Tuesday, December 29, 2009

51st Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

Axis of Good
After lunch on Sunday I drove down Cherry toward Broadway to make a couple of stops. As I got back in the Cabriolet with the first pickup I noticed Bill Richards our association president in the next block walk across Cherry from the Axis Food Mart on the corner to his home and go inside his gate. Guess he saw me, too, because he came out again with a can of string beans in his hand. “Great,” I said as I drove up, “curb service.”

Bill smiled at my joke and then pointed to a figure in the Axis Food Mart parking lot. “Do you see that guy?” he asked, “he’s the new owner of the food mart and he wants to talk to you about One Can A Week.” I always want to talk to people about One Can A Week so I drove up to the front of the store and parked.

The owner came out from behind the counter when I approached and gave me a very friendly greeting. In the next 20 minutes he learned about One Can A Week and I learned about Maen Mdanat, a fascinating man who tries to do one good thing every day. Today he’s selected One Can A Week. He wants to begin the program in his store and he can’t start soon enough.

“What food should I offer to my customers to donate?” he asked while taking out a pen and little pad. I mentioned tuna, black beans, and peanut butter. “Oh, peanut butter is too expensive, how about sardines, I love sardines.”

As he spoke he began writing from the right side of the paper and noticed I was staring. “That’s Arabic.” His English is so good and nuanced that I could not tell where he was from originally. His slight accent gave no clues. But it was only after he spoke about his church, Saint something or other, I can’t recall the name exactly, that I just had to ask.

Jordan. He came to the USA when he was around 27 years old. Prior to that he was in Jordan’s Special Forces and was often called on to act as an interpreter because he not only speaks Arabic, but English and Magyar the Hungarian language as well. On one occasion he interpreted at a meeting with King Hussein and the infamous Nicolae Ceau┼čescu of Romania.

“That was very stressful,” Maen said, “because you really have to know the culture in addition to the language. For example, if someone says, “can of worms’, you just cannot say can of worms because the other party may wonder about the strange diet so you have to think of something to quickly explain the expression.

“You know, I think King Hussein liked me,” Maen admitted,
“because I’m a shorty and he was a shorty, too. After that meeting he came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder and said I did a good job. That made me feel very good and calmed me down. I didn’t have to worry about whether I was good or bad. I knew.”

Today after delivering our Miles donations, I picked up a large Community Food Bank box and dropped it off at Axis. Maen hurriedly taped up the box and put it right by the front door next to the soda machine. We chatted a few minutes and he asked me to stay around because his favorite distributor, Carl from Coors would arrive soon. He said Carl always helps him raise funds for his church and he should hear about One Can A Week from me. A short time later Seham, his wife and their three young children drove up. In between customers Maen introduced me to his family and then in walked Carl. The whole scene reminded me of a fast paced play where the actors quickly come onto the stage from all directions moving the plot dizzyingly forward.

Maen called just before dinner to ask me when I would have the counter signs ready for him. Our plan is to help educate his customers about the need and the work the Community Food Bank is doing to meet that need. I said tomorrow but he couldn’t wait for the signage and started offering cans for donations a couple of hours ago. Nearly every customer bought a donation can when asked. Actually I think that is why he called. He needed to share his excitement. “It’s amazing,” Maen said, “even a homeless man, after paying for his beer, dug into his pocket for change to pay for the donation. He’s in trouble and even he wants to help.”

With Maen’s energetic charisma supported by his incredible cast of characters I predict that One Can A Week will be a monster hit at the Axis Food Mart. After all, the store is located on Broadway.

Another Overflowing Basket

We have been donating food to the Community Food Bank for 51 straight weeks and just look at the amount and variety. The generosity is boundless here in the Miles Neighborhood and you all should be very proud of your efforts and community service. This week we donated 192 lbs. of food (30 lbs. over our average) and $27 in cash.

Happy New Year to all!

