Monday, February 8, 2010

57th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

The One Can A Week Model
Last Tuesday I had a terrific meeting with Bobby Rich. I’ve always heard he is a great guy and now that’s exactly my impression, too. We talked about all kinds of things getting to know each other including how I thought he could help us with One Can A Week. The next day Bobby sent me an email suggesting we take the One Can A Week model and expand it to include all kinds of community service and charity work.

I hadn’t thought about it until he mentioned the idea, but lots of people really do have specific preferences in charities and charity work like the American Red Cross, UNICEF and so on. Through his radio program he could mobilize all kinds of people in all kinds of neighborhoods across the city. Bobby’s listeners just love him and MixFM and would be happy to volunteer once they heard they were needed.

I sent back an email saying of course, let’s expand the One Can A Week model. Later this week Bobby will get back to me and tell me the next steps.

Surprised By the Need
One of the first people I talked to about meeting with Bobby was Bill Roach my business partner. He was excited for me and mentioned that he recently had been to the Community Food Bank with his neighbor Scott Hughes. Scott is the retired UPS driver I told you about a few months back who encourages his neighbors to leave their donations at the neighborhood mail boxes.

Bill was impressed with the enormity of the Community Food Bank’s warehouse and somewhat taken aback by the obvious scope of the problem. He said if he ever got into trouble where he needed the food bank he would work like hell to get himself and his family back on the road. That’s what folks always try to do I said but there are lots of problems being poor and it takes as much creativity as money to build a stable lifestyle. And this recession is exacerbating the situation.

Much of America is like Bill. They are very sympathetic when it comes to the poor but they often think a good yank on some boot straps will fix the problem. Over the next few days I did a little research to refresh in my mind what the economists and sociologists taught me about the poor in this country. Either the poor are not educated or smart enough to make good choices, the antipoverty programs lock them in place or there is so much prejudice they can’t break out.

I don’t subscribe to any of those reasons because I’ve been poor and know a lot of poor folks. My thinking is there are just so many problems to solve in their daily lives that when one problem is fixed two more popup to take its place. For example, you spend months saving to buy two badly needed new tires for the car and then the battery dies and you dog gets sick. It never ends.

In my research I discovered a new light was being shone on the poor by Charles Karelis (Ka-rel-is), a philosopher and former president of Colgate University. He wrote a book titled “The Persistence of Poverty: Why the Economics of the Well-Off Can’t Help the Poor” which Drake Bennet at reviewed.

Toward the end of the review Mr. Bennet’s reveals the essence of Professor Karelis’s idea: “the cause of poverty has been poverty.” This revelation was not immediately clear to me. How could poverty cause poverty? I was going to think about it though because I like the professor’s other concepts: Poverty is not a problem to be solved by economics and poor folks think in terms of problems not goods.

On Saturday morning I woke up early to get ready for the Rincon Market when the image of Kiki the seven-year-old Haitian boy waving his arms about after being rescued flashed into my mind. I knew exactly why, too.

The Rescue of Kiki
This little seven-year-old boy was photographed by Matthew McDermott just moments after being coaxed out of the ground where he was burried for eight days. The instant he was lifted into the air he celebrated with a huge infectious smile and out streched arms. Kiki is the embodiement of mankind's positive spirit—yet just a few minutes earlier—he also displayed the incredible contradictory and self defeating human behavior that can and often does stymies personal growth.

Kiki was held captive in the ground for eight days and in that time; he went from pure terror and incredible insecurity to feeling secure in the hole. In other words, Kiki became comfortable in his discomfort so when he faced the prospect of rescue into uncertainty, he pulled back and resisted. To extract him, a family member had to coax him out into the world again.

This I think is what Professor Karelis meant by “poverty causes poverty.” No matter how bad it is, eventually folks feel comfortable in their surroundings and no matter what they say, they resist change that takes them into new, unfamiliar territory.

To help people out of poverty my thought is to eliminate their hunger and then coax them gently out of their comfortable hole by showing them how to be equally comfortable in the sunlight just like Kiki. If you think this is too coddling, just remember the last time you had to leave your comfort zone in a bad relationship or a stifling job … or even being poor.

All In
Nobody called me to discuss whether we would pick up our donations in the rain or not. This was the first really rainy Sunday in 57 weeks. Guess they were going to go ahead with or without me. My thought was that maybe our neighbors might think we were not coming so they wouldn’t put out their cans. As I drove up to my first stop at 11:30 I saw that even they weren’t going to be put off by a good soaking. Bill on Miles Street wrapped his can of beans in a sandwich bag for protection. That same bag kept the ink dry on his Thank You card.

Everyone on my route was prepared as usual. It almost appeared as if they were testing our resolve by showing theirs. It was a proud day in the Miles Neighborhood because no one doubted we should press forward. Several of my neighbors when they saw me quoted the first few words of the postman’s creed “Neither snow nor rain…” and I laughed. I replied “people are hungry rain or shine.” They nodded in agreement.

On 12th Street the sun was beginning to break through as three gentlemen walked passed my parked Cabriolet. One came up to me and handed me a $20 bill. I recognized the other two gentlemen who live on Miles but not this fellow. “I live at 1540 and I just want to say I support what you are doing,” he said. I thanked him and thought that months ago I stopped at that house and they weren’t interested. But this wasn’t the guy I met then. A new neighbor…and a new participant…rain is refreshing in so many ways.

Yes, We Have More Bananas
Barbara signed up another Circle K, the one next to the Double Tree Hotel on Alvernon and they will have their donation ready Monday mornings. This is great because I can pick it up on the way to the Community Food Bank. Also, our returning Alaskan neighbor followed through with his orange donation, too. We collected a total of 464 lbs. this week…163 lbs. of food, 90 lbs. of produce, 210 lbs. from Maen at the Axis Food Mart and $34 in cash. Not bad for a soggy Sunday.
See you Sunday,


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