Newspaper

Oct 15, 2014

New Program Helps Returning Veterans

Paxton soldier among those benefitting

By Kimberly Petalas 

Kpetalas@thelandmark.com

WCSO Military Peer Support Group includes, from left, Captain Randy Daignault, Assistant Deputy Superintendent Kenneth Hynes, Sergeant Richard   Brooks, Dianne Jordan, Officer Andrew Schuler, Special Sheriff Rebecca Pellegrino pictured in the middle are Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis   and returning veterans US Marine Reserve Gunny Kevin Conway & US Coast Guard Reserve Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicholas Curci. Missing from the photo   is peer group member Officer Matt Fitzpatrick.In order to better serve his employees who are enlisted in the military, Worcester County Sheriff Lew   Evangelidis has given the green light to a new support program at the prison. 

The Military Peer Support Program works with each service member to identify needs before deployment, offer assistance and maintain communication during deployment, and assist in the transition back to work upon their return.

“We welcome them back with a private ceremony for their families and thank them for their service,” Evangelidis said. “We are the first sheriff ’s department to do it and I couldn’t be more proud of this program.”

U.S. Coast Guard Reserve Petty Officer, 3rd Class Nicholas Curci, a 28-year-old Paxton native, recently returned to the states in April.

“I was down in Guantanamo Bay for nine months,” he said. “It’s a whole different life down there.”

Although he said there were many comforts while away, such as McDonald’s and Subway, he said it was still hard to be away, as keeping in touch with his family was not an easy feat.

“There was no Internet so you couldn’t just go online whenever you wanted,” he recalled. “If you wanted to call home, you needed to get a calling card. It was a long time away from home. It was hard.”

Upon his arrival, the sheriff and the military peer support team helped Curci get back into the swing of things.

“They put you through a training, because when you are gone, things can change,” said Curci. “They slowly integrated me back into it. I didn’t start out in the cell blocks right away. I eased my way back in.”

Assistant Deputy Kenneth Hynes said he and Captain Randy Daignault, who is from Rutland, attended a three-day conference learning about officer wellness.

“You can be a little on edge when you get back, so we don’t want to make them deal with inmates too quickly,” said Hynes. “I was in the Army for three years and there was no transition. This has been very successful for those who have experienced this program.”

Capt. Daignault said that although he did not serve, he is honored to be a part of this program.

“I’m lucky to have a place in the implementation of this program,” he said. “I am proud to be working for a Sheriff who welcomed this with open arms.”

Sgt. Richard Brooks, a member of the peer support team, said when he returned from his service in 1990, they did not offer any support at the prison.

“They threw you to the wolves,” he said. “A lot of guys had challenges coming back and there was no support. Today, it is different and it is huge for these guys to get this support and to be thanked for their service.”

Now that he has finished his training, Curci is back to work as usual as a corrections officer at the jail and is happy to be there.

“It is nice to be acknowledged and they made it so easy to transition to coming back,” he said. “The support was great, and I am happy to be back.”

Sep 19, 2014

Harvesting a Healthier Community

Produce grown by inmates donated to pantry

By Kimberly Petalas

kpetalas@thelandmark.com

Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis unloads a milk crate of summer squash at the Rutland Food Pantry. Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis, food pantry volunteer Lynne Amsden, volunteer Paula Stidsen, Officer Brian Almstrom, and volunteer Cynthia Katinas help process the food donation.

 Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis unloads a milk crate of summer squash at the Rutland Food Pantry. Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis, food pantry volunteer Lynne Amsden, volunteer Paula Stidsen, Officer Brian Almstrom, and volunteer Cynthia Katinas help process the food donation. Kimberly Petalas photos

 Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis recently paid a visit to the Rutland Food Pantry to donate some fresh produce that was harvested as part of a new program aimed at creating  healthier communities.

