Monday, November 23, 2009

46th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

On the National Front, according to Alexa, the web information company, is ranked 234th in worldwide popularity. So you can imagine, lots of people are reading our article in their Impact section. Just today I heard from Sue in Hightstown, NJ who wrote: “I came across the information about your wonderful initiative, One Can a Week, on Huffington Post this week. I had been looking for some charitable work that was a little more important that sorting clothes at the local thrift store (although I like that, too) and think your idea is a winner. You may remember Hightstown from your years in New Jersey since we're less than 15 minutes from Merrill Lynch. While things are not really bad in central NJ, a food kitchen has started here and it's been too busy.

“I'm just starting to work on my OCAW (One Can A Week) plan and plan to start knocking on neighbors doors the week after Thanksgiving. I'll be printing out your 'starter kit' (thanks for that!) and will keep you posted.”

It’s nice to see we are getting some responses from some very thoughtful people who really get what we are trying to accomplish. Too bad we can’t be on the Huffington Post website every week.

Getting Personal Just Like One Can A Week
Nicola Goren, the Acting CEO for the Corporation for National and Community Service just sent out a memo announcing a new program that is designed to encourage neighbors all over the country to think about feeding their hungry neighbors. Sandy Scott at the CNS who has helped introduce me to writers at The New York Times and USA Today sent me an email saying he thought the new program “fits will with” what we are doing here in the Miles neighborhood.

Here’s Ms. Goren’s memo: “As we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, let us also pause and acknowledge that many of our neighbors are struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table.

“A recent hunger report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reveals that 17 million households, or 14.6% of all households in America, were food insecure in 2008 and had difficulty putting enough food on the table at times during the year. In the midst of our great national abundance, this statistic is incredibly sobering.

“Of course, the Corporation and our grantees already support and participate in numerous anti-hunger programs, from meal preparation and delivery to nutrition education and gardening, in communities across the country.

“But this year, in these particularly tough economic times, the Corporation will also be launching a new United We Serve initiative, Feed A Neighbor, in collaboration with the White House and USDA. Our purpose is to raise public awareness of hunger issues and ask Americans to help ensure that their neighbors have access to nutritional food this winter and throughout the year.

“We will announce Feed A Neighbor early next week in a press conference call with Secretary Vilsack and direct people to to search for local volunteer opportunities that address hunger issues and an anti-hunger volunteer toolkit.

“My challenge to you is simple and straightforward: 1) find an opportunity yourself to serve this holiday season, and 2) spread the word about Feed A Neighbor.

“We will also be asking anti-hunger organizations to post their volunteer opportunities through one of the many aggregators that feed listings to All for Good, the national database linked to

“Thank you for your help as we continue to work together to tackle this problem.”

No, thank you!

Supermarket Savvy
Rick Stertz is a man of his word. Last week he said he’d contact the Rincon Market and on Saturday he wrote in his email to me, “I spoke with Ron (Abbott) (the owner of Rincon Market) and he was quite receptive to the idea of "Buy A Can/Drop a Can" Food Bank Campaign. (That’s the food industry’s take on One Can A Week.) He would like to see a proposal of ideas and then meet with you.”

In my letter to Mr. Abbott which I will drop off tomorrow I explained that One Can A Week—at its core—is a very appealing capitalistic idea. The supermarket suggests that customers should donate at least one can/non perishable item every time they shop. There is a large donation bin near the front of the store and throughout the store are special items, some times sale items, promoting food donations. As the customers check out there should also be a display near the cashier which he or she can mention.

Supermarkets are always asked to donate food but now with “Buy A Can/Drop A Can” they can donate even more food, make a little money, sell more products, get better volume wholesale pricing and pass those savings onto their customers. Now that’s the capitalism I love.

Thoughtful Thanksgiving
Liz Altamirano on Miles Street imagined 3 families sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner and bought them each stuffing, gravy helper and cranberry sauce. Others like Mike and Tamara
on 12th Street had their own food drives in their offices and collected bags and bags of food. Even Mike’s mother donated a $100 check. All of this wonderful holiday kindness throughout our neighborhood filled two large shopping carts. For the week before Thanksgiving we collected 249 lbs. of food and $142.00.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday and see you Sunday.


Monday, November 16, 2009

45th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

The Economy is Recovering but There Are Even More Hungry Children
In the recession of the early ‘90s I had to give away what was left of my little graphic arts company in Princeton, NJ and hit the streets. After many desperate months I landed a freelance proofreader job in the Merrill Lynch corporate art department. That turned into a fulltime, middle management Design Directors job. Saved.

