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Sue Bush
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A Gem Of A Program: Berkshire Food Project

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Monday, November 20, 2006

Mayor John Barrett III carried a plate-laden serving tray from the church kitchen accompanied by First Congregational Church Pastor Jill Graham.
North Adams -There were many volunteers on hand during today's Berkshire Food Project Thanksgiving dinner, including city Mayor John Barrett III.

Barrett donned a black apron and, accompanied by First Congregational Church Pastor Jill Graham, helped load heaping plates of food onto large serving trays and then served the plates to those seated within the church's community gathering area.


A volunteer team prepared plates heaped with Thanksgiving dinner favorites.
He was greeted by smiles and thanks from dozensof diners as he walked along rows of tables and passed out plates.

Nutritious, Tasty Meals

Western Massachusetts Food Bank executive Director Andrew Morehouse and "Target Hunger" representative Helen Harrison assisted with serving duties as well. Morehouse and Harrison delivered kudos to food project Executive Director Valerie Schwarz. Schwarz offers a free lunch three times a week at the church and the meals are much appreciated and anticipated by many area residents.

"[Schwarz] is fantastic," Harrison said. "These meals help a lot and one thing I've been impressed with is that the food is nutritious and the meals are great, very tasty."

Dignified Service

Hunger is neither crime nor character flaw, said Morehouse. The Berkshire Food Project volunteers treat those who come to eat with respect, he said.

Berkshire Food Project volunteers Buffy Walker-Dagesse and Doris Sewall mashed and buttered turnip meant for the BFP's Thanksgiving dinner.


"I was just mentioning to Mayor Barrett that this program is really a gem," Morehouse said. "We look to programs like this to help us with our work. And we share Valerie's commitment to making emergency food a dignified service."

Volunteers worked diligently to prepare and cook the meal. Expectations were that about 120 people would share the meal, and about 110 pounds of turkey was roasted so that no one would go without, Schwarz said.

Peeled By Hand

The Florida Mountain turnips donated by Olie Oleson were hand peeled. Butternut squash was donated by the Caretaker Farm in Williamstown and the food bank; the squash was prepared by hand as well, Schwarz said. Mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, black and green olives, and pumpkin pie topped with whipped topping were also served, along with stuffing made from Schwarz's mother's home-style recipe.


Food Project Executive Director Valerie Schwarz helped her granddaughter Vanessa "Beanie" Lesage, 4, mix vegetables prior to serving the dinners.
Project Assistant Director Linda Palmer staffed a flower-laden table that held beverage selections. The project is a wonderful mechanism for socialization, she said.

"I really enjoy the meals," she said. "I meet a lot of very nice people."

Helping Ease Hunger

Morehouse noted that many communities throughout Western Massachusetts offer meals programs that are founded on the idea of sit-down dining and socialization. One of the largest programs is called "Open Pantry" and operates in a Springfield-based church basement seven days a week.

"We're fortunate in this part of the state that we have volunteers willing to do this," he said. "People do this depending on how many volunteers they have, the population, the available space."

"It all helps with hunger."

The Berkshire Food Project was founded in 1987 by a group of Williams College students. Elizabeth Wheeler, a former pastor of the First Congregational Church, offered church space for cooking and serving the meals.

The project serves about 15,000 meals yearly. Meals are offered on Monday, Thursday, and Friday, with seating beginning at 11:30 a.m.and serving beginning at noon.

Food Project Board of Directors member Kelli Kozak tackled the final prepartion of a large pot of butternut squash.


The project is funded via a North Adams Human Services Commission grant, an annual public appeal, private contributions, the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, the United Way, the James and Robert Hardman Foundation, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, and the Western Massachusetts Food Bank.

Additional information about the food project may be acquired at a www.berkfoodproj.org Internet web site or by calling Schwarz at413-664-7378.
Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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