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Great Barrington blessed with its volunteer food service network

Great Barrington (and all of Berkshire County) is fortunate to have a very active, almost entirely volunteer food service network.

To the editor:

I was certainly bemused by Alan Chartock’s recent column detailing the various options for grocery shopping in Great Barrington: Price Chopper, the Big Y, Guido’s, etc. I’m sure town residents are reassured to learn that “we have a lot of very good options.” And moreover, this is “one of the things that makes Great Barrington ‘the best small town in America,” as if other similar sized towns didn’t have the same wonderful opportunities to shop.

But Dr. Chartock conveniently ignores the very real obstacles many of his neighbors face: food insecurity. There may be a Guido’s or a Price Chopper nearby, but what of those who can’t afford a week’s worth of groceries for a family of four? In fact, Berkshire Health Systems estimates that some 14,000 people in Berkshire County (a population double the size of the town of Great Barrington) “likely went to bed hungry last night.”

Yes, we have Guido’s and the Big Y and a few other smaller venues, as Alan points out. But more importantly, Great Barrington (and all of Berkshire County) is fortunate to have a very active, almost entirely volunteer food service network for those who are routinely unable to afford fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat, fish, baby formula, and a host of other household needs. The People’s Pantry, located at 5 Taconic Avenue at Saint James Place and Berkshire Bounty are just two of the many organizations (civic and religious) that provide all this and more thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers and staff. And they need to be recognized and supported.

Mark Lefenfeld and Jay Weintraub, for example, are to be commended for their tireless and ongoing work as co-presidents of Berkshire Bounty, organizing successful monthly food drives that provide venues such as The People’s Pantry and others with needed provisions. So too are the many folks throughout the county who dutifully and generously leave packages of pasta, soups, canned goods, and other needed food at their doorsteps each month for (also volunteer) drivers to pick up. Last month, Berkshire Bounty collected more than 900 pounds of food and other provisions.

Should anyone doubt the importance of these efforts or that these food supplies are needed, I would encourage them to visit (or better yet, volunteer) at The People’s Pantry, where twice a week folks of varying backgrounds and ethnicities line up an hour or so before opening in all sorts of weather to accept, graciously and with appreciation, what is available gratis for them and their families. The program has been run successfully for several years through the tireless efforts of Ann Hutchinson and Jenny Schwartz, who along with the aforementioned Messrs. Lefenfeld and Weintraub — as well as their army of volunteers — deserve mention in any column devoted to food “shopping” in Great Barrington, if not a medal!

In my view, this is what makes Great Barrington, and indeed all of Berkshire County,“great.”

Steve Rubin


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