See you Sunday,


Monday, December 21, 2009

50th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

Wishful Thinking
Thursday my friend Mike Bolchalk forwarded an email to me from Roger Yohem, a reporter and columnist with Inside Tucson Business. Roger was looking “for thoughts of a select group of business leaders” here in Tucson of which Mike is surely one. The question? “…what is at the top of your “Business Wish List” for 2010? The wish must (can) be for your business, the community, the overall economy, or some other business-related topic. Mike wanted to know what I thought about the request because I am never at a loss for words when it comes to community or business. I sent him a couple of opinions and put it out of my mind.

In the mail that same day Al my neighbor who lives just 3 houses down sent me a sparkly, very warm Christmas card of an old pickup truck with a Christmas tree in its bed driving down a snow covered residential street. Al loves old pickups. He’s got a couple of them in various stages of disrepair in his driveway along the side of his house. He doesn’t care, they are pickups. He also loves his religion, the Republican Party and cats…lots of cats. We met when I asked him if I could help him spay and neuter his brood which was expanding because his back troubles slowed him down so much he couldn’t get to the vet. Sixteen fixed cats later we are friends and neighbors who look out for each other.

The note inside Al’s Christmas card made me think again about Mike’s “Wish Lists for 2010” email. Al wrote: “Whether or not you realize it, you have been fulfilling Jesus’ command in Matt 25 verses 35 to 40, as well as your kindness to animals.” Every Sunday as I was growing up I heard priests read lots of verses from all of the Books of the bible so I was sure I knew the lesson but I wasn’t familiar with that particular location in the good book. Google quickly told me what Al was referring to and I was right, I had heard the verses before. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…”

On my drive home from the office on Friday afternoon I finally decided what my wish for 2010 will be. I would like to live in a world where we take care of each other; then we will all experience at least one heaven for sure.

First Christmas
Just wanted to wish everyone who helped the Miles Neighborhood donate thousands upon thousands of pounds of food to the Community Food Bank a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

More Cereal and More Food
In addition to her regular food donation, Kelly on Miles Street had five huge double pack boxes of Cheerios waiting for me when I stopped by Sunday. Her sister Debby is a member of the East Side Domestic Divas and they heard the Community Food Bank’s call for cereal so they decided
to do something about it. The boxes are so big that Kelly had to help me carry them to the Cabriolet. Thanks in part to the Divas, we collected 222 lbs. of food, 10 lbs. of produce, $22 in cash, $35 in checks and a partridge in a pear tree. Lists make me capricious this time of year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

See you Sunday,


Monday, December 14, 2009

49th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

Welcome Back Barrio San Antonio
There were two more houses on 12th Street to hit. I pulled the gear shift out of park and into drive and looked up to see Lori and Dennis walk toward the front of my car smiling from ear to ear and carrying a large plastic bag. They surprised me because I hadn’t seen them park their truck at the curb just 30 feet ahead of me. Guess I was too focused on putting the food in the back seat and getting situated behind the wheel. I jumped out of the car to greet them.

“We just collected this food from the Barrio San Antonio,” Lori said. “It was fun but scary.”

I had not expected that they would just start collecting food in the neighborhood because for the past week I was trying to ease them into the process by first meeting with Aisling who collected food there a few months back. Guess they aren’t into easing. They said they started in the back portion of the neighborhood and covered a few blocks. Some folks gave them food. Other said they would be ready next week. Lori and Dennis also said that a number of neighbors told them to keep up the good work even though it was their first Sunday. They found those words very encouraging.

When I asked them how it felt to walk up to a home, knock on the door and ask for a food donation, they both got a little uneasy. “That’s the hard part,” Dennis replied, “but I can tell once you make the initial calls, it gets easy, even fun collecting the food.”

His words reminded me of something I recently read about Presidents Obama in his book The Audacity of Hope when he got into politics and had to make cold calls drumming up donations for his first campaign.

“You know that hollow or insecure feeling you have in your gut when knocking on the door,” I asked, “we all get that even President Obama. He said when confronted with making those calls, he used to take frequent bathroom breaks, go for coffee a lot and talk about fine-tuning his speeches with his staff. Anything to avoid the dreaded calls.”

They laughed and I could see they felt better. “It’s painful, “Lori admitted, “but soon we will know everyone in the neighborhood and those calls will be done. And besides, look at all the food we just collected.”

They’re going to be good at One Can A Week. It’s obvious they like responsibility because they just jumped right in.