 Evangelidis has implemented the Inmate Agricultural Training Program at Worcester County Jail and House of Correction in West Boylston, in partnership with the state Department of  Agriculture. Mentioned

 The sheriff ’s farming program, which utilizes an existing 12-acre parcel of land appropriated by the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, is tended to during the week by inmate labor. The  crops, which are all organic, include corn, zucchini, summer squash, acorn squash, butternut squash and pumpkins. With just under $1,000 in initial start up costs for seed and fertilizer, the  program has grown into a costeffective win-win for both the inmates and the local community, Evangelidis said.

 

“Fresh produce is a rarity,” said Paula Stidsen, a volunteer at the Rutland Food Pantry. “This is a real treat to those that we serve.”

Cynthia Katinas, another volunteer at the pantry, said the gift from the sheriff ’s office is “a real treasure.”

“Usually we are handing out canned food so this gives our clients something different,” she said. “It is nice to have and it also defrays the cost for us by having food donated to us.”

Officer Brian Almstrom is one of the officers who helps to oversee the program, spending his time in the fields with the inmates.

“It really brightens their day and ultimately changes their mood,” he said. “They are out in the fresh air and I think that makes a complete difference for them. It is changing them as a person.”

The sheriff personally unloaded dozens of milk crates full of vegetables at the Rutland Food Pantry on Sept. 12, saying that the Wachusett area still holds a special place in his heart.

“Being the former state rep from the area, I still hold a special place for these communities, even though my coverage area as sheriff is greater than this,” he said. “It truly changes them as a person, and that is the point of these programs. We see a lot of the older inmates in this program, while the younger ones are involved in the painting and building community service programs. We are giving them valuable life skills so when they leave, they have something productive they can do in society.”

This year’s harvest has yielded more than 9,000 ears of corn and 12,000 lbs of additional vegetables, providing inmates with a better alternative to the usual canned vegetables with the added benefit of a significant savings of over $20,000 in inmate food costs at the jail.

“The initiative by the Worcester County Sheriff ’s Office touches on every imaginable aspect of common sense I can think of,” said Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Commissioner Greg Watson. “Inmates are learning valuable skills while at the same time supplementing their diets with fresh, healthy produce that they have grown and harvested themselves.”

Sep 19, 2014

SHERIFF SHARES HARVEST

 

9/12/2014 7:09:00 AM

Gives inmate grown crops to CAC

Damien Fisher
News Staff Writer

News Staff Photo by DAMIEN FISHERGARDNER — Sheriff Lew Evangelidis wheeled a shopping cart loaded with pumpkins and various types of squash to the Pleasant Street offices of Gardner’s Community Action Committee on Thursday morning.

“We have about 400 or 500 pounds of vegetables,” he said.

Inmates at the Worcester County House of Correction in West Boylston have been running a small farm on land at the jail site for the past three years. Recently, Sheriff Evangelidis expanded the program from 10 acres to 12 acres.

“The inmates get a lot out of it,” he said.

With more than 300 acres of land at the jail site, it isSheriff Lew Evangelidis wheeled a shopping cart loaded with pumpkins and various types of squash to the Pleasant Street offices of Gardner’s Community Action Committee on Thursday morning. a low cost way for the Sheriff’s office to offer a new opportunity to the inmates. The program allows 10 inmates a chance to work outdoors and pick up valuable work and life skills while spending time on the farm throughout the year.

“We started this with about $900 in seeds,” he said.

The farm program produces all organic crops of corn, zucchini, summer squash, acorn squash, butternut squash and pumpkins.  

This year’s harvest has yielded over 9,000 ears of corn and 12,000 pounds of additional vegetables providing inmates with a better alternative to the usual canned vegetables with the added benefit of a significant savings of over $20,000 in inmate food costs at the jail. 

The inmates who work on the farm are screened for any behavioral concerns before they are allowed to work on the project outside the jail facility, he said.

It is similar to the work program Sheriff Evangelidis operates, allowing inmates the chance to perform work for municipalities or non-profit groups throughout the county.

