Tuesday, August 31, 2010

86th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

Of Like Mind
George Clooney and I had the same thought on Sunday, but, of course, his was global and handsomer.

For eighty-six weeks now I have collected lots of my neighbors’ food which we donate to the Community Food Bank. My thought was, how long can I keep this up? It’s not because I’m bored or tired. I was wondering how long would my neighbors stay with me because I’m one of those guys who jumps off the horse just as we both head for the ground.

In his acceptance speech for the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award at the Emmys Sunday, George Clooney said, in part, “When the disaster happens, everybody wants to help…The hard part is seven months later, five years later, when we're on to a new story. Honestly, we fail at that, most of the time…

“So here's hoping that some very bright person right here in the room or at home watching can help find a way to keep the spotlight burning on these heartbreaking situations that continue to be heartbreaking long after the cameras go away.”

I read George’s words a few hours after I answered my own question. I know that as long as I stick and stay, my neighbors will do the same because I am doing something they want and need to do. That’s also the answer to Mr. Clooney’s question.

In all of those disasters, large and small, a few people like George, who see a job to be done, can keep support coming from friends and associates if they stay the course no matter how dark it gets without the media lights.That’s what my neighbors are doing. They love that I’m in it for the long haul.

The real trick is to find folks—boots on the ground, as it were—who truly are helpers. They’re Peace Corps types. They love speaking another language and eating bugs if they have to. (I have to tell you that I like everything about the Peace Corps and thought about joining but I really need to stay in a motel every night and take a shower.) So One Can A Week is perfect for me.

If George wants to affect change, he might think about creating a cadre of Peace Corps types, train them and then pay them a small salary to help endlessly. Most Peace Corps volunteers would never come home if they could count on a little support that never ends as long as they keep helping. Then George, along with other powerful folks, could round up supplies and keep them coming. The administrative cost would be low and most of the donated money would go directly to the people in need. Just people, ropes, horses, oxen and logs built the Pyramids.

Gaining Ground Again – In the past few months we have lost a number of neighbors to other neighborhoods. But just this past week, other neighborhoods have lost neighbors to us. We have two new couples on Warren Street who have joined us and both are excited to participate in One Can A Week.

We collected a total of 128 lbs. of food, including 2 lbs. from the Axis Food Mart. The money we donated amounted to $61.50…$13 from Axis, two checks for $40.00 and $8.50 in cash.

See you Sunday,


Monday, August 23, 2010

85th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

One Surprising Question
Late last week Pauline Hechler, VP of Development at the Community Food Bank invited me again to speak about One Can A Week to Mrs. Pamela Stein’s Life Skills class at the Gridley Middle School on Harrison and Broadway. I could only make the morning session but any time I get to talk to kids is great. Last year I told them they don't have to wait until they were adults to help people in need. It was only words and they had a little difficulty grasping the concept. Today I had some hard facts to show them. Over the weekend, I Googled "6-year-old helps food bank" and got back a bunch of news stories featuring kids in all kinds of fund raising projects. They thought of the idea and through their efforts—with a little help from their proud but astonished parents—generated a lot of food and/or money, not to mention media attention.

I then Googled 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12-year-old food bank donors and got lots of great stories from all over the country. When I pasted the ninth story on the white board, (covering Pauline's bullet points) I had their undivided attention. All it takes I told them was a passion to help and a little assistance from some adults and they, too, can make a difference.

Most of that passion can come from a simple decision they can make right now. Do they want to be a good person, a so-so person or a bad person? It is really their personal choice and now is a perfect point in their lives to make it. If they decide to be a good person and take the high road, decisions about what to do in most situations are clear. Then all they have to do is follow "The Golden Rule."

“Who knows what The Golden Rule is?" I asked. One kid with his hand over his mouth mumbled a one word something. I asked and he repeated it a couple of times until I finally heard "silence." With that guess, I can just imagine what his life is like at home.

I looked around the class and a boy near the back of the room finally spoke up, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Not one of the other 30-plus sixth graders heard of the axiom. Pauline, the teacher and I looked at each in utter amazement.

At lunch, Pauline suggested that perhaps the reason for the void was cultural or lifestyle related. I replied that The Golden Rule is stated emphatically in all of the major religions of the world. I mentioned to her I carry around a graphic chart in my briefcase that names the religion and provides the wording of its Golden Rule. Each is somewhat different but the meaning is unmistakably the same.

I'm still disheartened that a whole classroom of middle school kids is not aware of one of humankind’s most universal teachings…respect for each other. Maybe to fix the mess we are in, we should just start teaching The Golden Rule. It sure couldn’t hurt.

