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Froio Center Volunteers Pack Monthly Brown Bags for Seniors
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
05:14AM / Thursday, September 29, 2022
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Some of the volunteers have been 'brown-bagging' for years. The federally funded program provides nonperishable foods for eligible older residents.

Nonperishables and refrigerator staples are provided by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

The packing is done once a month and outside during good weather and in the Froio Senior Center during bad.

The volunteers enjoy coffee after preparing nearly 200 bags for pickup and delivery.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — An assembly line of volunteers quickly and efficiently packed nearly 200 bags of food at the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center last week.

This is done on the fourth Friday of each month through the Council on Aging's Brown Bag Grocery Program, which provides eligible seniors with a bag of groceries through curbside pickup and van delivery.

"It helps a lot of people," longtime volunteer Ann Menard said. "I think it's a great program."

Various nonperishables and refrigerator staples are provided by the Food Bank of Western Mass in Hatfield. On this day, the bags included items such as peanut butter, canned fruits and vegetables, and a popular choice: boxed macaroni and cheese.  

"It's our way of giving back, helping out," COA Director James Clark said. "And we know it's going to seniors, not just to anybody, and deserving seniors that need it."

He added that it is also beneficial for the volunteers who put their best foot forward and genuinely enjoy doing it. There are a handful of volunteers that have been participating for more than a decade.

Volunteers either come in through the center or through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

"The applications for the people that get the brown bag is like a federal program, so they have to meet certain criteria for income eligibility guidelines. Once they complete the application form, it goes back to our Hatfield office at the food pantry and then they send us a master list every month," said the council's outreach coordinator Danielle Raimer.

"We partnered with Door Dash last year to help us deliver some of these to the seniors that can't get here. Along with delivery, we have our vans and our van drivers that also deliver to the housing: Providence Court, Berkshire Town, and Columbia Arms."

General Electric retiree Anthony Venturini said he has been filling these bags for about 20 years. His favorite part of the work is telling people what to do, he joked.

"There's a lot of people that come in. They do a really good job for older people," Venturini added, noting that some of the bags get heavy.

He also helps put together the COA's monthly newsletter that features articles, useful information, and a calendar of events.

Each grocery bag gets a newsletter and about 1,200 additional copies of the publication are circulated per month. Raimer said Venturini and other volunteers dedicate many hours to stuffing the newsletters.

During the warmer months, the Brown Bag program is set up outside in the back of the senior center for easy accessibility. When it is held inside, it is on the second floor of the center.

Pickup is between 10:30 and 1.

Applications for the program can be found at the senior center office, open Monday through Friday from 8 to 4.

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