Monday, July 21, 2014

289th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood One Can A Week Project

Hi Folks,

The "Feel Much Better Donation"

The woman, guiding a full shopping cart, slowed only to drop a $20.00 bill in the basket. As she picked up speed again on her way through the automatic doors, I flared my hand over the money in the basket and said hurriedly, “You know, all this money goes to buy food for the 140 kitchens here in Tucson which feed older women and kids. They have no potatoes on a regular basis so I buy nothing but Sprouts potatoes.”

She slowed slightly, looked over her left shoulder and gave me a big smile. “Thanks, I feel much better about my donation.”

If I have a chance to tell Sprouts donors how their money will be spent many say the same thing. They really like to know what is going on with their dollars. I have that inquisitive feeling, too, because I simply want to feed people. This is why I always keep an eye on such things as operational costs at my most favorite charities.

Money Goes In and Food Comes Out
On Friday, Feeding America threw an email newsletter into my inbox. They were talking about Summer Food Programs but there was one little item farther down the page that caught my attention. Charity Navigator, the premier independent charity evaluator awarded Feeding America another 4-Star rating for the third consecutive year.   

To further define Charity Navigator, here is their mission in their own words from their own website: “Founded in 2001, Charity Navigator has become the nation's largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities. In our quest to help donors, our team of professional analysts has examined tens of thousands of non-profit financial documents. We've used this knowledge to develop an unbiased, objective, numbers-based rating system to assess over 7,000 of America's best-known and some lesser known, but worthy, charities.

“Specifically, Charity Navigator's rating system examines two broad areas of a charity's performance; their Financial Health and their Accountability & Transparency. Our ratings show givers how efficiently we believe a charity will use their support today, how well it has sustained its programs and services over time and their level of commitment to good governance, best practices and openness with information.”

When researching the Community Food Bank years ago, I discovered Charity Navigator. Interestingly enough our Food Bank has a 4-Star rating from them also, for the same reasons. Very low operating costs, 3% actually and efficiencies that would make any Marine First Sergeant proud.

I’m telling you all this semi boring stuff because I want you to help us feed more hungry kids, older women and families here in Tucson. Your dollars and food really do feed folks … sometimes the next day like the potatoes I deliver twice a week. That speed makes me feel good and I see no reason why you shouldn’t feel good right along with me. 

Next time you see a request for a Community Food Bank, Feeding America or One Can A Week donation, just dig down into your purse or pocket. You’ll feed some family soon and that’s the best feeling in the world … next to hugging a puppy, of course.    

26th Truck Load – 2014
Kym, our 13th Street volunteer, dropped off two big white basketball looking things Sunday (see photo above on the right). They were new to me so I had to ask. Her answer came back squash. Still not enough information so then Google told me the official name is Lumina Squash. Very pleasant moniker but I still don’t like the stuff.

This week’s donations amounted to 768 lbs. and included Sprouts (Speedway), 202 lbs.; Sprouts (Oracle), 206 lbs.; Sprouts (River Road), 228 lbs; and Miles Neighborhood, 132 lbs.

More Food Lingo
The first time I heard the phrase “food insecurity” to describe hungry folks I though it sounded a bit forced. Now there’s “foods to encourage” which is just another way to say fresh produce. Instead of trying to create stilted expressions Feeding America should just come right out and say what they mean. Their food network—which includes our Community Food Bank—distributes way more produce than anything else. The figure is holding steady at 67%.

Not only is that fact encouraging, it is very impressive, too.

We collected a total of 132 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $30.00, a $25.00 check and $5.00 in cash.

See you Sunday,


Monday, July 14, 2014

288th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood One Can A Week Project

Hi Folks,
If the Poor Just Didn’t Act So Poor ... 

If the Rich Just Went Downtown More ... 

We’re really good at defining problems. Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute wrote an article in The Huffington Post the other day. His contends that “Donors Who Lavish Money on Elite Institutions Only Exacerbate the Wealth Gap.”  

Of course they do and this is not said to belittle Mr. Eisenberg’s work in any way. For instance, Mr. Eisenberg writes, and I paraphrase here:

  1. Private money for public schools ends up in affluent neighborhoods.
  2. Elite colleges benefit for the same reason and their tuition is too high for the poor and middle classes.

