By Tammy Daniels
01:11AM / Tuesday, January 28, 2020
Three generations of volunteers with Linda Palumbo, left, Cindy Bolte, Alicia Rondeau and Cassandra Shoestack.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Five days a week a troop volunteers helps the small staff of the Berkshire Food Project feed hundreds of people.
On Monday night, the tables were turned.
More than 30 volunteers and attending family members were served up a choice of beef wellington and potato, salmon and rice, or a vegetarian meal, along with appetizers, dessert and beverages.
"Just from 2018 to 2019, [we served] 10,000 more meals, right, a 28 percent increase in 2019. So the numbers on the stove, same amount of counterspace. The only thing that changed is the capacity of our volunteers. So thank you, guys," said Executive Director Kim McMann.
McMann said she hoped the increase wasn't an indication of need but rather that the food project has been listening to the community's needs.
"What we think happens, is we're getting way better at hearing what people are telling us, and what they're asking for, and we're getting way better at being able to have it," she said. "And so we're really happy that no matter what happens when people come in, we don't turn people away ever, we're able to give people what they need to take home."
That's mean making sure there were vegetarian options, and servings without onions, and the right containers for people to take home meals.
"We've been working really hard to hear what people are needing and wanting and then meeting that need," McMann said.
The volunteers have been crucial in making that happen, she said, and thanked them for rolling with the changes the organization has implemented — some of which have worked and some that have not.
She reminded them how there had been some pushback when they'd been asked to log their hours, thinking it wouldn't work. But now BFP has solid data on how many hours its volunteers are putting in — more than 10,000 hours last year.
"You know what that does when you're applying for a grant and they say did your community support you?" McMann said. "Oh, we have data to show! We're sure the community likes us but you know what, we have data that will tell you that every month, 800 to 1,000 hours are spent volunteering."
Patrick Hernandez was recognized for putting in 784 hours last year, the most of any volunteers. McMann said he was always able and willing to help out and participate in food project activities.
"I think Patrick even surprised himself when he ended up on stage at a public forum, talking about food insecurity and I was just so impressed," she said. "And so amazed that that was our Patrick up there."
Hernandez said he started volunteering a few years ago.
"It's good work. What I like, I think the word is camaraderie," he said, adding that there's a sense of teamwork in which volunteers are willing to pitch in and take over when they see someone else struggling.
Paul King said it was different being on the other side of the serving table.
"It's different, but it was very enjoyable. Really enjoyed that and the food was great," he said. "So was the company," his wife, Susan, added. "It was really lovely meeting all these people."
The retired King said he was drawn to the food project about six months ago, looking for a way to give back to the community they had moved to a few years ago.
"I looked up different things and found out about this food program now," he said. "I'm talking to the director and the next thing I know, I'm volunteering, so yeah, I like it. I like it lot."
Volunteering is a generational tradition for Linda Palumbo's family. She put in more than 600 hours, her daughter Alicia Rondeau almost 600 and her granddaughter, Cynthia Bolte, more than 300. Palumbo's other daughter, Cassandra Shoestock, was also a more frequent volunteer but only drops in now and again since moving to Vermont.
Almost in unison, they said the dinner was, "really, really good."
Palumbo says she's there pretty much every day since retiring, although she still works part time. She also volunteered at a nonprofit food program in the state of Florida for four years.
"People don't realize how lucky they are to have this place there," she said. "There aren't too many places like this."
The guests were fed by staff and by a number of non-regular volunteers who heeded a call from McMann. They also received a letter noting the number of hours they had volunteered and a T-shirt. Hernandez also received a framed picture of his participation in the poverty forum.
Board President James Mahon said the dinner was just a small way to say thank you for their efforts in serving 45,000 meals last year. He also recognized First Congregational Church, which has provided the food program a home since 1986, and its congregants who have also volunteered.
The volunteers and their hours:
Patrick Hernandez (784 hours)
Bob Simons (696 hours)
Linda Palumbo (635 hours)
Alicia Rondeau (589 hours)
Ralph & Geralyn Lesure (468 hours)
Jeff Page (430 hours)
Marianne Bailey (385 hours)
Erika Uchman (385)
Cindy Bolte (322 hours)
Gary Cellana (322 hours)
Caitlyn Johnson (304 hours)
Carolyn Toomey (218 hours)
Valerie Dickinson (191 hours)
Kathryn Benson (177 hours)
Sandra King (163 hours)
Elaine Durant (156 hours)
Kevin Netti (142 hours)
Kenyon Brooks (140 hours)
Joan Rubel (132 hours)
Tom Leamon (125 hours)
Chris Bonner (124 hours)
Priscilla Tracy (119 hours)
Bill Svrluga (115 hours)
John Denley (112 hours)
Jennifer Peabody (107 hours)
Cassie Shoestock (106 hours)
Sue Denley (102 hours)
Goodveig Baarli (100 hours)
Helen Fortier (100 hours)