Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Catching Up on News & Looking Forward

As the poster indicates, our Friday, Dec. 16, public meeting will focus on the outcome of the 2016 elections, particularly at the national level.

At our first Board of Directors meeting after the election, our Co-Director and Board Vice President read a reflection that said in part: 

“This is not the first time out country has been divided. ...Faith at its core is not about ignoring the state of the world around you or the challenges that lie ahead. Rather it's found in the perseverance in working to make what seems impossible, possible. And always, as scripture reminds us, our faith is judged by our treatment of those who society sees as the least of these. So, we all have work to do.”

As the poster indicates, the meeting will start at 10 a.m. at the Eagle Street Room of the Friendship Center at the First Baptist Church North Adams. All are welcome.

I am working to gain some information in advance of this meeting. Here are two interesting resources gathered so far: Loving your enemies during a Trump administration.  And a guide for fighting hate in your community. 

Our Volunteer Dinner on Dec. 4. 

Thanks to our new Volunteer Coordinator, Sheila Bounds, about 30 of us had a great Friendship Center Food Pantry volunteer dinner on Sunday, Dec. 4, at the 96 House in Williamstown.

Strange as it seems, that's only about two-thirds of our number of volunteers at any one time. Several of our most dedicated volunteers did not attend this event. We are, of course, an all volunteer

We had a great time with a great dinner. Thanks particularly to Sheila for organizing it!

                   Al Nelson at right with Susan and Bob Dubriel.

  Tracy Finnegan, Fran Berasi and Dan Bird.

Several but not all of us, lined up at the bar to get drinks.

Al Nelson in his rightful place at the head of the table!

A presence at the Holiday Walk

 Thanks to Anna Singleton, we receive an invitation to participate in the Williamstown Holiday Walk, specifically the non-profit fair in the Lasell Gym. Mark Rondeau and Dan Bird (pictured in the second photo) manned a table between BFAIR and the Williamstown Youth Center. It was quite an event and we raised $70 in donations and gave out some literature.


You can see how many people attended from this photo taken from the upper level jogging track. The second photo gives you a good view of Dan and of our table.


Some other recent highlights


Chip Joffe-Halpern, executive director of Berksire AHEC, former executive director of Ecu-Healthcare and Karen Baumbach, current director of Ecu-Healthcare, were the presenters at our October public interfaith meeting. They shared plenty of good information about the local healthcare scene. We did not have a public meeting in November.


 In November, all the departments of the City of North Adams again did a food drive for us, raising more than 900 lbs. That's Mayor Dick Alcombright on the left helping bring the food in. At right, is Rich Davis, Friendship Center Food Distribution Coordinator.


 Fran Berasi was again our judge at the Project 350 Oh, Be Thankful Apple Pie Contest at the North Adams American Legion. This event and efforts by the Gabriel Abbott School in Florida have benefited us and other non-profits the past several years. No more specifics to report at this time about this event.


 We have a prayer box at the Eagle Street Room each week, and we regularly pray as a group and as individuals for our food pantry friends - and others for that matter. Today I walked in to discover that someone had made us a new prayer box, right behind our sign. The old, original, reddish orange box can be seen behind it.


Thats all for now. God Bless,

 Mark Rondeau


Friday, September 16, 2016

Communication Across Barriers' and more!

That's Kim McMann, third from the left.

We had a great interfaith meeting today, with old friend Kim McMann, who many of you know from when she led Target Hunger in Northern Berkshire, speaking on the anti-poverty approach “Communication Across Barriers.” Among Kim's many qualifications, she is a certified speaker on this topic.

Her hour-long discussion was great and included some interpersonal exercises. Kim was a big help when we started the Friendship Center Food Pantry. It was great to see her again.

Linda Huebner, with Allan Dallman from the Food.

Our first speaker was Linda Huebner of the Yes on Question 3 campaign, which will be on the Massachusetts ballot in the November election. In short, it is intended to prevent the cruel confinement of farm animals. It also has food safety and environmental implications.

