Giving Tuesday might have passed, but there's still time to support the Berkshire Amistad project.
The charitable effort was formed in 1995 by Pittsfield resident Eddie O'Toole and his family, who have dedicated their lives and resources to improving the quality of life for residents of Central America. They first focused on the town of Guaimaca, Honduras, and expanded their efforts to support the Pittsfield Sister City of Malpasillo, Nicaragua, and residents in the Honduran city of La Esperanza.
Berkshire Amistad collects and donates equipment, building materials, school supplies and other resources to these communities by leveraging the traffic of shipping containers that bring bananas from Central America to supermarkets here in Berkshires.
Knowing that those containers have to return to Honduras and other Central American countries to be packed with bananas again and again, O'Toole decided that they shouldn't have to go back empty.
So he formed the nonprofit Berkshire Amistad, negotiated a charity rate and fills 40-foot containers whenever he can get them to make a stop in a West Stockbridge industrial yard that O'Toole works from. The catch is keeping with the driver's schedules, meaning that he typically only has a four-hour window to move supplies into the container.
The group will be working this Saturday and again Dec. 9, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the work site, 186 Great Barrington Road (Route 41), which is about 3 miles south of the Interstate 90 connector. Volunteers are greatly needed to help take inventory, and lift and move things. Smaller items for donation also are being accepted.
"In this case," O'Toole said, "first we will fill the container with 100 school desks donated by St. Joe's High School. We will fill the empty spaces around those desks with small theater lights, also from St. Joe's, and desk lamps and fans donated by Berkshire School.
"We also pack clothing, shoes, sports equipment in small bags to fit in all those small spaces around the desks," he said. "To do this takes two things: a lot of clothes and shoes, and a lot of help to actually load the container."
Other donated items ready to be shipped include filing cabinets, dental chairs, sewing equipment and more. The container that will arrive the following week will be loaded with 20 hospital beds collected over the past six months and then more hospital equipment donated by Berkshire Medical Center, along with community-donated carpentry and ceramics equipment, wheelchairs and crutches and school supplies.
Additional items being sought include crutches, wheelchairs, clothing, shoes, bedding, towels, soccer equipment (any sports equipment), school and medical supplies.
O'Toole, also Pittsfield's Sister City coordinator, is happy to visit Berkshire County schools and organizations that would welcome a talk about this conservation and humanitarian program. For information, contact him at 413-645-2003 or go to berkshireamistad.org.
Hope branches out
For the past several years, longtime Pittsfield resident Connie Yannone has made regular rounds to visit her husband of 61 years, George Yannone, in the Alzheimer's and dementia care unit at Hillcrest Commons Nursing & Rehabilitation Center.
It can be a challenging environment for a patient, loved one or clinical team member as they work together to manage memory loss, and associated behaviors and ailments.
This year, Yannone was surprised to be discover a "Memory Tree" mural in the unit's dining area.
In an effort to bring some cheer to the 25-bed floor, which is filled to capacity, unit manager Jackie Kearin enlisted her daughter, Sabrina Gazzaniga, to help create the seasonal mural. For the fall, staff members helped trace residents' hands on different colored pieces of construction paper, and cut out the tracings to create "leaves."
Painted on some of the leaves are words like "compassionate" and "helpful" to describe people working on the floor.
The trunk on the tree also has a poem called "Always" taped to it. The poem captures the struggle of memory loss and interactions with loved ones.
Kearin said the tree will change with the seasons, with different motifs like butterflies for the spring. "We thought this was something nice the staff could do with [the residents]," she said.
"I think it's just wonderful," Yannone said. "It raises your spirits."
Nominate a 'Peacemaker'
One of the hallmarks of the Northern Berkshire community's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service held each January is the presentation of The Peacemaker Award.
The award is given annually to an individual or group in Northern Berkshire that contributes substantially to promoting peace and understanding the the region, often without recognition. Past Peacemakers include Don Quinn Kelley, Mark Rondeau, Mark Lincourt, Pastor Dave Anderson, Al and Cindi McLain and PopCares Inc.
To nominate a Peacemaker, pick up a form at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition office at 61 Main St., Suite 218, North Adams, MA 01247, or nominate online at www.nbccoalition.org/peacemaker.html. Nominations must be received by Dec. 11.
The MLK Jr. Day of Service Committee is also seeking new members interested in helping to plan the January 2018 event. To join the committee, please call Liz Boland at 413-663-7588, ext. 19.
County Fare, a weekly column featuring "tales from throughout the Berkshires," is compiled by Eagle staffers.