his ALS ice bucket challenge (video of which you can find on our Facebook page) and others did it, too, including Stan.

Stan has served as our new volunteer coordinator for several months now. It’s also worth mentioning the great work of our interim treasurer Fran Berasi. In addition to handling and coordinating the tasks of treasurer, Fran has led in the integration of our pantry records of friend visits into the Oasis system database.

Fran has also been training other desk volunteers in the use of the system and has been working at both shifts for the past several weeks.

Hats off to Stan and Fran and all the rest of our great volunteers.

Who We Are

Some of this information is above, but in case you missed it....

The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative is a group of people of different faiths and denominations working with others of good will to serve our community. We operate the Friendship Center Food Pantry at 43 Eagle St. in North Adams. We also manage an emergency voucher system through various sites in Northern Berkshire. We organize an interfaith service for mental illness recovery and understanding each year.

We also have a television show, “In the Company of Friends,” on NBCTC cable access channel 15

Our public meetings are held the third Friday of every month at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams (use Eagle Street entrance). All are welcome. 

For more information, check out our Facebook page at or call Mark Rondeau at 413-664-0130.

Thanks for Your Interest and God Bless,