I intend to recommend to our Board of Directors at our next meeting that we officially endorse this campaign

In all, 13 people attend this, our first public meeting since the spring. Our next Interfaith meeting will be held on Friday, Oct. 21, at 10 a.m. at First Baptist. We don't have a topic yet, so let me know if you have an idea:

The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative monthly meetings are a time of prayer, fellowship and informational discussions and presentations.

The NBIAI and its Friendship Center Food Pantry are the work of people of different faiths and denominations working with others of good will to serve our community. For more information about this meeting or any of our activities, visit, call Mark at 413-664-0130 or call the Friendship Center at 413-664-0123.

Al Nelson enveloped in light, because I was too lazy to get up and take the photo from a different angle.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Friendship Center holds Open House - Updated

Today, Wednesday, Aug. 17, the Friendship Center Food Pantry held an Open House at its location, 45 Eagle Street, North Adams, during the annual North Adams Downtown Celebration. 

Earlier in the day, we served a total of 123 families in our morning and afternoon sessions. For the Open House, our recently installed Volunteer Coordinator, Sheila Bounds put out a beautiful spread for our visitors. Thanks to all who volunteered.

"We got some foot traffic, signed up some new volunteers and educated others about what we do," wrote our grants and computer wizard Fran Berasi in her weekly Wednesday report. "So all in all, a good day."

The original date for the Open House was last Wednesday, but it was cancelled, along with the Downtown Celebration, because of the threat of rain.

We invited to the Open House those we wrote to in our annual letter campaign for the Friendship Center Food Pantry. Everyone else was welcome, too.

Those who want to make a donation may make it out to the Friendship Center Food Pantry, 45 Eagle St., North Adams, MA 01247. All contributions are tax deductible through our parent organization, Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative Inc.

Our multi-tasking dynamo, Kevin Tyree, took these photos and we thank him!

 Anne Nelson and Sheila Bounds talk to an unidentified man.

Some visitors and some volunteers.

 Volunteer Ray Moore at the desk.

Dan Bird, Eagle Street Room foreman and much more

 Rich Davis, food distribution coordinator

 Some of volunteers, including Sharon May, at left in back, talk with a visitor.

 That's Fran Berasi at right behind the counter, talking with Anne Nelson.  At left is Bernadette "Bernie" Burdick from Florida Mountain.

 They also serve who only stand and wait...

 In back, Dan Bird; Dave Wesley, our treasurer; Al Nelson, co-founder, vice president and our conscience; Fran Berasi; Sheila Bounds, Sharon May; and Jessica the Frost Fairy; Seated: Anne Nelson and Bernie Burdick.

Much the same as before but with Kevin Tyree, front left, in front of the camera. Dan Bird probably took this photo.

That's Tuesday and Wednesday volunteer Jocelyn Barrett standing in back against the open door.

Rich Davis in this one.

Bob and Ruby Scott, two of our great evening shift volunteers.

Thanks to all and God Bless,

Mark Rondeau

Monday, April 18, 2016

Huge attendance at Food Insecurity follow-up meeting

 We had more than 20 people present, even before the E-3 Academy stopped by in their ongoing research into food insecurity!

We were very pleased that more than 30 people! attended our April 15 meeting to further the discussion of food insecurity.

Our first monthly meeting since last fall, we followed up the April 8 Northern Berkshire Community Coalition forum on food insecurity with a talk of our own on the subject, including recent trends in the number of participants, better coordination and cooperation among food programs, the response to the closing of Price Chopper, the Massachusetts Food Trust and more.

We had representatives present from the Berkshire Food Project, the food pantry at St. Patrick's in Williamstown, Berkshire Interfaith Organizing, the Berkshire Dream Center, the Letter Carriers Union, New Hope United Methodist Church, Williams College, the Family Center of Child Care of the Berkshires, Adult Basic Ed and several volunteers and board members of the Friendship Center.

We were joined about the half-hour mark by students and teachers of the E-3 alternative education program of the North Adams Public Schools. They are studying food insecurity and have come up with a cookbook using foods frequently available at the Friendship Center. We have mentioned these cookbooks here before but have not had many to give out; we hope to remedy this soon with the help of the program and offer them to our pantry members in the near future.