  1. Art Institutions that cater to upper and middle classes are along for the money train ride, too.

  1. On the whole, foundations and donors only give minimally to nonprofits serving the poor and grassroots organizations.
And why do the wealthy do this? Are they mean? Do they hate the poor? Absolutely not. They are just terribly uncomfortable around folks who are different from themselves. I have seen this social phenomenon all my life. And so have you. In the high school cafeteria cliques sit together. I sat with all kinds of interesting kids. One friend at a new school I attended remarked that he was amazed at how I fit in so quickly. When in Germany during my Army days, I went into local restaurants alone. Most GI’s never even went downtown. If things aren’t different, that is when I feel the most uncomfortable.  

So how do we get rich folks to like, accept and help all kinds of poor folks? Mr. Eisenberg wasn’t optimistic at all as he closed his very informative article. He suggested we should not “hold our breaths expecting change.” My thinking is there is always a way. The British band Tears for Fears told us that “Everybody wants to rule the world” so if I had the chance I would do the following:

All bosses of large corporations will become an Undercover Boss periodically. Have you seen that TV show? The end is almost always the same. The boss gets overwhelmed by how smart, caring and committed his or her staff is. This should be a requirement every five years for major CEOs.

All nonprofits that care for the poor like the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona should take donors and prospective donors downtown to celebrated community restaurants and dine with the locals. Everybody at the table tells stories about life and their loves even the guest donors. This will give those donors insights they won’t ever forget. And this should be a monthly event.

Donors and prospective donors could also sponsor kid’s soccer, baseball, tennis, swimming, basketball, etc. teams. And they are required to attend at least half of the games during the season simply to talk to the kids…again about their life and loves.

All of these activities for donors and prospective donors should be made very easy to attend but they have to be told that they will be socially uncomfortable until they become engaged with the interesting folks who surround them.

Since I really don’t want to rule the world, I am just going to change folks I meet one at a time. I know it’s working because look at how much food we get to donate to the Community Food Bank each week.  

Sprouts Farmers Market Update

Old Potato Record: 130 five pound bags.
New Potato Record: 133 five pound bags.

25th Truck Load - 2014

Just two weeks ago we set a potato bag record. This week we broke that record by three bags. Since there is no way of knowing how much money folks will donate weekly at the three Sprouts supermarkets beating an old record by even a little bit is a big thrill. On Wednesday while packing up a woman handed me $40. I had already purchased the Sprouts-Oracle potatoes for the week but that didn’t matter. I grabbed a cart and bought another 23 bags ending up with 60 bags instead of 37. That was kind of thrilling, too.

This week’s donations amounted to 993 lbs. and included Sprouts (Speedway), 379 lbs.; Sprouts (Oracle), 350 lbs.; Sprouts (River Road), 122 lbs; Shiva Vista, 44 lbs. and Miles Neighborhood 98 lbs.

Feeling Uncomfortable Again
Neighbors come and go. When that happens to a participant, I always try to meet the new neighbor as soon as possible so donations stay consistent. A home on Cherry Street had a new neighbor but after trying to catch someone home on a number of Sundays I gave up trying.

This past Sunday I saw another car at the home and thought about making a call. “Nah,” I thought, “how many times do I have to try before giving up?” That’s when the uncomfortable feeling showed up. It strongly suggested I force myself to go make the call.

Shortly after I knocked, a gentleman named Tavi (ta ve) answered the door and within a minute or two he said he would be happy to participate. In the article above I talked about how rich and poor folks seldom leave their comfort zones creating both a wealth and a human connection gap. When I get uncomfortable I know making a connection is the antidote which kicks in just as soon as I say “Hi.”

We collected a total of 98 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $30.00, a $25.00 check and $5.00 in cash.

See you Sunday,


Monday, July 7, 2014

287th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood One Can A Week Project

Hi Folks,
Miles' Weekly Food Donation Averages:
Simply Astonishing.
2014 Second Quarter Donation Results for the Miles Neighborhood.  
A couple of years ago while creating a concept called The Red Umbrella Corps to encourage other neighborhood in the city to implement a One Can A Week program I included a chart that listed weekly averages for food and cash donations. In addition I extrapolated the numbers based on the averages for 1,500 volunteers in 187 neighborhoods. The annual results would have generated millions of pounds of food and millions of dollars.