The opulence of the Merrill Lynch Princeton corporate headquarters was something to behold. In essence, it was a 30-story building on its side. It took 15 minutes to walk from the Creative Department on one end to the cafeteria on the other end. Completely glass walled on one side and carpeted the full length of the quarter mile I was constantly impressed with the artwork, live plants and shiny gold stuff everywhere. One day a year of so into my tenure at Merrill I stopped by my manager’s office and told her that on my way back from lunch I had an attack of gratitude and wanted to thank her for my job.

I had another attack of gratitude today when I opened my email and read The Washington Post report on more Americans going hungry. The story is terrible news but we are doing something about the situation and have been at it for more than 11 months now. What I’m grateful for is my caring neighbors who decided to help me feed people in need. Just wanted to let you know.

Other Irons in the Fire
Rick Stertz, the gentleman who invited One Can A Week to the Sam Hughes Neighborhood Association meeting a couple of weeks ago, is contacting the management at the Rincon Market to set up a meeting for me. Our hope is they will initiate One Can A Week for their customers. Will keep you posted.

Last Friday I dropped off The New York Times article and other One Can A Week materials at KIIM Radio. I will be talking to Amber Crowe, Director of Promotions, maybe early next week. She is returning from vacation Tuesday so she needs time to jump back into the game. This may be a good match because they run an annual diaper drive around Christmas and my thinking is if they get involved with One Can A Week, they can collect diapers throughout the year and help more needy babies.

Over the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend I will meet with Brian Simpson, Director of Communications at the Association of Arizona Food Banks to talk about…well, as Brian wrote in his email “how we may be able to help you spread the message, as well as some of the struggles you run into.” New approaches, new information, that’s going to be a fun meeting.

More on Villa Hermosa
Jack Steindler stopped me on his way out of the Old Pueblo Rotary Club meeting today and showed me the first Villa Hermosa Senior Residence food collection quarterly report. I could tell he was kind of proud of the results. Also he mentioned that Shannon Iggi, the Activities Coordinator, is doing a great job running the program week after week and that he’s happy so many of his resident friends are participating.

Making a Difference…Twice
Early Sunday morning Barbara Trujillo on Miles called to say PJ, her 12-year-old son had collected more food from the roller derby fans Saturday night and he’d have it ready when I stopped by. I figured there would be 5 or 6 hefty shopping bags but as soon as I drove up to the house, I remembered how much the fans liked PJ and his commitment to helping the hungry. All the food he collected completely filled up the Cabriolet and amounted to 189.5 lbs. When added to PJ’s first roller derby donation, he has collected a whopping 533.5 lbs. That’s enough food to feed 136 folks three meals in one day. This is a big deal for a 12-year-old kid. Wonder what he’s going to accomplish when he older…say when he’s 13?

A Very Good Weekend, Indeed
With the help of PJ Trujillo we collected 342 lbs. of food, 8 lbs. of produce and 1.5 lbs of pet food for a total of 351.5 lbs. We also donated $6 in cash. This is our second best week ever. The first was the other PJ food jackpot he orchestrated in June at this mother’s championship roller derby event. Next Thursday is Thanksgiving. Let’s see if we can donate another two carts of food this Sunday…just because…and give PJ our thanks and a well deserved rest.

See you Sunday


Monday, November 9, 2009

44th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

Most newspaper photographers I have met are rugged guys in safari jackets. Their many pockets are stuffed with pens, notebooks, flash attachments and half eaten sandwiches. So when Jill Torrance, The New York Time freelance photographer called me on Thursday to set up a time to meet for Sunday’s collections the only thing I could imagine was the safari jacket…maybe a pink one.

As Jill climbed out of her SUV in front of my house on Sunday I realized a safari was the right analogy but instead of a hunter, I was greeted by Sheena, Queen of the Jungle in jeans. Wow, remembering to smile was not going to be a problem today.

The second house we stopped at did not have a can in the usual place so I knocked on the door. When the door opened Andrew said, “Hey, you caught me in my boxers but I’ll get the can.” A few seconds later the screen door opened and there stood Andrew. At first I though the bright yellow boxers had a huge image of Tweety Bird printed on them or at least that is what I saw through my squinted eyes. I introduced Jill and she clicked away capturing our can and Thank You note exchange. As I turned to leave looking down at the can in my shopping bag, I inadvertently saw those boxers again. It wasn’t Tweety Bird, it was Homer Simpson. How appropriate!

On the way back to the sidewalk, Jill said, “I got the photo I wanted and was able to crop out the boxers.” To do that Jill has to be some kind of great photographer because those boxers were bigger than life.

