Partner Appreciation Highlight: The Berkshire Dream Center

What started more than a decade ago as a small-scale community outreach effort has become the Berkshire Dream Center, a Pittsfield-based partner agency of The Food Bank with a team that supports nearly 600 people every month with through food and clothing distributions. Housed within in Morningside Baptist Church, the Dream Center has worked to provide food assistance to community residents in a steadily increasing capacity since 2011.

Their new sit-down meal program, the Bright Morningstar Kitchen, is set to become the latest in the Dream Center’s efforts to support their neighbors in a way that emphasizes community care, dignity, and agency. “Food brings people together,” says Katelynn Miner, co-founder and pastor of the Berkshire Dream Center, “we want to create healthy meals in a safe, comfortable atmosphere.”

The Morningside neighborhood, centered around Tyler St in Pittsfield, is one of many communities in Western Massachusetts that has had long-term struggles with food insecurity. Already facing a complex web of issues compounded by the pandemic, Miner says that the experiences of many Morningside residents reflect those of families in small cities across the United States:

“Transportation in Morningside is a huge problem. Most people in Morningside don’t have cars. The closest grocery store round trip is a two-mile walk. So, they rely on public transportation. But they limit how many bags you can have on the bus to two.”

Beyond bag restrictions, the area’s public transportation is somewhat limited outside of week-day business hours, further complicating transportation for workers who rely on evenings and weekends for shopping. While there are smaller convenience-style stores available, prices at these locations tend to be higher than at supermarkets– high enough to stretch already strained food budgets past their limits.

The Dream Center hopes to fill the gap between the community’s needs and its access by providing healthy, quality meals in a full-service restaurant experience for its guests in addition to their pre-existing food distribution programs. Curated table settings, warm lighting, live music, and good, healthy food have been designed to create a welcoming atmosphere where residents can “dine with dignity”– at absolutely no cost to them or their families.

In an effort to increase economic mobility in the neighborhood the Bright Morningstar Kitchen will also serve as a workforce training program for cooks and waitstaff seeking experience in the food service industry. New ovens, griddles, and stovetops, and large capacity fridges await the chefs in training in a completely renovated kitchen. Clothes and aprons have also been collected for the waitstaff – ensuring that they don’t have to dig into their already tight budgets for work attire.

The hope is for the Bright Morningstar kitchen to eventually open to serve two meals a day, six days a week, with flexibility for nutrition workshops, cooking classes, or community events to be held within the space. Providing what people need is important for Katelynn Miner and her team at the Dream Center, but how they receive it is more important.

“We want people to feel empowered, engaged, like they can make a difference,” said Miner, “[however] It’s a balance.  We want to get there as fast as possible but also be good stewards and be consistent and build it so we are able to succeed long into the future, because we’re here for the long haul.”