This pipe dream (Hookah dreams for those more contemporary folks) never created much interest because the basic requirements were commitment and consistency. Now that we are 287 weeks deep into our neighborhood program I decided to check the weekly averages again. What a surprise. From January, 2009 to June, 2012 (Week 1 – 181) the weekly averages were 228 lbs. for food and $50.40 for cash. At the end of last week (Week 286), the weekly average was 227 lbs. for food and $50.22 for cash. Since I have dyslexia, you know, I checked those numbers over and over again until I got matching results time after time.

Based on nothing more than commitment and consistency we collected one pound and 18 cents less per week than two year ago. I like that fact a lot and it indicates that The Red Umbrella Corps would have been as successful as I thought if volunteers had stepped forward. (See Molly Thrasher’s One Can A Week video: minute 6:14.)
The Wright Brothers figured out a way to make metal buses fly. I have to find a way to motivate a thousand or so people in Tucson who are as hungry as I am to end food insecurity in the city. The easy part is the food is there, you just have to pick it up. The hard part is just teaching folks to say hello to their neighbors … right after they get up off the couch and out the door. Guess there are three hard parts.

One Can A Week is Back at the Rincon Market

Mark, the jewelry vendor was in his rightful place outside the automatic doors as I approach. He had been there since last Saturday making sales. This was a good sign because I was visiting the Rincon Market to ask for my old spot back, too.

Mark pointed and said Ron Abbott was seated in one of the large leather chairs just inside the front doors. The two gentlemen sitting on his right were quiet and as I sat down in the chair on his left, I figured out way. Ron was dozing. He sat up, smiled his big grin and told me he had been up most of the night.

I asked if he were ready to talk about One Can A Week and he joked that I had abandoned him for Sprouts. There was a bit of a pause and then he asked, “What day were you thinking about coming back?”

Saturday was always good at the Rincon Market but I now have an obligation at Spouts – Speedway. We agreed to give Friday a go. As I stood up Ron nodded off again.

John Abbott, Ron’s son was taking frozen food inventory as I walked up. He kept on working but engaged in our conversation as well. He was happy I was coming back especially since I added to his grocery sales each week. We talked about potatoes and he immediately came up with a plan. After my Friday stint he will place the order for Russet potatoes which can be pick up on Saturday.

I found Kelly, Ron’s wife placing labels on the salad bar and brought her up to date. She agreed and said she was glad they were getting involved with One Can A Week again. My last stop was the sandwich ordering counter to pick up a huge empty mayonnaise jar. They make the best collection bins because the size is impressive (see photo above) and being somewhat opaque they hid how much money is inside.  

I really missed the Rincon Market the year they were closed, but this Friday after talking to Ron, Kelly and John again, I realized I missed the Abbott family so much more. 

Sprouts Farmers Market Update

Schools with high percentages of low-income children
can now provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.

24th Truck Load - 2014

For some time now I have been paying attention to the Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. They (USDA) have been testing the program around the country for a few years now but Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, all schools nationwide that meet the 40 percent identified student threshold will be eligible to participate in this option.” With 71% of the TUSD student population on a partial pay or full subsidized lunch program, we sure as heck will meet the requirements. The enrollment period is open until August 31st for this year.    

Just click on the two links above to get quickly informed on this very important food program for kids. If you know someone in the Tucson school system please check with them to make sure we respond in time to feed our kids in the fall.

I’m one of those “If you want something done right…” folks so call around and get back to me. As they say, opportunity is often disguised as hard work. So let’s get working.

This week’s donations amounted to 634 lbs. and included Sprouts (Speedway), 202 lbs.; Sprouts (Oracle), 176 lbs.; Sprouts (River Road), 142 lbs; and Miles Neighborhood, 114 lbs.

Stressful by Design
Melanie stepped up to the table at Sprouts-Speedway on Saturday and immediately pushed the wicker collection basket further back. She then snatched the $1 dollar bill that usually hangs out of the basket and dropped it on top of the pile of bills in the center.

“There,” she said with a satisfied smile, “that’s much better. You could have lost that $1 bill.”

We have talked a number of times in the past so Melanie was only trying to help. “You know,” I said with a smile, “you just ruined all my marketing. Everything you corrected I do on purpose. The basket is more readily seen hanging a bit over the edge of the table and the $1 bill is a flag to tell folks I take money donations.” As I spoke I put everything back the way it was.