More Neighborly Conversations
Twice I was asked by neighbors if I go to the Miles Neighborhood monthly meetings. The question was obviously motivated by the delivery of the meeting notices just three days earlier. Yes, as often as I can, I said because the meetings are well run and things get done. For instance they needed a small donation for street signs. A few months later the handsome Miles Neighborhood signs were up on Broadway and Kino telling everyone where they are and where we are for that matter.

Folks asking about our neighborhood activities is such a great Oman because a community only grows when neighbors decide to participate. It doesn’t work any other way.

Returning the Favor
When Jill and I drove up to Brandon’s house on Miles, she was taking to Emily, her new neighbor from across the street. Her three-year-old daughter dressed in her Princess Halloween costume was drawing at the table on their porch. Jill took a few photos and Brandon, charming and effervescent as always, talked to us about why she looks forward to donating to One Can A Week. “It wasn’t too long ago that my daughter and I were on food stamps. I really needed the help. But now I can afford to give back. It makes me feel good to now help others like I was helped.”

We left the Cabriolet parked in the driveway and followed Emily to here home to pick up her donation. Jill took a couple of photos of Emily hands dropping the food into my black shopping bag and we headed back to the car. By this time Brandon was sitting in her daughter’s seat at the table and her daughter had moved to the chair facing us in the driveway. Through the windshield I could see Brandon pointing to her daughter.

“See thinks she is a real Princess.”

We laughed and I replied, “Yes, but she is the understudy.”

A huge smile exploded across Brandon’s face and she nodded approvingly then gave us the thumbs up sign. We laughed again and drove out of the driveway.

Taking Responsibility
Today, just before I drove our food collection to the Community Food Bank I took my Westie pups for a spin around the block. Josie Zapata and I met on the corner of Miles and Highland. She told me she just turned a lost boy over to the teachers at the Miles School. I asked her how she got involved and she said she first saw the lone boy near the arroyo and thought it unusual that he was not in school. She saw him cross the street by himself and thought that unusual, too, because of his young age. Josie followed him down to the Miles School where the boy climbed the fence to play with the other kids in the playground.

Josie alerted a teacher and she took the boy in tow. I could see them walking toward the cafeteria door. “Where’s the mother?” Josie asked as she looked up 13th Street. “Bet she’s out looking for him. Maybe that’s her now way up the street.”

I continued walking Adam and Molly and Josie intercepted the mother who than started to run haltingly toward the school. She stopped to ask directions and another teacher gestured to the front of the school building. As I walked back up Highland Street a burley man in an SUV with a Mexico license plate drove slowly down the street toward the Miles School. I could see stress in his eyes and pain on his face. “Have you seen a little boy?” he said hoping I would have an answer to his dreadful question. I told him to park his car in the parking lot in the next block and go to the office in the front of the building. His wife and son are there.

I had lots to think about on the rest of our walk. Mostly I thought about how responsible Josie was and how rare, unfortunately, it is for people to see danger and act on it. Why is it we experience terrible things like Fort Hood and then learn afterwards that people saw danger or trouble and they did nothing?

We need more Josie Zapatas. No, actually, we all need to follow Josie’s example and not shun responsibility when it shines its light on us.

What the Heck is VEET? – Howard at the Community Food Bank and I, together have lived on this planet well over 100 years and neither of us had any idea what VEET was. We deserve some credit; however, because we saw the word ‘wax’ and weren’t fooled into thinking it was something to eat. We finally decided it should be called a waxing kit and listed under the non food items on the receipt. The total collection this week was 158 lbs. of food, 2 lbs. of non food items and $13.00 in cash.

See you next Sunday.


PS. The New York Times article is scheduled to be published on Thursday, November 12th. I will send everyone a link when it becomes available.

Monday, November 2, 2009

43rd Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

Sam Hughes Neighborhood to Begin One Can A Week Program
Rick Stertz, the chairman of the Sam Hughes Community Action Committee opened the Wednesday, October 28th Sam Hughes Quality of Life Survey presentation meeting with little fanfare. He mentioned that Capt. David Neri, Midtown Division Commander of the Tucson Police Department would discuss crime statistics and crime reduction solutions. He would then be followed by Gabriel Head and Tania Capin the people who conducted the Quality of Life Survey. None of his words portend the dramatic effect the information divulged by these three speakers would have on the 30 or so Sam Hughes neighbors that night.