Funny, Money is the Key to Generosity but Not Like You Think
The New York Times headline read “The Charitable-Giving Divide.” Bill Gates along with Warren Buffett and 38 other wealthy philanthropists—who are destine to give away at least half of their wealth when they leave this earth—were in the opening paragraphs but these folks are the exception. According to Judith Warner, the author of the article, “Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year gave away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 gave away 2.7 percent.”

Other researchers report that wealthy folks are more interested
in values that "prioritized their own needs" like supporting their schools where their names end up on buildings or they get coveted seats on prestigious boards. Not-so-wealthy folks were more “generous, charitable and trusting” and understood the needs of others.

But here’s the rub. When roles were reversed in studies, wealthy folks who thought themselves poor were quite generous and poor folks who thought themselves rich were less generous. Generosity or lack there of, is a matter of one’s perspective, real or imagined. As a marketer, this fact bowled me over. Now all I have to do is think of concepts that will open the empathy doors and windows in mansions all over town. What will get very rich folks to think about what it is like to be poor? But wait, I think I have to figure out how to head off the panic attacks such thoughts will cause first.

This Was a Hot One…Literally
By the time I picked up Miles and headed for Lenny’s house on 12th Street, I was 30 minutes into the run and really feeling the heat. There was no breeze to speak of and I don’t drive very fast.

By 12 noon, I was home and took a full hour to eat my lunch in front of the fan. Cooler and delighted by a slight breeze that greeted me at my door, I finished the afternoon run in much better physical shape. Got to have a breeze or no darn humidity to enjoy my rounds.

We collected a total of 145 lbs. of food, including 3 lbs. of pet food and 16 lbs. from the Axis Food Mart. The money we donated amounted to $35.43…one check for $25.00 and $10.43 in cash.

See you Sunday,


Monday, August 16, 2010

84th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

The Set Up
Over the weekend I received an encouraging email from Carol in Wake Forest, NC. Remember, she and her son, Colin are collecting One Can A Week for the VFW in their community. The email contained a link to a story about a fellow who summers in the coastal town of Holden Beach, NC. His name is Bill Spier and he is 76-years-old. He started his “A Second Helping” program—which is similar to One Can A Week—five years ago. It involves collecting food from folks who spend a week in the 700 plus rental homes along the shoreline. All of the homes have kitchens and he reasoned that the folks might donate the left over food at the end of their stay rather than cart it home. He was right and he collected over 14,290 lbs. just last year.

His success inspired him to try to initiate the program in other Carolina towns but so far only three have thrived of the dozen or so that tried.

This is the part of the article that got most of my attention probably because I am also looking to inspire others to initiate a One Can A Week program in their neighborhood and I can’t seem to kindle a flame. By Monday I was sufficiently dejected enough to realize I had to let it go and think about something else.

Aaron’s Story
Of course, the last stoplight would turn red at Speedway and Wilmot and make me a couple of minutes late for my computer lesson with Aaron at Villa Hermosa just across the intersection. And of course, as I darted up the stairs and rounded the corner to the computer room, I could see he had already positioned himself in his scooter in front of the computer and was patiently waiting for me to arrive.

Aaron is 88-years-old, well educated with a couple of Ph.D.s in a couple of languages and very afraid of the computer. Our first lesson last week consisted of clicking the mouse a couple of time and then taking deep breaths to calm ourselves down. I guess it worked because here was Aaron again. (Clip Photo - Not photo of Aaron)

Before I arrived he had tried to open the Internet but with little success because his rhythm of clicks was off somewhat. When I tapped on the table to show him how he should click, he got it the first time. There were a few more breathing exercises but we opened his Gmail account and began typing a message to his daughter. Aaron has a tendency to hold down the keys too long so a bunch of letters show up. I told him not to fret because we will edit after he is finished typing his message.

When I came back from getting a drink of water at the fountain across the hall, I noticed his was smiling. He had typed his first message. I told him now comes the fun part…editing. I know as a linguist and writer, he loves words and has done an incredible amount of editing in his life. I quickly showed him the arrows on the keyboard and he took to them like an editor to a red pencil. He started to smile and chuckle and the curser raced to the double letters and the no-space between words. He even said, “I’m having fun.” And he needed no air breaks.

The second, which was the last email he typed, was to his grandson. He talked about how he was not good at this stuff but his grandson was and could help him. He signed it, “Your anxious granddad.” We both laughed.

Aaron will check his email himself tomorrow to see the replies. He’s anxious in a good way to get them. He has made tremendous progress in just two lessons and has taught me something in the process. When it comes to moving One Can A Week forward, I have to be as patient with myself as I am with all of my students. That’s when the success will come.

Food for Thought
As I sit behind the display table at the Rincon Market on Saturday mornings I have plenty of time to observe folks, think and make notes. This past Saturday I saw a neatly dressed gentleman in a white shirt and black trousers who had a cell phone on one hip and a holstered gun on the other. This struck me as strange in such a peaceful place and my mind whirled around that dissonant image for a few minutes. Then I wrote: When your brain is not loaded and ready to fire, carrying a gun highlights that fact.

