Tuesday, February 23, 2010

59th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

More From the Motor City
On Friday I received an email from Ursula Adams the webmaster for United Way for Southeastern Michigan. She’s the one who did all that hard work modifying our One Can A Week collateral material for her market. In part Ursula wrote: “…I've been a fan (from afar) for a while!

“I would first like to apologize. I had meant to write to you prior to us going public with our own One Can-a-Week program to let you know we were doing so, but time just got away from me.

“We are trying to aggregate do-it-yourself volunteer projects around the areas of education, financial stability and basic needs (food in particular) for our constituents. Your One Can-a-Week program was a perfect fit and our first attempt at trying to move our volunteers in this direction. So, we haven't had much traction yet, but I'm sure it will only be a matter of time before it starts to pick up momentum. I plan to spend more time in the coming months really pushing out the idea.

“I'll keep you updated as we go forward. Thank you so much for developing this awesome program.”

Thinking About Traction
I haven’t thought about this situation since I wrote the “Mending the Broken Link in the Help Chain” piece many months ago that just stated the problem of helping others to help. Now with Detroit and Bobby Rich in the picture, a concrete system has to be developed to help identify folks who will be most interested in and most likely to succeed with One Can A Week.

Of course, the conundrum of convincing people to pick up the food from their neighbors jumped to the front of my thoughts. But in a matter of minutes a new approached occurred to me. Apparently the idea was fermenting in my brain over these past 6 months.

Why Picking Up One Can A Week Works
When folks hear the concept of One Can A Week many instantly turn the idea upside down and say that they will send out a flyer and get their neighbors to drop off the food at their house.

The reason this will not work—and does not work because is has been tried a number of times—is…the neighbors receiving the request to deliver their donations will follow the same logic of the person making the request to donate and not invest any personal energy in the project. It’s the classic “What is good for the goose is also good for the gander.”

Conversely, if one goes to a participating neighbor’s home every Sunday to pick up the donation, the neighbor will donate every Sunday. It is akin to basic physics: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

This was always clear to me but now I think I have better defined the One Can A Week process.

How Can Folks Determine If One Can A Week
Is Right For Them?
This is a customer service question. Years ago when I owned a graphic design and graphic reproduction company in Princeton, NJ I had a heck of a time determining the depth of concern a job applicant might have for a customer. One day I suggested to my VP, who did most of the hiring, that we should put a piece of paper trash on the floor and if the applicant picked it up to throw away, he or she should be hired immediately. We never tested my theory.

Last Saturday I saw a gentleman leave the Rincon Market and just outside the door, stoop down, pick up a piece of paper and throw it in the trash can a few feet away. This brought my customer service concerns all back to me. One Can A Week is nothing but customer service of the most friendly kind. So I thought, how about asking some questions I would answer in the affirmative because I know what makes One Can A Week work.

Here are six questions I think will help people decide if our One Can A Week volunteer program is right for them. If they answer yes to all six questions, this may be the personal community service they’ve been looking for:

1. Do you pick up trash on the sidewalk or in your neighborhood
     because you know it’s not going to happen if you don’t do it?

2. When a friend calls you late at night and is in trouble do you
     race right out the door to help?

3. Are you the one your family or neighbors turn to when
     something unusual happens, expecting you to take charge?

4. Do you have about 5 hours a week to commit to helping your
     neighbors get involved in their neighborhood and
     community service?

5. Do you know the computer or a computer person with whom
     you can partner?

6. Do you like to write or do you know a writer with whom
     you can partner?

As you can see, One Can A Week is all about my neighbors and I’m just there to help.

Small Wonders
Every Sunday Aidan, 5 ½ (left) Asher, 9 months and Caleb, 2 ½ (holding Asher and next to the food bucket) help their mother Phoebe Fox in their Phoenix neighborhood collect One Can A Week. In her email with these terrific photos attached, Phoebe said “It’s a kick having three boys!” That reminded me of a time when I was a few years older than Aidan and helped my dad organize Cub Scout Troops all over the county when we lived in Pennsylvania. He just stood up there talking to folks about the benefits of the scouts for kids, parents and the community. My dad was never a scout himself but his boys were and that convinced him to get involved.

I always admired his ability to just get up in front of a group and start speaking. I never saw him prepare at home or be concerned about giving a talk. That early experience on the road taught me extemporaneous speaking and commitment to a community service idea. Phoebe’s boys are learning the same lessons and will one day figure out who taught them, giving them another reason to love her more.

Our Fruit Cup Runneth Over
With bananas from the Circle K on Broadway and Cherry and lemons from my friend Larry Meskill, our donation to the Community Food Bank topped 274 lbs. Also, 34 lbs. of food from the Axis Food Mart helped out a bunch, too. Cash donations this week amounted to $5.30.

See you Sunday,


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

58th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

Simple Request
Last Tuesday I got an email from Arthur Delaney, a reporter for the Huffington Post in D.C. He wrote, “Peter, would you be willing to speak again to the Huffington Post? I've been following your email updates and would like to do a story this week, if you're willing.”