By his studied manner it was apparent Capt. Neri had spoken to hundreds of professional groups in his 35 years as a police officer. His first slide was a simple graph but it showed the problem in a nutshell. The crime rate in the 1.1 square mile Sam Hughes Neighborhood at the end of 2008 was at 35% and moved up to 38% in at the end of 2009. However, July – August saw a downward trend. Burglary, auto theft, and narcotics made the list, but larceny accounted for most of the police reports. Larceny, as Capt. Neri explained involves computers and iPods taken from unlocked cars, bicycles from porches and the like.
I thought I heard a pin drop. The Sam Hughes Neighborhood is one of the most prestigious and elegant neighborhoods in Tucson. How could crime get to be such a problem there? It turns out that community involvement is at a low ebb in Sam Hughes as with many neighborhoods in Tucson. The solutions Capt. Neri offered included a Neighborhood Watch Group and our One Can A Week program. Neighbors have to begin to interact with each other on their blocks on a regular basis, he suggested. Criminals know that there is a higher risk of being apprehended when a neighborhood is engaged so they move elsewhere.

In every meeting at our Miles Neighborhood Association, Officer Kevin Zinn provides a police report and there is very little activity, mostly some larceny around the Circle K. Josie Zapata has a morning patrol that spray paints the graffiti on the arroyo bridge and light poles and there may be a stolen car now and again. Sam Hughes is at least 10 times bigger than we are but size is not a relevant factor here.

How the Quality of Life Survey Came to Be
Next on the program were Gabriela Head and Tania Capin. Gabriela explained that she and a group of friends met at the Rincon Market to talk about crime in the
Sam Hughes Neighborhood and out of those discussions came a plan to survey more Sam Hughes neighbors to see if they too, were concerned about quality of life issues in the neighborhood. Gabriela said she brought her friend and associate Tania into the project who helped create and manage a survey involving 40 volunteers. And yes, most neighbors surveyed had issues with the crime rate and the quality of life in the neighborhood.

Enter One Can A Week
Shortly after the survey was conducted and prior to a final analysis of the collected data, I made a presentation to the Sam Hughes Neighborhood Association about One Can A Week. The president of the association, John O’Dowd suggested I met Gabriela Head and get her input. We had coffee one afternoon and discovered that our community service programs needed each other. Even in the early analytical stages of her survey, Gabriela and Tania knew they had to find a neighborhood activity to foster community involvement. About the same time I discovered that in order to get a neighborhood like Sam Hughes involved in collecting food for the Community Food Bank, I had to find a hook, a device that affected the neighborhood in a positive way. Amazingly, crime reduction was the hook. Who knew! Well, Gabriela knew the moment I explained the concept of One Can A Week to her.

Lines at Our Little Table
The October 28th meeting was in the works for months and Gabriela wanted to be sure One Can A Week would be represented. To help me I asked Barbara Farragut my 12th Street neighbor and friend and Lisa Hepner a friend who collects One Can A Week from her Catalina Vista neighborhood. Good thing I did because each of us had several Sam Hughes neighbors to talk to right after the meeting broke up. Lisa ended up with the most prospects because she threw in her Dining For Women organization which, as their web site describes, “is a dinner giving circle. We "dine in" together once a month, each bringing a dish to share, and our "dining out" dollars are sent to international programs empowering women.” Lisa’s strategy is to encourage both One Can A Week and Dining For Women in the Sam Hughes Neighborhood. That works for me.

Taking Care of the Troops
Seventeen-year-old Colin Reed and his mother Carol in Wake Forest, North Carolina collect One Can A Week from their 50 or so neighbors—stated incorrectly in the article as is my status—

but instead of donating the food to the communityfood bank, Colin drops off his donation at the local VFW. To quote the Wake Weekly article his mother sent to me, “The military is something I have a strong affinity toward,” (Colin) Reed said. “I believe a veteran who has served our country and is without food is wrong. These people deserve help more than anyone.” Now there’s a young man who not only gets it, but he is doing something to make things right. It’s nice to see one of our future leaders already leading.

A Call from The New York Times
Stephanie Strom covers philanthropy for The Times and usually writes about very large and very wealthy organizations. Unfortunately, the economy has slowed or nearly stopped the giving activities of most major donors. But she had as idea. Stephanie wants to write an article on giving small but on a consistent basis. This is what we do in the Miles Neighborhood. So she is including our story in her November 12th article. I thanked her very much for all of us.

Just Enough Halloween Candy
To tell you the truth, I expected to pick more Halloween candy Sunday because I figured it was a great way to get the temptation out of the house. I got a bag or two and that was it. Guess everyone was thinking that folks in need should be provided more nutritious fare than something for the sweet tooth. There was lots of tuna fish, beans, peanut butter and apple sauce. You were right and I was wrong. But in my defense, I think I was influenced by the Twizzlers Ed and Liz Altamirano gave me to munch on when I picked up their donation. We collected 168 lbs. of food, 2 lbs. of bread and $9.00 in cash.

See you next Sunday.