Officer Darren Derby donates $300 to Jess Rufo's oatmeal program. The money was given directly to the Christian Center.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — One of Pittsfield's favorite coffeehouses is showing some love to local unsheltered folks through the warm embrace of oatmeal.
Dottie's Coffee Lounge has begun a program in partnership with the Christian Center that donates one bowl of oatmeal to the organization for every bowl sold.
"I honestly think it's the job of the local coffee shop to bring the community together and to serve the community," owner Jess Rufo said. "Serving the community doesn't mean just serving coffees to the people who walk through our doors it means being in service to the community outside of our doors."
This came in harmonious time with the opening of a daytime warming shelter at the Christian Center and has increased oatmeal sales at the coffee shop by about 300 percent, surpassing the original goal for oatmeal donations.
"It was definitely meant to be," Rufo said.
Oatmeal has been on Dottie's winter menu for a long time. Rufo was recently brainstorming ways to make positive change in the community and realized the inexpensive, nutritious, and easy to prepare in bulk item would be perfect for the job.
Being at the heart of downtown Pittsfield and next to the St. Joseph's homeless shelter, the coffee shop sees a lot of interaction with unsheltered individuals.
"There have been just so many heartbreaking repercussions within our community and beyond obviously, since the pandemic," Rufo said, adding that one consequence Pittsfield faces is the increase in homelessness.
Rufo said her interactions with these folks influenced her drive to help, especially after seeing people wandering the streets and assuming they hadn't had a hot meal.
She felt uneasy when the coffee shop had to require a key for the bathrooms because of problematic events and wanted to find a way that she could productively benefit the unsheltered.
In the shadow of that, Rufo also wants to promote challenging any subconscious fears the public may have about homeless individuals and instead promote compassion and in general "doing better."
She wasn't sure how to approach this idea so she posted on social media and was directed to the Christian Center, which contacted her quickly and laid out for a program that would work.
Initially, they planned on doing 25 oatmeals twice a month, but the public interest in oatmeal has produced "far more than that."
In addition, Dottie's received $280 in cash donations and a $300 donation from Police Officer Darren Derby's community outreach nonprofit. Rufo instructed Derby to donate the $300 to the Christian Center, overwhelmed with appreciation. Rufo said anyone interested in donating funds should do so directly to the center and, of course, they can stop and buy and oatmeal.
"The community response has been positive, sales have increased dramatically, and I think people are excited at the opportunity to contribute in some way," she said. "And I think that says a lot, people want to help out, people want to contribute, they're not really sure how to, and if you make it easy enough then they'll do it."
Over the summer, Dottie's also contributed to efforts in line with the Black Lives Matter movement, reopening for a day to sell coffees that 100 percent benefited the Berkshire Bridges non-profit organization and selling Black Lives Matter face masks to benefit the NAACP.
"I think we were all feeling really helpless and unsure of how we could contribute and help if not nationally definitely in our community," Rufo said about the fundraisers.
Rufo said every time a charitable opportunity arises it is not premeditated, but seems like the right thing to do at the moment. She feels fortunate to own an establishment whose food has always translated well to a box and feels for eateries who are just staying above water in COVID-19 times.
"I am a very modest person when it comes to my business," Rufo said. "I don't think of it as this diamond in Pittsfield that everyone is looking at so intently, it's just the place that I go to work every day and I try really hard to do a good job."
Dottie's should give back, she said, because it is in the position to do so.
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — This week's Veteran Spotlight subject is retired Army Sgt. Maj. Michael King, who now leads the Berkshire Veteran Outreach Center.
King grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and served his country from 1993 to 2015. He enlisted at the age of 18 and was sent to basic training at Fort McClellan, Ala.
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King's first assignment was at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where he served in law enforcement as an military police officer. From there, King was assigned to the former Johnston Island Air Force Base — 800 miles southwest of Hawaii — that is now a wildlife preserve.
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