At the Wigwam, focus shifts to feeding the community

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NORTH ADAMS — When the pandemic lockdown came, Lea King and Wayne Gelinas just had finished ordering thousands of dollars of merchandise for the upcoming season at the Wigwam Western Summit souvenir shop and snack bar.

When it became clear that the store could be closed for months, the couple noted that there were people out there living in worse circumstances. So, they decided to feed some of them for free.

For six Sundays now, King and Gelinas, as well as their adult daughter and her boyfriend, have been preparing meals, taking orders and handing out meals to all comers.

"No one should ever experience hunger like this," King said. "With so many people out of work, hunger can be very challenging."

So, they started by reaching out on social media, and the first weekend they handed out 18 meals of chili con carne with cornbread. The second weekend they started taking preorders to better prepare for the volume. They gave out 70 meals that week.

Since then, every Sunday it has been 60 to 80 meals, such as pasta and meat sauce or garbanzo bean stew. And four of their friends and customers offered to deliver meals to shut-ins.

There are other sources of free meals in town, and those sources also have been working hard. But, no other place offers meals on Sunday. So, King thought that would be the best day to help.

Then the Al Nelson Friendship Center Food Pantry started giving them food staples they can pass out with the meals, giving folks an even better chance at beating food insecurity in local neighborhoods. On Sunday, many stop in and get their meals, then get a few more for neighbors who might be in need.

"Something like this brings out the best in people when you are kind," King said.

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King noted that the effort requires a fair amount of legwork. Limits on meat purchases at grocery stores mean they have to head down to Pittsfield after exhausting their local purchasing.

"It's challenging for us," King noted. "It's a scavenger hunt every week."

Some have given donations to help in their effort, but meanwhile, with the store closed and all cabin reservations canceled, they have very little revenue coming in.

So, with all that merchandise sitting in the store, they decided to begin an online shop where folks can order items and have them shipped. It's just starting to see some sales.

So far, the most popular item is the specialized whoopee pies made from cakes they used to serve that were popular among visitors. There also is a new line of souvenir teddy bears that are themed on regional attractions.

King and Gelinas bought the store and started doing business in 2018, after significant renovations to add more access to the view of the valley.

Now, they are staying nimble and trying to steer their business through rough seas. But, King said they are optimistic that they will make it through to the other side.

Meanwhile, they stay busy helping to feed their friends and neighbors.

"The more, the merrier, as far as I'm concerned," King said. "I mean, we're talking about survival here. I feel like this community was there for us when we needed it, and I'm sure it will continue to be. So, we're trying to pay it forward."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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