“Well,” Melanie said huffing a bit, “that is very stressful and I cannot look at it.”

She moved to the side of the table and more toward the back so the blue box blocked her line of vision. We talked a few more minutes and she said goodbye.

Some time later Brian the store director came over and I told him the story. He immediately broke into laughter saying, "That's really funny."

Yes it is for folks like us who spend most of our waking hours trying to make display more appealing, attractive and productive. It certainly is not a job for anyone with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) like Monk, the TV detective.

We collected a total of 114 of food. The money we donated amounted to $84.00, two checks for $75.00 and $9.00 in cash.

See you Sunday,


Monday, June 30, 2014

286th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood One Can A Week Project

Hi Folks,

Poor and Easy Should Never Appear Together
in the Same Sentence.

The questions was “Poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently, or poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything?”

What? That is about the dumbest question I have ever heard because poor folks with or without help always have it hard. And it’s almost always attributable to poor education options, prejudice, low pay and little or no upwardly mobile employment opportunity. So this is a fact and should never be discussed as if someone’s opinion is a viable position on the subject.

And such socially acceptable “opinion” discussions create a stigma that mars a person’s self esteem for life. I learned that Thursday and to tell the truth, if I had given this matter more thought in the past I would have figured that out myself.

A man about 55-years-old stopped by the table at Sprouts-River Road and asked about the Say Something Bad About Me T-Shirt I sell for $20. I explained that the idea behind the T-Shirt was a humorous and pointed way to confront bullies who deride people on government assistance. As he reached for his wallet the smile dropped from his face.

“Let me tell you about those morons” was his opening salvo. He had a rough childhood because his dad had a difficult time staying employed. He didn’t know way. That was just the way it was. But when he was able to take on responsibility for himself he worked his way through school and makes a hefty salary now. 

“I pay taxes, give to charities and am a responsible citizen,” he said in his defense. “Why they continue to put down people who needed help when they were kids is beyond me. Let me have the shirt, this is a great way to confront those people.”

Although he was smiling again I realized my T-shirt idea was not only a way to silence socially inept people, it also brings out the hurt of a deep seeded stigma that never relents no matter how successful one becomes.

This insight took my smile away.

The next time Pew Research does an opinion survey on the poor they should compose questions that do more than determine the obvious; i.e., liberals are more sympathetic to the plight of others than conservatives. For instance, a question might state: Do poor people—whether they are on government assistance or not—have a hard life in a country as wealthy as America? If you answer anything other than Yes, you will not be asked to give your opinion on any other social issue … ever.

This would go a long way to silence those people who shouldn’t be talking anyway. Those bullies hurt people for as long as they live whether they were poor or are poor now.

 Sprouts Farmers Market Update

In less than one year Sprouts’ customers have donated more than 7.3 tons of food. That’s 14,638 pounds which fed more than 3,750 kids and their parents three meals in one day.

A Historic Photo – Collected so much food and so much money on Saturday at Sprouts – Speedway, I graduated to a six-wheel cart and needed help loading the truck. Total weight – 434 lbs. of potatoes and 106 lbs. of packaged goods.

Yet Another 1,000+ Pound Week

23rd Truck Load – 2014
Last week we set a goal of 300 five pound bags of potatoes per week to meet the demand at the 140 kitchens in the city. On Monday we delivered 130 bags or 43% of our intended goal. No planning, it just happened. With a little thought and promotion, it looks like supplying the kitchens will be a piece of … potato cake.

This week’s donations amounted to 1,032 lbs. and included Sprouts (Speedway), 540 lbs.; Sprouts (Oracle), 230 lbs.; Sprouts (River Road), 122 lbs; Shiva Vista, 40 lbs. and Miles Neighborhood, 100 lbs.

The Rincon Market looks the same … only better – On Friday Maen and I had lunch at the new and improved Rincon Market. They now have an expanded fresh produce section and several draft beers on tap for a more hearty lunch or dinner. Even with all of the activity I had a chance to say a few words to Ron, Kelly and their son John. It was great … so you’ve got to get over there soon.

We collected a total of 100 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $33.00, a $25.00 check and $8.00 in cash.

See you Sunday,