Berkshires Beat: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service

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The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service will look different this year throughout the county with COVID-19 altering annual cleanups and gatherings.
In North County, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, along with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and Williams College, will host the annual Community Day of Service on Jan. 18 from 9 am to 1 pm.
Activities will be socially distanced or virtual and include a canned food drive, mittens/socks/hats drive, a letter drive and card-making.
The Peacemaker Award Ceremony will be virtual.
Those interested in participating or volunteering can call the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition at 413-663-7588 or send an email to More information can be found at the Coalition's Facebook page,
In Pittsfield, Berkshire Community College (BCC) plans to hold its annual Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service event completely virtually on Jan. 18.
This event is co-sponsored by the Berkshire Branch of the NAACP.
 "We invite the community to join us for this annual event – the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr National Day of Service," Ellen Kennedy, President of the College said. "In light of all that is happening, this is a moment to engage in volunteerism.  To connect, to support and to engage to build a better future in the Berkshires. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said ‘Life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?' This day allows us to work together to answer that question."
The National Day of Service event begins at 9:00 a.m. with a virtual keynote speech by Dr. Chris Himes, author and educator, working with Miss Halls School. Afterward, participants will have an opportunity to connect and share with fellow community members through Zoom breakout rooms.
Participants will be able to give back to their community by choosing a service project, including:
  • Craft Valentine's Day cards and notes of appreciation for residents of Berkshire Healthcare Systems nursing homes;
  • Write letters of gratitude to deployed soldiers; or
  • Donate new face masks, new underwear for men and women, small hand sanitizer, disposable menstrual products, individual snacks, and K-cups (coffee) for the re-opened homeless shelter in Pittsfield.
Participants may also make a monetary donation to the homeless shelter on and select "Other" from the field "where would you like this gift directed" and then in the field "If other, please add your designation" and specify that it is for Berkshire County Services.
The drop off for cards, letters, and donations will be at the BCC Paterson Field House, at 1350 West Street in Pittsfield, at the West Paterson Gymnasium Doors, on Monday, Jan. 18, between 1:00 and 3:00 pm.
People heading to campus must fill out the Campus Request Form (found at for contact tracing, wear a mask, and follow social distancing guidelines.
FORUM credit is available for BCC students for attending the keynote and the community volunteering.
Also County wide, Berkshire Bounty, Berkshire United Way and Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires are collaborating to assemble and distribute 1,000 bags of nutritious canned and packaged food throughout Berkshire County to celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Monday, Jan. 18.
"When Berkshire Bounty approached us seeking help to organize volunteers to distribute healthy food, I thought it was the perfect service project for MLK Day. There are people still struggling and others who want to volunteer safely, and we are excited to use our volunteer center to coordinate this effort," said Candace Winkler, BUW CEO and president.
Financed by Berkshire Bounty, Berkshire Money Management and an anonymous donor, the food distribution will be countywide. Northern Berkshire United Way and Berkshire Community Action Council have identified individuals to receive the food. 
Guido's Fresh Marketplace has arranged for wholesale pricing and L.P. Adams Co., Inc. has offered their warehouse space for packing and transportation of the 19,000 pounds of food that was purchased.
Distribution will take place 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 18 at the Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires, 16 Melville St., Pittsfield. During those hours, volunteers will place a bag of food in each car. 
"This is a unique collaboration that will hopefully lead to further countywide programs for the benefit of all of Berkshire County's food insecure population," said Berkshire Bounty Co-Presidents Mark Lefenfeld and Jay Weintraub. 
Financial donations for future food distribution efforts are needed and can be made at
Volunteers will also deliver food to those who are not able to pick it up themselves. In addition, grocery bags will be provided to Price Memorial AME Zion Church, WIC/CHP, Claire Teague Senior Center and Volunteers in Medicine to distribute bags to their predetermined recipients. 
Grocery bag packing and distribution will take place in a safe, masked and socially distant manner. Sign up to volunteer at For questions, call Brenda Petell, BUW director of volunteer engagement, at 413-212-1431.
"We plan to get the word out through our many active food pantries, but word of mouth is important too," NPC Executive Director Liana Toscanini said.

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Toy Library Installed at Onota Lake

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Feel free to use or leave a toy at Onota Lake's newest infrastructure meant to foster community and benefit kids.

Burbank Park now has a toy library thanks to Wahconah Regional High School senior Alexandra Bills. Located along the wall at the beach area, the green and blue structure features two shelves with sand toys that can be used to enhance children's visits.

The Parks Commission supported Bills' proposal in February as part of her National Honors Society individual service project and it was installed this month. Measuring about 4 feet wide and 5.8 feet tall, it was built by the student and her father with donated materials from a local lumber company.

Friends and family members provided toys to fill the library such as pails, shovels, Frisbees, and trucks.

"I wanted to create a toy library like the other examples in Berkshire County from the sled library to the book libraries," she told the commission in February.

"But I wanted to make it toys for Onota Lake because a lot of kids forget their toys or some kids can't afford toys."

Bills lives nearby and will check on the library weekly — if not daily — to ensure the operation is running smoothly.  A sign reading "Borrow-Play-Return" asks community members to clean up after themselves after using the toys.

It was built to accommodate children's heights and will be stored during the winter season.

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