The Luck of Bobby and Debby – Lopita and I were standing on her porch discussing our desire for everyone to vote this election season when I noticed she started looking over my right shoulder. I stayed focused on Lopita until a quizzical look took over her face. She was actually wondering who was trying to get my attention in the blue sports car down by her mailbox. I turned and saw it was Bobby and Debby Rich, who were somewhat lost.

They were on their way to a noon time theatre show on Park but Bobby forgot that Park doesn’t go straight through and ended up on Miles. He recognized the Cabriolet and umbrella so he stopped. We talked until the loss of air conditioning through the open window got to be too much for them and they drove off. I didn’t blame them because it was really hot standing still.

Lopita was only my fifth stop and I had about 150 lbs. of cans to pick up before my nap later in the day. At the end of my run I loaded the trunk in preparation for Monday’s delivery to the food bank and I noticed we had more food than usual. Today I learned we collected 50 more lbs. than our average. Very nice!

With any luck of our own, maybe next Sunday Bobby and Debby will get lost in the Miles Neighborhood again. I’m guessing with their kind of luck we could easily beat our average.

We collected a total of 200 lbs. of food, including 32 lbs. of produce and 4 lbs. from the Axis Food Mart. The money we donated amounted to $84.50…two checks for $55.00, $19.50 in cash and $10.00 from the Axis Food Mart.

See you Sunday,


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

83rd Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

Little Adventures
The food bank was rather quite when I got there at 11 today. Usually it’s a hub of activity when I arrive around 9 on most Mondays. Somebody was delivering a bed and setting it up at the dock door. I asked Keith what was that all about and he said he hoped the beginning of an after lunch nap program. Of course we all laughed.

Last week Pauline Heckler, the VP of Development at the Community Food Bank, invited me to lunch at Micha’s on South 4th Avenue so I was trying to coordinate my delivery and the 11:30 lunch appointment. It worked out well because she came down the stairs right on the dot of 11:30.

Pauline told me she selected Micha’s because it was the first restaurant Punch Woods, the Community Food Bank’s storied Executive Director took her to when he hired her. I like stories like that because it makes you feel important for doing absolutely nothing.

About halfway through lunch Pauline was kind enough to let me present an idea I’ve been formulating for weeks and mentioned a bit in last week’s post. It’s called “Smart Kids Don’t Eat Dumb Food…much” In essence, it is a study of two low-income schools where food is provided for the kids 7 days a week, 3 meals a day.

We know what is happening to poor kids now, early onset diabetes, low test scores, little exercise and everything that those concerns entails now and later in life. But what will happen to these kids if we feed them properly for 3 or 4 years? Pauline is going to help me meet with more folks to see if we can develop a program to answer that question.

Villa Hermosa
At 1:30 I had an appointment to teach the computer to some seniors and I knew I couldn’t be late. These folks have little to do so they are always very punctual. In fact, an 88-year-old student was sitting in his scooter directly in front of the door when I arrived. I yanked the computer chair away as Aaron drove up to the desk and stopped with a thud.

This was Aaron's fist lesson and he was pretty good with the mouse but filling out the Gmail form proved a bit frustrating. We stopped now and again just to let him catch his breath and calm down. I told him the computer was easier to operate than learning to drive a car because there is no way he could fly off a cliff with a computer. He smiled and relaxed a little more.

Aaron now has a Gmail account and he said he will call all his kids and grandkids to give them the news. You know they are going to be ecstatic. Sharron, the Activities Director said they have been after him for some time now to get online. Now he is.

A Walk on Campus
It was 8:20 and my Westies like to rest in the grass in front of the library before they head back to the car. Apparently the grass is cooler there—at least Adam thinks so. In the middle of the mall a very large man was play Frisbee with a couple of young boys. His voice was very large too. “I love those dogs,” he boomed as he walked over to the three of us, “what are they called…I forgot.”

I told him Westies. “Their faces are so cute," he replied in his announcer-like voice,
“their eyes look just like a kid’s.”

Turns out my new friend, Armando, was there with his son and cousin teaching them how to pitch the disc around. At first they thought the game was dumb but Armando insisted back that it wasn’t dumb and soon they were having fun.

Armando is young, 30 I think he said, and has a restless soul. He thinks there are better things in life other than his foreman job and he wants to do more. “I have to take care of myself first before I can take really good care of my boy,” he volunteered.

His admission surprised me because generally folks don’t get this concept. I told him that the lioness is probably one of the best providers in nature and a big proponent of taking care of herself. Her hunting skills are legendary and when she and the other lionesses in the Pride bring down game, they eat first.

