Monday, June 27, 2011

129th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,
The Beer Keg Caper

Thursday is my Friday at the Axis Food Mart since I only work a 4-day week. So I’m extra happy on Thursdays to see my shift end at 1 pm. I planned to get a quick bit and head to my 2 pm computer lesson. Maen called about 12:15 and asked me if I wanted a Double Doubler from the In and Out Burger folks. That was a gift I couldn’t refuse, of course, but I told him I’d have to eat it in the car.

Then I got busy with lots of customers until 12:45 when Maen walked in carrying the much-anticipated lunch. Just for the heck of it, I checked my cell phone messages because my client often sends me a last minute cancellation notice. Sure enough, there it was. A 12:40 “not today” pocket vibration that I did not feel. Right away I told Maen we could have lunch together.

After our 10 minute munch fest, I got busy again behind the register with more customers and Maen started checking in a big beer delivery. As I handed change to the last customer in line, I looked up and immediately recognized a scruffy looking young man who pushed through the double doors and briskly walked down the soda aisle.

It took maybe 5 seconds to get to Maen’s side in the back of the store. “The Keg Kid is here. What do you want me to do?”

He quickly ushered me into his office and gave me a business card he untacked from the wall. “Call Detective Mark and tell him to hurry.”

I punched in the cell number and got Det. Mark on the third ring. He identified himself as a Tucson Police Department Licensing and Enforcement Officer and listened intently. “I’ll be there in 15 minutes,” he said, “and I will drive as fast as I can.” We hung up.

Later I remembered that it sure was a comfort to reach the police in three rings. Then speak a few words and get the wheels not merely rolling but screeching.

8 Months Ago
A short time into their relationship, Maen became more and more uncomfortable dealing with the Keg Kid. Generally, a deposit of $30 is placed on a full keg of beer at the time of purchase. In a day or two when the keg is returned empty, the deposit is refunded. The Keg Kid never bought any beer but every few weeks he had anywhere from 4 to 8 kegs stuffed into his well-used car. He told Maen his grandfather owned a restaurant before he died and left him all of the kegs.

Maen paid $20 per keg because the Kid was never a customer. Then one day, he abruptly told the Keg Kid to take his business elsewhere.

2 Months Ago
About 11 am Det. Mark and his partner Det. Debbie stopped by Axis to talk to Maen who was not in yet. Although they had met Maen during the liquor licensing process and the relationship was somewhat contentious, they had come to ask for Maen’s help. It is apparent they knew his character but were just being “tough cops” when it came to the licensing of a new business to sell alcohol.

This day they wanted to get all of the info they could on beer kegs. In confidence, they said they are involved in an ongoing investigation centered around stolen kegs. I told them what I knew and about the Keg Kid which was news to them. Maen showed up and gave him a license number he took down from the Kid’s car. They asked Maen to call them if the Keg Kid showed up again. He said he would but it was unlikely.

Not Professional Stallers
After I told Maen I reached Det. Mark and we needed to hold the Keg Kid here for 15 minutes, Maen approached him.

“Hi, how are you doing?” “How’s business?” “Things are slow here for the summer.” “Do you have any kegs to sell?”

Lots of quick questions and lots of charm.

The Kid said yes and Maen replied “let’s get them”

There were 8 kegs crammed into the Kid’s Integra and they were hot as blue blazes from the sun. That took maybe 3 minutes to get them out of the car and into the storage area in the back of the store. Then Maen took a phone call and I told the Kid it was family business and may take a while. Two minutes later Maen showed up at the register where the safe is and the cash he need to pay the Kid. I was hoping Maen would have taken longer on the phone. Oh, well.

“Did you open the safe this morning and reset the timer?” Maen asked me in front of the Kid.

“No, I’m sorry I didn’t.” I was thinking, what timer but said nothing. Oh, that timer! I get it.