SHS (Scott Hughes Solution)
Tucson has scores of housing developments and communities where door to door solicitation is verboten by the association even if one is a resident in the community. I have been thinking about a way to introduce One Can A Week to these often upscale residences but to no avail. Then today my business partner told me about his best friend Scott who has introduced One Can A Week into his community with little fanfare but it’s working like a charm.

Instead of visiting his neighbors one by one, he puts up a sign on the communal mailboxes (the associations don’t even like the postman going door to door) asking for food donations for the Community Food Bank. He provides a box by the mailboxes every Wednesday where his neighbors can drop off their One Can A Week.

This is brilliant. They are near their homes and they go to get their mail six days a week. It is a routine, not a hardship as delivering a can a week to the office or school would be. Instead of putting the donation on their porches, they put it in a box by the mailboxes. This is the next best thing to a porch. Scott picks up the boxes of food Wednesday night and repeats the process the next week. Then every month Scott will post the amount of food they have collected to keep his neighbors informed and motivated.

The best way One Can A Week works is to pick up the food from neighbors weekly. But Scott may have just invented another best way to get solicitation-free communities involved. Great going, Scott!

Christmas Greeting from Carol & Colin
My neighbors who live in the big house (I live in the guest or small house in the back) are always my first stop on Sundays. They weren’t home so I was about to stick a Sorry We Missed You card in the steel screen door when I noticed a large envelope addressed to me on the porch next to the door. Guess it didn’t fit in the mail box so the postman left it there yesterday. By the return label I could see it was from Carol and Colin in Wake Forest, North Carolina. I hurried back to the car to see what was inside. They are the mother and son team who collect food for the hungry soldiers at their local VFW.

I couldn’t wait to see what was inside. The Christmas card slid out first. I love dogs and cats and smiled. I didn’t recognize the other animal right away but later saw the tiniest image was a mouse. That’s when I got the sentiment…Peace on Earth…a dog and a cat and a mouse who are often at odds enjoying the spirit of the holiday. Of course I was touched, especially by the kind words they wrote inside. They also sent along a unique gift, a bumper sticker. I never put decals on my car but I just had to make an exception in this case. It’s a gift from Carol and Colin and says, “Got One Can A Week?” Peace on earth worked on me, too.

There is Humor in Everything
In our last Miles Neighborhood meeting I asked Abe Marques our 5th Ward representative what will it take to get the scores of potholes fixed on our streets? I knew from past discussions that you have to call the city and give them a house address that is in proximity to the damaged street. So I told Abe I would drive around and get a location on each pothole and give him the list. He said if he had a list he would be happy to handle it. A day or so after I emailed my pothole list (22 in all) to Abe, my friend Ernesto Portillo, Sr. told me he just heard on the radio that the street maintenance budget was stretched and besides, the temperature was 55 degrees and heading south. Like me, I guess pothole filler doesn’t work well in the cold.

As I left for work two days following my conversation with Ernesto I noticed all of the potholes were fixed. Way to go Abe! I thank you and my axles thank you. In the next day or so if you could call Abe Marques at 791-4231 to thank him or simply send him an email at abe.marques@tucsonaz.gov I certainly would appreciate it. Or you can join me at our monthly Miles Neighborhood meeting this Wednesday, December 16th at 6:30 pm in the Miles School and thank him personally. That’s what I am going to do.

I did notice one rather large pothole surrounded by a bunch of budding potholes that was not repaired. It is on Miles Street in front of my friend’s house. (See photo on right.) I thought perhaps the oversight might have something to do with my friend’s political affiliation in our decidedly Obama neighborhood. Just kidding! Abe will have that nasty pothole fixed in no time now that he knows about it.

Two Shopping Carts, Two Stories
Kim and Mario on 13th Street had a party Saturday and they asked all of their invited guests to just bring themselves and a food donation for the Community Food Bank. With their added support we collected 230 lbs. of food this week (our average is 162 lbs.) and $170 in cash and checks. And notice that even the Rice A Roni got into the holiday festivities.