Then the lion is allowed to eat followed by the cubs. If this order were not strictly observed, the Pride would eventually perish. If the lioness, the sole provider for the Pride, ate last, there may not be enough food for her. She would grow weak, diminishing her effectiveness as a hunter. When this happens, the whole Pride—her family, in other words—would grow weak too and eventually die.

Armando liked this story although he probably identified with the lion more. Think it’s a big guy thing. No matter, he asked for my card and wanted to talk more about community service and helping others after checking out our blog. Armando has a dynamic personality and is very engaging. Wouldn’t it be great if a chance meeting helped take One Can A Week to another level?

The Weight Isn’t the Whole Story
The Community Food Bank is always looking for breakfast cereals (the non-sugar kind, of course) and our neighbors are answering the call. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, cereal does not weigh much even if the box is huge like the Joe’s O’s. Heavy or not, keep the cereal coming, the kids need it and love it.

We collected a total of 121 lbs. of food The money we donated amounted to $57.50…one check for $25, $14.50 in cash and $18.00 from the Axis Food Mart.

See you Sunday,


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

82nd Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

The Fates Are Back from Vacation
One week without those three charming ladies and life turns into a TV test pattern. But they’re back and I’m back in the business of feeding hungry folks and their kids.

On Saturday morning I set up the One Can A Week table at the Rincon Market, picked up the Food Donation soup cup from next to the cash register and dumped its contents on the table. There were a whole bunch of dollar bills stuffed to the brim and I wondered why that happened this week. Generally, quarters are the big donated item.

About 9:45 I looked up at the wall clock across the room and thought that Bobby Rich may show up around 10 if he were going to show at all. Sure enough, there he was at 9:53 shaking my hand and telling me he and his wife Debbie were going to have breakfast with me. I quickly got my scrambled eggs, potatoes and bacon and sat down.

Debbie is the Chief Executive Officer of the Sahuaro Girl Scout Council, Inc. and it didn’t take long for the conversation to go from pleasant hellos to feeding hungry children in Tucson. In her capacity as head of the Girl Scouts, Debbie gets involved with most aspects of community service here in Tucson.

E=Full Tummies
I told both Bobby and Debbie that I get a chance to do a lot of thinking sitting behind that table over there, pointing to the yellow draped One Can A Week display by the door. A lot of times I feel like Einstein, just thinking and thinking…but on a very low level, mind you. Bobby jumped in and said that he was glad I ended my sentence as I did because he thought I was going to go on some kind of ego trip. I said no, I was just going for the joke.

The truth is for the past few weeks I have been visiting the Community Food Bank web site and reading about all of the programs they have available to feed folks…kids especially. If you take what they offer and add it to the two federal programs, kids end up with a school lunch program, a snack pak program and a summer meals program. That’s enough to get the job done. What is missing are resources. All three are looking for food and funding all of the time because the demand is so great and the supply is so small. That’s why we have hungry kids.

What if we take those programs and two schools in a low-income neighborhood and maximize the resources. Just keep the resources flowing by enlisting food providers and businesses in an experiment to see what happens. Do the scores go up? Does the weight go down? Does the health improve? What happens if we really take care of our poor kids? We already know how costly and dangerous it is when we don't.

Debbie said, “Maximize and then analyze.” Exactly. She also said she liked the idea and she knows people who will help foster the program. I hadn’t fully designed or defined the program in my mind but one must move when an opportunity grins at you. My dad always told me that opportunity is often disguised as hard work. It’s been true in my case perhaps because luck has never been a friend of mine.

I immediately told Bobby and Debbie that I would put together a proposal that spelled out all of the elements of our two-school project. Why not just give the Community Food Bank, one of the most efficient service organizations in the nation, as much food and resources as possible and let them work with the school system to beat hunger in two needy schools? Then armed with the data and success, other businesses and folks will step up because the Comunity Food Bank and the school system will have shown that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s thousands of happy-faced kids.

Folks Moving On
The Fates have affected a number of our good neighbors also. They are moving to new neighborhoods—one as far away as Ithaca, NY. With some I learn about their departure when I ring the bell and nobody’s home…permanently. Those I talk to ask me not to delete them from the Weekly Update email list because they want to keep up with what is happening in the neighborhood and One Can A Week. That’s nice.

As soon as I see that there are new neighbors, I talk to them about One Can A Week and most want to participate right away. A few are a bit hesitant when I tell them that they owe a can for every week the house sat vacant prior to their moving in. Just kidding!

We collected a total of 208 lbs. of food including 38 lbs. of produce and 42 lbs. from the Axis Food Mart. In addition, there were 4 lbs. of non-food items. The money we donated amounted to $59.00…three checks for $40 and $19 in cash.

See you Sunday,