If I’m willing? I was ready to hunt down a pair of snowshoes because I knew DC was snowbound. But no need, Arthur was stranded at home and his phone and email were working perfectly.

Arthur, if you remember, wrote a story about One Can A Week on November 20, 2009 called How to End Hunger One Neighborhood At A Time. He’s been reading our weekly updates and liked our Sunday rain storm story last week.

Also, he wanted to talk to other folks in the country who have taken up the One Can A Week challenge. I provided some names and he did his research. The result was a terrific news story published Monday called Yes He Can: 'One Can A Week' Program Inspires Imitators. By the way, he has got to be one of the fastest writers in the world because he called to have me send him the Cabriolet photo just about the time he began to write the story. Two hours later he posted his article.

We’re lucky to know Arthur Delaney because he really likes the idea of One Can A Week and our very neighborly neighborhood. And he’s not a fair weather friend either. His last paragraph says it all.

“HuffPost readers: Is there a One Can A Week program in your neighborhood? Are you starting one? Tell us about it -- email arthur@huffingtonpost.com.”

We’re not going away ... and neither is Arthur.

One Can A Week in the Motor City
While checking our blog’s traffic on Google Analytics I noticed a visitor reference site called liveunitedsem.org that wasn’t familiar to me. The moment the site opened, however, I recognized it immediately. It was United Way of Southeastern Michigan. They adopted our One Can A Week food donation program and were encouraging Southeastern Michigan neighbors to volunteer. In their copy they also described exactly what to expect.

“One Can-a-Week is a bigger commitment than your typical food drive, but the benefits are much greater as well. Not only does your neighborhood program provide your local food bank with a sustainable source of donations, but the program helps you develop long-term relationships with your neighbors. And studies show that neighborhoods with strong community organizations are safer to live in and have higher property values.”

Great copy and what a pleasant surprise to see the United Way logo on the Thank You card. Hope other influential charitable organizations follow suit.

Just Like Clockwork
After 58 weeks everybody is really into One Can A Week which makes our jobs so much fun and so easy. The food is on the porch or hanging on the door knobs. If not, a knock on the door and a pleasant little conversation later, it’s off to the next home. I’m never giving up this job and I know neither are Barbara, Kym and Lenny.

We collected 279 lbs. of food and $25.50 in cash this week with 47 lbs. of the total contributed by the shoppers at the Axis Food Mart.

See you Sunday,


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 Boston.com 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,


Monday, February 1, 2010

56th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

Answering the Call
This week the two boxes Barbara picked up from the Circle K on Broadway and Cherry were filled with slightly green and slightly spotted bananas. This surprised me considering that nearly all of the bananas Circle K donated last week were on their way to banana heaven. Apparently, the manager at Circle K realized donating to the Community Food Bank is serious business so he or she only gave Barbara viable food.

Right after picking up the bananas from Lenny and Barbara, a neighbor on 12th street who was out for a bike ride stopped me. He’s a commercial fisherman and had just gotten back from spending the summer and fall in Alaska. He has a great deal of fruit ripening in his backyard and wanted to tell me he will be ready this Sunday. We had a conversation about his fruit trees months ago and he remembered our plan the moment he saw me.

John Abbott at the Rincon Market called just after lunch today and said he had lots of recently out of date potato chips he wanted me to pick up. He remembered that the Community Food Bank accepts package goods 6 months beyond the “best buy date” and one year for canned goods.

It is apparent that the Circle K manager, the fisherman neighbor and the supermarket owner have their hearts in the right place but it took someone to offer to take their donations to the Community Food Bank to open the flood gates. Of course, they know where the Community Food Bank is but it is a bit disruptive and really not good business to drop everything and take some food to them. However, give these folks a phone number or a schedule and they know exactly what to do because it is good business and it is really good for the community.

Tomorrow at 10 am I am meeting with Bobby Rich at Mix-FM. I’m going to talk to him about how he might help me find other volunteers who don’t have any trouble answering the call and picking up the food. We engage enough of those folks and hunger ends in Tucson.

New Record Second Week in a Row
After a year of carting food in my car on Mondays
to the Community Food Bank I can pretty much tell how many pounds I collected. Generally I am only off about 10 lbs. With two full boxes of bananas in the passenger seat, I knew we hit another record because the back seat and trunk were jammed to near capacity. The final tally was 628 lbs. of food, $33.50 in cash and a $100 check. (The Axis Food Mart—photo on the right—donated 370 lbs. of the total and the $100 check.) We passed our last week’s record by 52 lbs. Next week I’m just going to have to remember to put a little more air in the tires.

Looks Like Lettuce…the Spendable Kind
Breakfast at the Rincon Market is warm and friendly Saturday mornings which helps folks up their generosity as they head out the door to get on with their day. I started with a dollar and some change in the dish (that suggestion last week from Mavis, if you recall) and in a few hours I had $49.90 in cash and 13 lbs. in food. As the breakfast crowd gets used to seeing One Can A Week every Saturday, I know they are going to participate even more. Their 30% increase over last week’s donations is a terrific indicator.

See you Sunday,