Tony Gibson, second from right, with representatives from the Christian Center and the Latter-day Saints on Thursday morning.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Linden Street was lined with about 40,000 pounds of food Thursday morning to feed local families thanks to an initiative that trying to make a positive change from a negative situations.
Facilitated by the Black 14 activism group, the Christian Center received the goods from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquarters in Utah. It will be distributed to around 20 local organizations that serve hungry community members.
Executive Director Betsy Sherman said this is a celebration for the center, as it will allow them to provide food for more families in a time of great insecurity.
"Food is extremely expensive and people cannot afford it. I mean, I have sticker shock when I go to the market," she explained.
"So for our families, and by the way, our numbers have gone up by about 60 percent prior to the pandemic, that means that we order more food from the food bank but they're also suffering a shortage."
The Black 14 began in 1969 when 14 student-athletes from the University of Wyoming football team were kicked off for requesting to participate in a peaceful protest by the Black Students Alliance during a game against the church-run Brigham Young University. The protest was against the Mormon church's tenet at the time that prevented Black Americans from becoming priests. This racial exclusion ended in 1978.
One of the surviving 11 members, Tony Gibson, is a Pittsfield native. He chose The Christian Center for a similar food delivery in 2020.
More than 50 years later, the former student-athletes have joined forces with the Latter-day Saints to make positive change in the community.
Gibson said the group is making a "positive out of a negative."
"What could make you feel better than helping somebody?" he asked. "So that’s what we get out of it, to help somebody that needs some help, that isn’t as lucky as you are in life maybe and is struggling right now."
Since the remaining Black 14 are scattered across the country, there have been donations in several states.
Christopher George, the church's regional welfare and self-reliance manager, explained that a lot of the produce is grown and harvested on church farms. The donation includes a range of foods from vegetables and fruit to packaged items.
The Latter-day Saints have worked with the activist group on multiple projects including the 2020 food donation.
"One of our biggest things is that we focus a lot on growing food to be able to give away to those that are in need," George said.
Volunteers from the community flocked to the center to help unload the food and the city's highway department assisted with a forklift and crew members.
Sherman reported that more than 100 families routinely come for food on Wednesday nights and there are more children than before.
"For a long time our client population seemed to be some school-aged kids and teenagers but a lot of elderly people," she said. "And we still see them but I know our number of families has increased radically."
Food Director and Resource Coordinator Karen Ryan seconded this.
"I’m extremely grateful. I'm excited," she said. "I think that our numbers have increased and so I think this is going to be a great opportunity for us to feed people in the community."