For the past two weeks the Community Food Bank through the media has been asking folks to donate breakfast cereal because they are experiencing a shortage. Miles folks got the message and added a number of huge boxes of cereal to their regular donations. Imagine if all of Tucson’s neighborhoods were participating in One Can A Week. The Community Food Bank could put out a special call one week and meet their demands the next. I can see it happening … we just need to keep on pressing forward.

See you Sunday,


Monday, December 7, 2009

48th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

Moving On Up
Brian Simpson is in our news again. Remember, he’s the Director of Communications at the Association of Arizona Food Banks in Phoenix. Just today he sent me an email saying, “Good news! Mark…(B. Evans the editor of TucsonCitizen.com)…wants you to email him to work out the details, but transitioning your blog to TucsonCitizen.com is yours for the taking!” That’s not good news…that’s great news.

On the TucsonCitizen.com home page they say “Their goal is to provide a Web site that gives voice to people who want to inform their community about issues that might not attract the attention of the daily newspaper or TV news and to provide their fellow citizens different points of view about the issues of the day that differ from that of the dominant editorial voice in the city – the Arizona Daily Star.”

Best of all the TucsonCitizen.com blog has a Google PageRank of 6 which means a lot of folks check out the blog every day. OneCanAWeek.blogspot.com has readers, too, but not so many. Sometimes it just a folk or maybe two a day.

This move to TucsonCitizen.com will really help us tell our story to a wider audience and shows that we are serious about ending hunger here in Tucson. We can do it. All we have to do is stick and stay because One Can A Week has a bit of magic as I have said before. You give a weekly food donation. I collect your donation. And good things happen to move us forward. It never ceases to make me blink in wonder.

The Rodney Williams’ Saturday Night Live Access Show
Early last week Brian Simpson, Director of Communications at the Association of Arizona Food Banks in Phoenix put me in touch with Rodney who has an hour TV show on Access Tucson that airs at 9 pm every Saturday. He calls his show “Face it, It’s Over, Rodney Williams Dismantling the Myth of Racism.” I spent the next few days trying to see how One Can A Week would fit into the format.

To my surprise, quite easily because Rodney is charming and erudite. He opens the show talking about the demise of racism and then spends the rest of the time featuring musical talent, community concerns and community projects. My 15 minutes in the studio lights worked out well except for the stumble when I was introduced. Rodney said I was there to talk about ending poverty in Tucson through the One Can A Week program. My first thought was “now how the heck was I going to do that?” But than I smiled and got us quickly back on track.

When I returned home I check Google Analytics and saw that a couple of people visited our One Can A Week web site that day. Who says no one watches Access Cable TV?

Learning the Ropes
On Sunday Lori and Dennis Trujillo from 13th Street joined Barbara and Lenny on 12th Street to see what it is really like to collect One Can A Week from the neighbors. They thought it fun and really easy so they spent a number of minutes discussing the cost and the whereabouts of the white shopping carts. Lenny turned out to be quite knowledgeable on the subject encouraging Lori and Dennis to head to Big Lots! because they will pay just $9 for each cart. “Some stores charge up to $20 for these carts, “Lenny said, “so Big Lots! is the answer.” I can tell you this, the next time I have some unusual item I have to buy, I’m going to pass it by Lenny first, that’s for sure.

A Finger Licking Good Idea
At the Miles Neighborhood Fun Day Sunday the event organizer Josie Zapata shows a young neighbor how to coat a pine cone with peanut butter and then roll it around in bird seed before hanging it on a tree in the yard. The little guy spread as much peanut butter on his fingers as the pine cone just to make sure he had the proper peanut butter to bird seed ratio called for by the design.

Even the Troubled Think of the Needy
December 1st Lisa Marie on Cherry Avenue sent me an email telling me some sad news about one of our neighborhood businesses. This is what she wrote:
“First off, thanks for continuing to do such wonderful work. I feel good every time I can provide a can or two...you make it so easy to contribute.
“Secondly: I was just at Axis Market and was devastated to hear that they will be closing their doors permanently this weekend over a lease agreement dispute. I mentioned to the owner that you have created a strong community organization that collects food for the Food Bank and suggested any items in the store he can't sell/redistribute might be donated to the Food Bank in the Miles Neighborhood name. I'm willing to pick-up any left-over food goods from Axis on Friday, and hold them at my home until Sunday's pick-up, but you might want to stop by to reinforce the idea ;)…“

I did stop by to introduce myself to the Axis people and learned that their monthly rent was increased $700 so they had to close. On Sunday Kym called me to say she was at Lisa Marie’s home and there was a lot of food but no one answered the door. Kym did not know if she should take it. I told her it was okay and explained why.