While the project is good for the inmates themselves, it is also good for the many communities receiving bounty from their labor at the farm. The Sheriff said he makes sure that the ample produce from that farm gets to people who need it most, such as the families who rely on Gardner’s Community Action Committee for help with obtaining groceries.

Gardner CAC Executive Director Julie Meehan said her organization assists more than 10,000 families every year from Gardner and the greater Gardner area.

“We can see 30 to 40 families a day,” she said.

The Gardner CAC has dry goods and meat donated from agencies and private businesses boxed and ready to be given to people in need. 

Fresh produce, however, is hard to come by, Ms. Meehan said.

“It’s a lot of canned and processed stuff,” she said.

The fresh vegetables brought by Sheriff Evangelidis and his staff will be handed out on a first come, first serve basis. Ms. Meehan said whenever fresh food comes in, many of the Gardner Community Action Committee clients will share recipes for the produce.

Sheriff Evangelidis is also already preparing for the annual coat drive his office runs in the winter, ensuring disadvantaged children have outerwear to keep warm. 

The coat drive is set to kick off in December.

Sep 19, 2014

Worcester County Sheriff Donates Produce from Inmate Effort to Veterans, Food Pantries

 Friday, September 12, 2014

Picture

Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis, right, delivers squash from the inmate farm project to Matthew J. Daly, center, Veterans Inc. chef, at the Grove Street facility Friday. Pvt. Bryan Almstrom, helps the farm program. (T&G Staff/BRAD PETRISHEN)

By Brad Petrishen TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
brad.petrishen@telegram.com

WORCESTER — If someone had driven past Veterans Inc. on Grove Street Friday morning, they might have wondered about the tall man in sharp business attire unloading butternut squash out the back of a House of Correction truck. 

“Bumper crop,” a smiling Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis said of the haul from the jail farm this year. “Not only do we feed people in the jail, we’ve got surplus.” 

Mr. Evangelidis was in the city Friday dropping off some of that surplus to the veterans organization. Before that, he was at the Rutland Food Pantry. His office also planned to make donations at food pantries in Sutton and Millbury.

The harvest is the result of an inmate farm project he restarted in 2012 on land owned by the jail that had been vacant. 

What started with 10 acres has expanded to 12 acres, he said, and this year the effort yielded more than 9,000 ears of corn and 12,000 pounds of vegetables. 

The result, the sheriff said, has been fresher food for inmates, a $20,000 savings for taxpayers on food costs and better morale at the prison. 

“Our inmates — particularly the older ones — benefit from the patience (required) of growing,” Mr. Evangelidis said. 

“It’s better than sitting in a cell,” agreed Lt. David Kalagher, a 32-year jail employee who remembers the land being farmed decades ago under different circumstances. 

“When I started here, it was more like hard labor,” Lt. Kalagher said, describing past sheriffs’ approach to the farm as more “old-school.” 

Mr. Kalagher said the farm project was abandoned for years until Mr. Evangelidis revived it in 2012. Mr. Kalagher said he is thrilled with the result, noting the inmates in the program were able to turn $1,000 in seeds into more than 10,000 pounds of produce. 

“Lots of the guys we have in the jail are from the city, so they’re learning,” he said. “They get to eat the food that resulted from their hard work.” 

This year’s all-organic crops include corn, zucchini, summer squash, acorn squash, butternut squash and pumpkins. 

“I’ll definitely take these,” Veterans Inc. chef Matthew J. Daly said Friday of the squash, getting Mr. Evangelidis to promise to return in November ahead of the group’s annual Holiday Harvest. 

Rachael Caplin, volunteer and donations coordinator for Veterans Inc., thanked the sheriff enthusiastically for the donation. 

“I don’t know what we would have done otherwise,” she said, noting they lost some donors this year and are scrambling to find more. 

The Grove Street pantry, which serves about 800 veteran families per year, is always looking for help, Ms. Caplin said. 

Mr. Evangelidis said he hopes to have even more to offer next year, as he’s planning a “significant” expansion.

“So many good things have sprouted as a result of our farming,” he said.