County Fare: Bank customers support diaper project

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Lee Bank and its loyal customers did their best last month to keep little tykes in diapers.

The five branch offices in August collected about 40 packages of disposable diapers and raised $340 from a Paint 'N Sip fundraiser to benefit the Berkshire County Diaper Project.

On Friday, Lenox branch manager Tina Bartini and her staff officially turned over the donations to the nonprofit group, which celebrates its fourth anniversary this month.

To date, the all-volunteer organization has distributed packages totaling 500,000 diapers to needy families and their children, according to Dr. Marie Rudden, board president and a founding member of the nonprofit.

With disposable diapers costing parents $50 to $100 per month per child, Rudden says, a Yale University researcher found that a third of parents struggle to buy diapers.

"Unfortunately, cloth diapers are not a viable alternative for most low-income families, as diaper services are too expensive, and diapers cannot be laundered in public laundromats," she noted. "Most day care centers require that the children be dropped off with a supply of [disposable] diapers for the day."

The Berkshire Community Diaper Project is a member of the National Diaper Bank Network, through which the local group can buy diapers in bulk and at very low cost. For more information or to make a donation, go to berkshirecommunitydiaperproject.com, or send checks to BCDP Inc. at P.O. Box 5, West Stockbridge, MA 01266.

Mental health first aid

The Great Barrington Police Department hosted a training class for fellow Berkshire County police officers and other colleagues focused on best practices when encountering a person suffering from a mental health crisis.

More than 20 participants from several agencies attended the Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety course at the Berkshire South Regional Community Center on Sept. 6.

"This training is an essential resource for our officers and our colleagues from other communities," said Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh. "It provides first responders with the vital skills they need to recognize when someone is in crisis and take appropriate action to ensure their safety and the safety of others."

The session focused on a five-step action plan that first responders can rely upon to provide immediate support should they encounter someone suffering from an acute mental health crisis.

Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety provides officers with more response options to help them deescalate incidents and better understand mental illnesses so they can respond to mental health-related calls appropriately, without compromising anyone's safety.

The course was attended by 22 law enforcement officers from the Great Barrington, Lanesborough, Lenox, Tyringham, Lee and Sheffield police departments, as well as representatives from the Ludlow Board of Health, the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration.

Great Barrington Police hosted the course as part of its ongoing commitment to the International Association of Chiefs of Police's One Mind Campaign, which positions law enforcement agencies to make tangible and lasting efforts to address mental health issues in their communities.

The class was made possible by the support of center Executive Director Jenise Lucey, and Special Events and Operations Manager Betty Banker, who donated space for the event. Homeland Security Program Manager Raine Brown also contributed to the effort by scheduling instructors Sheryl Sprague and Laura Durst, as well as by organizing refreshments for the participants.

Benefit for explosion victims

John LeVardi, who owns Krispy Cones Ice Cream in Lanesborough, hosted an impromptu cookout for about two dozen victims of the gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley over the weekend.

LeVardi, of Pittsfield, was staying in a Holiday Inn in the Andover area, where his granddaughter was participating in a softball tournament with Berkshire Force. After hearing the devastating stories of several families who were displaced, LeVardi decided to host a cookout in the hotel's parking lot with a portable grill he had brought for the tournament.

"I said, `I totally have to do something for you people,'" LeVardi recalled. "It made me feel good to give and to help people in need."

Dozens of homes were destroyed or damaged, a teenager was killed and dozens of people were injured in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover during gas explosions Thursday. Thousands were forced to leave their homes.

LeVardi said there were many gas and electrical trucks in the parking lot of the hotel, and residents were unable to return home, even to retrieve their belongings.

One family of nine that was staying there included a woman with dementia. Another couple he met just recently moved to the area, LeVardi said.

The American Red Cross of Western Massachusetts has sent 17 volunteers, including a Pittsfield man, to assist in the Merrimack Valley, according to Disaster Program Manager Mary Nathan.

County Fare, a weekly column featuring "tales from throughout the Berkshires," is compiled by Eagle staffers.


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