 Swiped this photo from the Berkshire Interfaith Organizing Facebook page, taken by BIO's associate organizer Jeff Lowenstein.

As usual, we will need plenty of volunteers on Saturday, May 14, to help gather, sort and weigh the food collected in the annual letter carriers food drive. The letter carriers of the North Adams Post Office collect it for the city, Clarksburg and Florida. The Friendship Center leads in the sorting process and we share the results with other programs. If you can help, call the Friendship Center at 413-664-0123 and leave a message.

Since we are getting back into the swing with meetings, we have scheduled another one for May. Our next public meeting will be on Friday, May 20, when Celeste Roeller Harp will make a presentation about the new Age Friendly Berkshires program. Our meetings are held at the First Baptist Church of North Adams, Eagle Street Room, beginning at 10 a.m. All are welcome.

Two more photos from Friday's great meeting: 


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Interfaith meeting continues food discussion on April 15

After a hiatus of several months, the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative will hold a public meeting on Friday, April 15, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams Eagle Street Room.

We will continue the discussion of food insecurity, the topic of the April 8, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition Forum. Topics on April 15 likely will include recent trends we've seen at the Friendship Center Food Pantry, the upcoming Letter Carrier Food Drive on Saturday, May 14, better coordination of the work of area food programs, the efforts in which we're involved to return affordable food sales in some form to the former Price Chopper store on State Road in North Adams, the Massachusetts Food Trust, and possible innovations in distributing food from the Friendship Center.

All are welcome to attend. Our meeting begin with a time of silent prayer and optional faith sharing. For more information, call Mark at
At the Coalition forum, volunteers held signs showing the different levels of food insecurity. Below, Abby Getman of the Food Bank showed 2010 census results about North Adams. The more red the area, the more poverty. Northeastern North Adams was one of the most red areas.

This food insecurity discussion will be even more interesting after what happened at the Coalition forum on Friday. Having examined 2010 U.S. Census data, the four representatives of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts present said there is a significant number of unserved people in North Adams. They are looking to get more food into the city.

For me, this raises a number of questions, and I hope we can discuss this at our April 15 meeting. Without going into much detail here, I will note that the number of households the Friendship Center Food Pantry serves each week peaked in 2014 into early 2015, then leveled off. In 2016, the number of households served per week has slipped to a notable extent.

For our April Board of Directors meeting, I went through our records and compiled this interesting statistic: Average number of household visits for the first 14 weeks of the year: 2012: 114. 2013: 143. 2014: 140. 2015: 151. 2016: 139.

Why this decline? An improving economy? People moving out of the area? We really don’t know. This said, I am sure we are missing some people, particularly shut-ins. This is why in March we have formed a sub-committee of the Board of Directors to examine how we can better help the homeless and the question of home deliveries for shut-ins.

The number of households served at the Friendship Center Food Pantry rose constantly from its opening in February, 2011, reaching a peak in 2014 (green line) and early 2015 (orange line). Since then, numbers have leveled off and dropped even more in the first few months of 2016.

Research is needed. Is the 2010 census adequate to 2016? Does the city, which does a census by mail every year, have better numbers, at least for population? Do we need to be open another day of the week? Can the Food Bank’s mobile food pantry help?

Is the stigma against receiving help overly operative in the city? How can we — and other groups, such as the Berkshire Food Project and the  Dream Center — get more food to people?

Please come to our discussion on Friday and help us figure this out. And, of course, there are other related topics on the agenda, such as the May 14 letter carrier food drive, the effort to get affordable and healthy food sales back to Price Chopper and better cooperation between area food programs.

Thanks and God Bless,


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Residents, groups seek meeting with Price Chopper Leadership

For Immediate Release

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. >> Berkshire Interfaith Organizing (BIO) is calling on Price Chopper Board Chairman Neil Golub to meet with representatives of the Brayton Hill development, BIO and other groups to discuss food sales at the site of a Price Chopper store that will close on Feb. 27.

The Schenectady, N,Y.-based Golub Corporation announced earlier this month that the store at 245 State Road, which has been open since 1959 and employed 57 people would close. The store is within walking distance of two low-income neighborhoods, Brayton Hill and the Greylock Valley housing project in North Adams.