Maen mentioned he had about 8 minutes to go before he could open the safe. I kept looking nervously out the window and blamed my actions on the number of customers the Kid apparently cause to stop by the store. I told him you brought us luck and asked his to step aside as I rang up the sales.

Finally, and very slowly, Maen opened the key but “sometimes timer” safe to get the Kid’s $200. He deliberately counted the twenties into two neat piles in front of the Kid and picked them up again. Maen said later he did not want to hand the Kid the money and have it confiscated as evidence. “It is our slow time, remember.”

Moments after Maen picked up the cash the detectives pulled up behind the Kid’s Acura in front of the store and stopped. The Kid saw this and became a bit anxious. They sat in the car for a very long minute or so before getting out. They entered the store with a couple of customers and walked up to the Kid. He was surrounded by two plain-clothes detectives and two uniformed officers. It was all over and Maen still had the $200 in his hand. It turned out that the officers didn’t need the money, but they would have had to keep it if the $200 were in the Kid’s possession.

Propped up by the large garbage bin on the walkway in front of Axis, the Keg Kid admitted stealing the kegs and admitted the needles in his car were his. He also admitted there was a ring involving employees of businesses around town who sold him kegs. Det. Mark thanked Maen very sincerely because he was at a dead end in the case before the call. And as seen dozens of times on TVs’ Law and Order, his captain just that morning leaned on him to get some results because someone higher up was leaning on him.

Stand Up, Folks
Maen has this thing about being responsible for how his world turns. He always wants it pleasant for his customers, his employees and especially his family. So he sees trouble and stops that trouble whenever he can. The next day, Friday, a customer asked Maen about all of the cops in front of his store yesterday. Maen said he just stood up for the neighborhood. Maen then asked him if he ever “turned in one in your lifetime?” The customer replied he had not. “Well,” Maen suggested, “if everybody worked with the police and turned in just one, what a better life we all would have.”

Not Too Hot – The temperature reached 107 degrees on Sunday but food was on the porch, and if it weren’t, folks quickly answered their doors. Of course, right after they handed me their donation, they closed them just as quickly.

We collected a total of 170 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $43.10 … two checks for $35.00 and $8.10 in cash.

See you Sunday,


Monday, June 20, 2011

128th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,
When Your “I”s Are Too Close Together
You Can’t See Anything

Mike showed up again with his charming wife, Rachael Saturday morning at the Rincon Market. He’s a systems engineering student at the university and is thinking seriously about starting One Can A Week in his neighborhood. He said he’d have breakfast first and then join me for a talk about the process.

My dad loved systems engineers. He was VP of Production for a number of famous shirt manufacturers such as Arrow and Van Heusen and relied on these professionals to help him keep production rolling. I guess if he were more mechanically inclined he would have become a systems engineer himself, but instead he majored in philosophy. That decision turned out to be important in my life as you will discover down the page.

Systems engineers are those special people who see and can manage complex and complicated projects involving many disciplines. Just think about how many different professions are involved in building a space station or a product like Oreos. They are very detailed oriented and highly conceptual folks.

When Mike came back to my display table, he opened up the conversation by asking why I started One Can A Week. This was the beginning of his fact-finding mission. I could tell he was wondering if his philosophy was consistent with mine.

There were many reasons, I told him. For instance, as I was driving to the Rincon Market I was thinking about how neatly our food donation program fits into my approach to life and that seemed the right place to start our dialog.

The only thing of value we have is our word. If you do what you say, all is well, but one question from anyone can cause doubt. One Can A Week is structured, engineered, if you like, to counter any doubt, supported by Community Food Bank receipts and quarterly food donation reports.

Next, we covered the idea of focusing one’s attention on others. This is easier said than done because most of us put self-imposed constraints on our time by acquiring material things and family obligations. This eventually becomes a perpetual motion machine paid for by a job which may leave precious little time to devote to others. Early on I decided helping others and few possessions was the life for me. My dad was very instrumental in this decision

One day when I was a teenage, he brought home a letter he received from a job applicant and handed it to me. I started to read it when he interrupted me. “I just want you to look at the letter,” he said.