The container the Axis Market gave us was huge and brimming with food. Based on our weekly average I was able to determine just how much they donated. This week’s total was 210 lbs. of food, 1 lb. of a non food item and $8 in cash. Since our food donation averages around 162 lbs., we can assume the Axis Market gave the Community Food Bank 48 lbs. of food. I am happy for the donation but sorry to see our friends go. I always thought it interesting that people had feelings for Axis and talked about their good experience there, but never said a word about the Circle K just across the street which provides a similar service. No matter where the Axis Market owner goes I hope he realizes he made a difference in our Miles Neighborhood.

See you Sunday,


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

47th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

It’s Just a Matter of Time
Saturday evening my neighbor Erin asked me to help her remove a nasty virus from her computer. She had spent the better part of the day trying to remove it herself but to no avail. After about 30 minutes I was starting to gain some ground on the vermin when Erin commented on my composure. “You’re so calm,” she said. “Right now I’d be pulling out my hair and clicking on everything.”

Calm, I thought that word funny because she should have seen me earlier in the day when I had lunch with Brian Simpson, the Director of Communications for the Association of Arizona Food Banks. I spent the better part of two hours discussing my frustration with the pace of One Can A Week outside the Miles neighborhood. Brian is sure a good listener which is what I needed. He also came up with some fine suggestions on how to expand my media horizons.

By Sunday morning I was peaceful again because I love getting my clipboard and things ready and prepping my Cabriolet for my food collection run. As I near the west end of Miles Lenny from 12th Street always calls to tell me he and Barbara are finished with their collections. When I drove up to Lenny’s home he hurried out pulling his overflowing cart. “I have lots of money, too,” Lenny said. “Mike and Tamara collected $145 from someplace called the Sanctuary. My minds going, I can’t remember the whole name. I said it a few time to myself as I walked over to Barbara on the other side of the street then suddenly it was gone.”

To make him feel better I said the same thing happens to me with names. It didn’t have much of an effect. I also told Lenny I would stop by and see Mike and Tamara to get all of the details for my update. Lenny smiled. “Thanks, that’ll work.”

Rock Stars in the Neighborhood
After lunch and before heading to 13th Street I stopped by Mike’s house to ask about Sanctuary something. It turns out that Tamara, also known as DJ Plastic Disease and Mike, a member of the Alter Der Ruine band are not only prominent musicians here in Tucson but tour the country promoting themselves, their music and important causes like animal shelters and food banks. Saturday night they performed at Club Sanctuary downtown —oh, that sanctuary— and asked their fans to donate to the Community Food Bank.

As we parted Mike said he would check out our blog and become more familiar with One Can A Week. Then on the road he would try and encourage others across the country to get involved. And to think two musical stars live just three doors down from Lenny.

Stepping Up
Kym was being a dutiful grandmother this weekend and attending her grand kids’ soccer matches out of town so I was helping her with 13th Street. As I walked back to my car to unload my first round of collections, Lori and Dennis flagged me down. “How do we volunteer for One Can A Week?” Lori asked. “We’re ready to help.”

Those are my favorite words but I was a bit surprised. I had just taken a can from their son as I had done for lots of Sundays and not seen his folks much but now here they are standing before me asking to help. They knew Kym collected on 13th Street usually but they said they would collect anywhere near the neighborhood. Right away I thought of the Barrio San Antonio just across the walkway. They participated for over 12 weeks but the neighborhood coordinators got too busy to continue. And there’s the Arroyo Chico Apartments. They immediately agreed and said they would meet me next Sunday to learn the ropes. Well, that was exciting.