Transportation to the other supermarkets in the city is problematic for residents without personal transportation. Indeed, walking downtown or to Stop & Shop in the West End during the winter can be dangerous.

Price Chopper at one time had two stores in North Adams, with one in the former North Adams Plaza on the Curran Highway. Price Chopper currently has stores in Pittsfield, Lenox and Lee in Berkshire County.

The focus of the meeting, organizers said, is to ensure continuing food sales in some form at the site.

Other groups involved with organizing the meeting include the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative, which runs the Friendship Center Food Pantry, the largest food pantry in North Adams. Leaders of that group are concerned that the area around the closing store will now become a “food desert” for those of limited means and transportation without continuing food sales at the Price Chopper site.

Berkshire Interfaith Organizing is part of a New England organizing network, with five other similar groups, called the InterValley Project. BIO consists of 16 congregations and groups throughout Berkshire County, including several in Pittsfield and south county.

“We are communicating with and working with local residents and consumers most directly affected by this closing,” said Rev. Mark Longhurst, pastor of First Congregational Church, Williamstown, and member of the BIO Executive Board. “We applaud the outplacement and other services Price Chopper is providing for its employees. However, we are concerned about continuing access to affordable and healthy food at this site after Price Chopper leaves.”

On its corporate website, the company states, “Price Chopper has an 80-year history of doing what is right in the communities we serve.”

Said Longhurst, “We would like more information about plans for the site. We are concerned about the impact this closing will have on the people in this part of North Adams. We are seeking a direct and meaningful discussion with Mr. Golub about the future of the site, particularly as it relates to food access.”

BIO is governed by an executive council made up of representatives from its 16 member congregations and groups in Berkshire County; it employs two community organizers and a communications specialist. Since November it has been headquartered at Shire City Sanctuary at 40 Melville St. in Pittsfield.

According to a press release on the Price Chopper website, Scott Grimmett became CEO of the Golub Corporation in January 2016. He reports to the board of directors through Neil Golub, who remains executive chairman.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Very Busy Wednesday, 5th Anniversary, Micah Awards Dinner

 This photo was taken earlier today at the Friendship Center Food Pantry around 1 p.m. after the big rush earlier had slowed down somewhat.

A Busy Day at the Friendship Center

Today, Wednesday, Jan. 27, was a very busy day at the Friendship Center Food Pantry. In the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. session we served 135 households and in the 4 to 6 p.m. session we served 60 households for a total of 195 for the day, our largest total by far this year. We added 4 new households and at least one new volunteer.

Our volunteers rose to the occasion, whether at the Eagle Street Room, at the food pantry or with the rides program. I asked and by about 1 p.m. we had given 21 rides!

Thanks to all of our great volunteers.

Friendship Center Food Pantry Will turn 5 years old

The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative (NBIAI) will observe its fifth anniversary in February.

It’s been an eventful five years since a bunch of food distribution novices – working with the advice of some real experts – served 27 households from our original space at 43 Eagle St. on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011. The following Wednesday, March 2, we served only 14 households, our all-time low. But numbers quickly picked up to the point that we have served more than 200 families on a Wednesday
several times.

Along the way, we have developed into a true Friendship Center, with access to numerous services available at our member intake point in the Eagle Street Room of the First Baptist Church of North Adams.

A formal observance of the food pantry's fifth anniversary has not been finalized yet. Please stay tuned for more information about this in the future. Meanwhile, there will be no third-Friday interfaith meeting in February.

But more than numbers, it has really been about the people. The many friends we’ve made, and those we’ve said goodbye to, also – both pantry members and volunteers.

The NBIAI is a group of people of different faiths and denominations working together with others of good will to serve our community. For more information about the NBIAI, call Mark at 413-664-0130 or email To contact the Friendship Center, call 413-664-0123.

Kathy Hrach accepts Micah Award


Kathy Hrach, right, accepts her award from BIO 2nd Vice President Moira Jones.

The NBIAI is a member of Berkshire Interfaith Organizing. BIO held its first annual Micah Awards Dinner on Sunday, Jan. 24.

