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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Berkshire Share Needs Help

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, September 11, 2005

North Adams – The high cost of vehicle fuel has left the Berkshire Share food program in need of some financial assistance.

Project Serving Local Families

The non-profit organization provides food packages, called “bundles,” to about 150 Northern Berkshire region families and about 400 individuals, said Nelson Ogert, who directs the local chapter with his wife Crystal.

Food must be picked up in Hatfield, Mass. and then transported back to the food project’s St. John’s Episcopal Church headquarters, Ogert said. Until mid-summer, the monthly trip was costing the agency about $80 per month, but increasing fuel costs have jumped food junket costs to a little over $100, Ogert said.

And with a 12-month budget of $2,300, the increase is devouring program revenues.

Crystal and Nelson Ogert said that the group must generate about $800 to continue with the program through year’s end.

The group has applied for a city human services grant and is waiting to hear if they will receive grant funds. Any funds from a city grant would not be available until 2006, Crystal and Nelson Ogert said.

Transportation Issues

At one point, a National Guard vehicle was being used for the trip and the food program paid fuel costs. Nelson Ogert was driving the vehicle, but due to liability concerns, the group lost use of the truck. Ogert said that a rented Ryder truck was then used but those costs proved too much for the agency budget. A private individual has allowed use of a pick-up truck and 12-foot trailer, and charged $50 plus fuel costs for the trip. But pulling a loaded truck-and-trailer over mountainous highways has become a costly endeavor with current fuel prices, he said.

“The loaded truck gets far less miles per gallon,” Ogert said. “With the price hikes, the trip has gone up to $100 and we’ll probably be asked for more.”

The group also pays a fee for the project’s food supplies to be delivered to Hatfield.

Berkshire Share is not a free food program. Participants must agree to devote two hours of community service a month to qualify for food packages that are sold at prices 40 to 50 percent below supermarket prices.

Food packs are designed for a family of four, and one bundle contains four or five kinds of meat, 5 lbs. of potatoes, 1 lb. of onions, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. The program also offers “specials;” a recent special offering was a three-pound cooked turkey pre-sliced into quarter-inch slices for $9. Other specials include 30 ounces of Plumrose brand barbecue ribs for $12 and six 8-ounce sirloin strip steaks for $18. Meat-only food packs are also available on a regular basis.

The couple assumed the reins of the program in fall 2004, and at that time, about 48 family-style food packages were being picked up and distributed on a regular basis, Crystal Ogert said. That number has nearly quadrupled, and more people have discovered the benefits of the program. Ogert said that as vehicle fuel and heating fuel costs rise, more folks are calling to inquire about joining the food initiative.

Early Morning Endeavor

The food pick-up and distribution process begins very early in the morning, with a few volunteers meeting at the K-Mart Plaza parking lot. The workers travel to Hatfield, and the food is loaded onto the truck and trailer. At about 7:30 a.m., other volunteers gather at the church and a conveyor belt is set up. The truck arrives at the church close to 8 a.m., and the food is unloaded and assembled into bundles. Those who have ordered food packages begin arriving later in the morning to place future orders and pick up their bundles.

Food bundles are delivered to residents of the Ashland Street elderly high-rise apartment building, and Crystal Ogert said that she and Nelson Ogert also deliver food bundles to people who are unable to retrieve the packages from the church.

50/50 Raffle

Food project workers are gearing up for a fundraiser to benefit the project. Tickets for a 50/50 raffle will be available at the Children’s Fair scheduled for Sept. 25 at the Western Heritage Gateway State Park, and will also be sold at the Wal-Mart on Curran Highway on Sept. 16.

Crystal Ogert said that program officials expect to hear from many more families and individuals as the winter approaches. Because there are no imcome guidelines or restrictions, the food plan is open to anyone willing to fulfill the community service requirement. Those who have relocated to the area from the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast may want to investigate the program, she noted.

"This is great food and it really does help out a lot of people," she said. "With the way people are talking about the winter, I really don't know how families are going to make it. This could really help out a lot."


Berkshire Share is an affiliate of the Serve New England organization.

Information about Berkshire Share is available by calling the office at 413-664-7400 on Thursdays between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.. Information about Serve New England is available at a www.servenewengland.org Internet web site.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net or at 802-823-9367.
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