With all of the neighbor chit chat I finally finished 1 minute after 4 pm which is about an hours and a half more than it normally takes me. A couple of my neighbors on Manlove, the last of my route, even mentioned my tardiness. “I thought you were sick, maybe, she said handing me her usual can of Campbell soup, “don’t you get sick, we need you.” I promised I wouldn’t.

It Gets Even Better
When I walked in my door I noticed I had an email in the inbox so I got a glass of cold water and plopped down in the chair. What a surprise. It was from Bobby Rich at Mix-FM. I had dropped off the New York Times and Huffington Post articles at the station Tuesday and was told to send him an email because he would be the one to review our One Can A Week idea. When I checked out their website I understood why. Mr. Rich along with the help of his listeners and a matching grant from Tucson Electric Power recently collected over 9,000 lbs of food and over $120,000.

Here’s my email.

Dear Mr. Rich,

I am as concerned about the hungry folks here in Tucson as you are. That is why 11 months ago I started One Can A Week in my Miles neighborhood which is located near Broadway and Campbell. It is my own personal community service program that blossomed into something way beyond anything I imagined.

In one year I will have collected and donated to the Community Food Bank over 9,000 lbs. of food from 120 or so of my neighbors. You accomplished the same goal in one day. That is why I am contacting you.

Imagine if every one of Tucson's 187 recognized neighborhoods participated in the One Can A Week food donation program. Hunger would be eliminated in Tucson. This can be accomplished simply by finding a "coordinator" such as me in the other 185 neighborhoods. (Ironwood Ridge is also collecting One Can A Week.)

With your ability to influence your listeners, I know we will be able to find volunteers who will enjoy becoming a Bobby Rich or Mix-FM Neighborhood Coordinator. Then we can have a food drive every week without promoting on the air week after week. All we will have to do is talk about the weekly totals the neighborhood coordinators collect. And, too, we can collect diapers all year around. (You may know that this is Mr. Rich’s personal annual drive.)

There is another aspect of this program that has excited both Feeding America and the Corporation for Community and National Service in Washington, DC (Serve.gov). They like One Can A Week because it enlists whole neighborhoods in community service. And by the way, those two national organizations helped introduce me to The New York Times and USA Today.

I would like to meet with you for a half hour to explain the One Can A Week program and how you can take us to the next level which is ending hunger here in Tucson…

Mr. Rich’s replay knocked my socks off.

“Peter, I LOVE THIS!

“I am under water right now with holiday programming, the radio play, a vacation if I can squeeze it in and other year end projects. So let's put this off until after the first of the year, OK?

“Please contact me then and we will set up a meeting.

“All the best, and CONGRATULATIONS on a fabulous effort!

“Bobby Rich”

Make Like a Computer Geek
Look what just happened in a matter of 24 hours. Like Erin and her approach to fixing a computer virus, I’m stressing a bit too much about moving One Can A Week forward when it appears to move all by itself if I just continue to make a few contacts and make my rounds on Sunday.

To me computers are mansion with scores of rooms. To fix a problem or find a virus, you have to open a lot of door until you spot the culprit. Might as well be calm while you are doing it. Perhaps I should imagine hunger as a huge food bank. It’s going to take time to fill such a place so calm is definitely the way to go…just like on Sunday.

68 Degrees and Mostly Sunshine
That’s what the weatherman calls for this Sunday so block out 2 hours for more Josie Zapata neighborhood fun at the Miles School playground. Last month parents and kids vigorously hacked up and sawed a bunch of pumpkins. This Sunday we will be thinking more about “goodwill toward all” so Josie’s plan is for everyone to be very busy with sparkles, pine cones and Elmer’s glue. Come alone, come with a whole crew, but please do join your Miles neighbors and friends as we all get into the holiday spirit.

Food and Cash Neck and Neck
This Sunday’s collection was a first. We picked up 188 lbs. of food (plus 2 lbs. of pet food and toddler wipes) which is a very strong weekly donation and exactly $188 in cash and checks. When one factors in the Community Food Bank’s 9 for 1 buying power, the $188 will purchase more than $1,600 in additional food. With such wonderful results each week, I can tell you I’m having fun performing my community service… and I know you are too.

See you Sunday.