BIO is working on food security and transportation issues. Each member group got to choose an honoree. Ours was Kathy Hrach. Kathy, a senior at Williams College, was our first ever intern over the summer. She helped set up and coordinate our volunteer rides home program and gave many rides for it. She also did several one on one conversations with our pantry members and was a go-between for us with BIO. Even as a very busy college student Kathy is still coordinating our rides program.

Here is a press release I wrote about the event, helpfully edited by Wendy Krom, BIO lead organizer and a friend:

Berkshire Interfaith Organizing honors unsung heroes

PITTSFIELD  -- Almost to the day that they held their Founding Convention a year before in the very same place, the faith-based activists of Berkshire Interfaith Organizing stopped to celebrate.

The 2016 Micah Awards Dinner, held at the former St. Mark’s School on Columbus Avenue on Sunday, Jan. 24, was yet another first for the group. Berkshire Interfaith 0rganizing is an interfaith group of clergy, congregations and regional affiliates who seek to make justice real in our communities.

Currently BIO’s focus is on issues of food security and transportation, with regular team meetings to set goals, discuss strategy and take action.  The group played a part in its first year in securing $2 million more in funding for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Program, which provides goods for food programs throughout the state.

Building community and developing priorities through-one-to-one conversations, BIO concentrates on relationship building and leadership development, as well as systemic community change.

Nearly 300 people packed the auditorium at St. Mark’s to pay tribute to nominees chosen from among the members of 12 of its 16 member groups. Including a college student, a college professor, retirees, two nuns and more, all the nominees have made their mark through active service. They were chosen because they help exemplify the verse from the book of Micah from which the dinner gets its name: “The Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.”

The groups and their nominees: Cathedral in the Night, Pittsfield: its volunteers; Congregation Beth Israel, North Adams, Ed Oshinsky; Congregation Knesset Israel, Pittsfield: Cindy Tatalovich; First Church of Christ, Pittsfield: Grace Hutchins, posthumous award; First Congregational Church, Dalton: Leslie Hazelton; First Congregational Church, Williamstown: Carolyn Behr; Lee Congregational Church, Lee: Judy Morehouse; Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative: Kathy Hrach; Sisters of St. Joseph: Sr. Kathryn Flanagan and Sr. Barbara Faille; South Congregational Church, Pittsfield: Mary Wheat; St. Mark Catholic Church, Pittsfield: Dick Murphy; St. John’s Episcopal Church, Williamstown: Jim Mahon; St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Pittsfield: Joan Evans.

Given that food security plays such a strong role both in BIO’s activism and in the extensive volunteerism of so many of the Micah Award nominees, it seemed appropriate that its members and guests gathered together for a meal, prepared by chef Robin Lenz, of St. John’s Episcopal Church, herself an active volunteer. Donations of food and supplies were made by BJ’s Wholesale, Guido’s Fresh Marketplace and Mazzeo’s Meats.

Before, during and after the awards program, members from the various congregations freely mingled, exchanging hugs, handshakes and stories. Though in different congregations or groups, many attendees have known each other for years and over time have volunteered for the same programs or attended community workshops together. And in a year plus of BIO, these bonds have only grown, through meetings and numerous activities, such as in numerous community organizing trainings or a
trip to Boston and the Statehouse that two vanloads of BIO activists took in September.

Berkshire Interfaith Organizing is part of a New England organizing network, with five other similar groups, called the InterValley Project, “Organizing for Justice in New England and the Nation.”

BIO is governed by an executive council made up of representatives from its member congregations and groups; it employs two community organizers and a communications specialist. Since November it has been headquartered at Shire City Sanctuary at 40 Melville St. in Pittsfield.

For more information about BIO, call Wendy Krom, Lead Organizer, at 413-464-1804, or email:

Her are the 2016 Micah award recipients. Sitting to Kathy's right is Ed Oshinsky, who has volunteered with us as a truck driver in the past; to her left is Jim Mahon, who is board president of the Berkshire Food Project. In the back row, third from left is Carolyn Behr of Williamstown who helped us greatly with two clothing sales and whose husband, Bob, volunteers at the Friendship Center.