There were three paragraphs and apparently dad circled all of the “I”s . I counted 30 some When I looked up he said, “If your “I”s are too close together, you can’t see anything.” To this day, dad’s lesson on paying attention to the world and staying committed to others is always on my mind.

Mike had one more question in his quest to discover the make up of a potential One Can A Week organizer. Why aren’t there more people picking up the gauntlet in more neighborhoods? This is my personal opinion but I believe people think they know things and they really have no idea how the world works. “I can support myself, why can’t they?” “Just tell them to get a job.” “We spend too much on education.” And other silly questions and statements.

What could we know; we have only been out of the caves for 12,000 years. That is such a small amount of time in the scheme of things it is nothing but arrogance to believe we know anything. (See chart below to get a different perspective on life and the passing of time.)

Just the other day, another friend of mine who is also named Mike, sent me a link to photos of a man in Costa Rico whose best friend is a 17-foot crocodile. Reptilian brain or not, this wonderful creature feels emotion. We have so much to learn.

My new friend Mike really perked up when I told him the crocodile story and he wanted the link. Mike is a good interrogator and a good listener, too. I think he is going to do just fine with One Can A Week and most everything in his life.

All Humans are Born with a Blank Slate and Then They Forget
We look at a picture of a 4,000-year-old Pyramid in Egypt or an illustration of a 12,000-year-old cave dwelling site in Europe and we have difficulty imagining those things that happened such an incredibly long time ago. It is almost impossible to relate to or grasp that we are directly involved in such ancient history especially if we are viewing those photos or drawings on our laptop or iPad. But we are related and in reality it wasn’t that long ago.

If you change the time prospective, it seems quite within reach as it should be. If we use a linear scale of human longevity, say a lifespan of 100 years, then from our grunting cave man and woman days to today, June 20, 2011, 120 people in a row, where born and died. (That’s how many folks are in the illustration above.) In other words, one person was born, lived to 100, died and another one was born on the same day for 12,000 years. That’s a checkout line of 120 people, something you may run into at a Wal-Mart super sale or hit movie premier.

If we limit their linear lives to 50 years, there would have been 240 people since the damp cave days. If we stick to the 25-years-per-generation figure, there were only 480 people in the time measuring line. Think about a nearly full 380 Airbus which seats 520 passengers.

We’re only in the very, very early stages of human existence on the planet Earth and we can’t forget that fact. We don’t know much about where we are or why we are and to pretend otherwise is unwise.

Cereal Sunday
The Community Food Bank always suggests people donate cereal for kids. (Non-sugar coated, of course.). This week a couple of neighbors heard the word and loaded us up with a huge shopping bag full.

We collected a total of 202 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $56.50 … a $25.00 check and $31.50 in cash.

See you Sunday.


Monday, June 13, 2011

127th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,
It’s a Penny Business
A story about a convenient place where everybody wins.

Almost a year ago, Judith Warner published an article in The New York Times. In it she talked about The Charitable-Giving Divide. “For decades,” she wrote, “surveys have shown that upper-income Americans don’t give away as much of their money as they might and are particularly undistinguished as givers when compared with the poor, who are strikingly generous.”

“A number of other studies,” she continued, “have shown that lower-income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans. In, 2001, Independent

Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year give away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 gave away 2.7 percent.”

But what would happens if a man of means is as generous as his working-class customers? Instead of a survey or study that tells us how such a partnership would benefit charity, we have just one case study. And that case study happens right here in our Miles Neighborhood every day.

Maen Mdanat, owner of the Axis Food Mart has two habits, one good, one
bad. He’s trying to give up smoking, the bad one. But his generosity, the
good one, is something he wants to become more addicted to. “I just love
to help people," he confesses. So he took an old coffee tin when he first
opened his store here and created a very visible change drop for
his customers.

Now to the business side of Maen’s personality. All of his distributors
know Maen is always looking for a deal. They know this because he is
always pushing them for a deal. Last Wednesday Finley Distributing
called Maen and told him they had lots of Sunny D that recently
passed the Best By date.

The price for all of those Sunny D cases—more than 2,700 lbs.—decorating
the front of the Axis Food Mart was only $400. Maen will donate $100 and
the rest of the money for the Finley invoice will come from customer dimes,
nickels, quarters and pennies dropped in the Food Bank canister. Capitalism
at its finest! Customers love to donate change to the Food Bank, Maen loves
to be generous and work deals and the hungry really appreciate the help.

I saw Jake today when I dropped off our donation at the Food Bank. He gave me
the Axis Food Mart receipt for 2,781 lbs. and told me that the Sunny D was
already out of the warehouse and distributed. That was such good news…
and they just got the product Friday. It’s so true, the Community Food Bank
needs it now and we are helping now.

As I was leaving the Food Bank I thanked Jake for all of the help. Juan, who sits
behind the receiving desk said, “Jake helped you? We’re always trying to
get him to help us.” It was a joke, of course, but as I am writing this post I
looked at the photo of Jake operating the automatic tailgate lift with his right
hand and controlling the fork lift with just one finger of his left hand.
He’s either super strong or maybe there is something to that not-working-
too-hard comment Juan made.

Setting a major record – PJ Trujillo collected 344 lbs. for the Miles Neighborhood in one week back on June 15, 2009. That record stood for one hundred and four weeks. The Axis Food Mart just set a new record this week by donating 2,781 lbs.

This new record will probably stand until we land on Mars or Maen Mdanat works another deal. (Notice the photo of the Sunny D soft drink plopped in the cart. Humorous, no?)

We collected a total of 2,939 lbs. of food, including 2,781 from the Axis Food Mart. The money we donated amounted to $38.50 … a $25.00 check and $13.50 in cash.

See you Sunday.


Monday, June 6, 2011

126th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,
Getting Comfortable with an
Uncomfortably Big Food Donation Box

The Thank You Kids are easily spotted from most of the
checkout lanes.

Probably the most exciting aspect of the Sunflower Market’s donation box experiment is they are sincerely working with me to try to discover a way to blend in their store a large, permanent Community Food Bank donation box and at the same time, generate lots of food for the needy in Tucson.

To date we have learned that a large donation box supported by a small sticker on the checkout stand works well. The food box can be off to the side and it still fills up. However, when the sticker is removed from the checkout stand, the food donations drop dramatically. (See chart below)

My next move was to forget about those stickers and pretty up the box in addition to adding some 3 dimensional Thank You Kids. People liked the look—well, the few who saw it—because it was somewhat hidden next to the microwave oven along the front wall.

Even on a stroll in front of the 7 checkout lanes, the
Thank You Kids are in plain sight.
Rosemary, the Events Coordinator and her coworkers decided the box could take up residence beside the customer service counter on the west end of the store. Within a few days the box filled up with 104 lbs. of food. It was the best showing so far.

But another problem became apparent. The big box got in the way of the door to the accounting office which the managers have to access dozens of time a day. They were constantly bumping into the box entering and leaving the small room.

One manager suggested highlighting the box in the dining area directly in front of the checkout stands. There is a space between two booths that is right in the center of the section. Perfect. Most everyone entering or leaving the Sunflower Market cannot help but see the Thank You Kids smiling away.

Now only time and donations will tell if the big pink box has found its Feng shui in the Sunflower Market and will collect significant amounts of food for ever more.

Not As Many Neighbors
With summer vacations and folks moving out of the neighborhood, there are fewer homes to visit, but this Sunday, as with every other Sunday, the donations were sizeable.

We collected a total of 186 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $44.00 … a $25.00 check and $19.00 in cash.

See you Sunday,