Monday, March 26, 2012

168th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks
Stand Up
Even When It’s None of Your Business

When I pick up Maria’s Catalina Vista donations on Sundays, her dad, Carl, an Optical Scientist at the U of A, is there to greet me sometimes. This was one of those Sundays.

Our conversations are always easy, interesting and thoughtful because Carl looks to understand human behavior. We talked about the nature or nurture of generosity in people and if they are born to be a liberal or a conservative. I was on both sides of this issue telling Carl about a study that discovered poor people are more generous than rich people. However, when the researchers told the rich people to imagine they were poor and the poor people to imagine they were rich, the poor became less generous if they thought they were rich and the rich became more generous if they thought they were poor. Nurture at work.

On the nature side, we talked about our earliest memories where we just felt the desire to help people. If we saw something out of place, we deemed it important to do something to correct the situation.

This thought suddenly stirred a memory from my Army days. After basic training, I was stationed in the Headquarters Company at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma writing news releases. Our stone barracks were near the administration building and quite nice compared to what I lived in during basic training. The floors were polished cement and the bunk beds were double-decker frames placed in a casual order about a large room.

One day as I returned from a not-so-hard day at the PIO (Public Information) Office, I noticed an 11B20 soldier (basic infantryman) lounging on a top bunk reading a book. That was unusual because Playboy Magazine was the standard fare. I asked him what he was reading and he said a physic book. I soon learned he was RA (Regular Army volunteer) and held a Ph.D. in physics. I, on the other hand, was a US (draftee dragged in kicking and screaming) and graduated Summa Cum Last.

I knew the infantrymen were attached to our Headquarters Company and their duty was to put out fires on the artillery range during the day while they awaited orders to ship out to Nam.

Without saying much more than “What the hell are you doing as an 11B20?”, I wrote down his service number and the next day I visited the personnel office.

He may have been a soldier but he was more a physicist with his quiet, somewhat shy demeanor. I knew I had to do something because he was not equipped to get himself out of his life-threatening dilemma.

Since I was in the Army barely 90 days, I understood very little about military procedures but I did know that the Army had a mistake to correct. The first officer I encountered in personnel was a Captain. “Sir,” I said with not too much confidence,” this is the service number of an 11B20 attached to Headquarters Company. He has a Ph.D. in physics. I think he is in the wrong place.” I handed the Captain the piece of paper on which I wrote the soldier’s service number and left.

The next day around noon I started up the barracks steps and the soldier in his dress uniform, dragging his duffel bag, came through the door.

“Hey, where are you going,” I said a bit surprised.

“Cape Canaveral. I’m being transferred. Going to work with rockets.”

That’s all we said.

(During that period of time, Cape Canaveral, from 1963 to 1972, was called Cape Kennedy but many of us never made the changeover.)

It’s been forty-six years since then, and now and again I think of that soldier and I’m sure he is telling the story about a guy who saved his bacon just because that guy saw something out of line in the universe. Bet the personnel Captain is too.

Carl said he really liked my story. That’s probably because he is a member of the U of A Physics Department and a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy.

There is a new show on TV called Touch with Kiefer Southerland. It is about a man whose Autistic son sees the order of the entire universe and has his dad help fix peoples lives when things go awry. Fascinating show, but we don’t require someone with special powers to tell us when something is wrong. All we need is a strong sense of what is fair and the will to think of others more than we think of ourselves.

Yes, We Have No Apathy
First Quarter 2012

Things are ever changing around us, but we as a neighborhood have kept to our One Can A Week commitment for 13 straight quarters. Based on averages, for the past three years we donated 229 lbs. of food and $50.18 in cash per week.

In our first quarter of our fourth year, we donated 206 lbs. of food and $57.08 in cash per week.

That’s got to be the finest example of community service consistency on the planet. Somebody call Guinness.

Twinkie Attack
Terri opened the door and handed me her donation. A bright blue and white box featuring a big yellow Twinkie was on top. (Pictured in the front of the cart.)

“Oh, no, those will never make it,” I thought. “Wait a minute; did I say that out loud?”

Terri smiled and said emphatically, “No.”

We both laughed.

The very next stop was at Greg’s house on the corner of 12th Street and Cherry. He walked up to my car and studied the donations spilling out of the container in the back seat.

“Twinkies! Give me that.”

We talked and we laughed some more before I drove off with the Twinkies secure in the back seat.

We collected a total of 164 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $33.15, a $25.00 check and $8.15 in cash.

See you Sunday,


Monday, March 19, 2012

167th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,
A Fatalist with Options

What a difference 0.076 seconds makes. This is the time it took
to travel 4 feet at 35 MPH where the Jeep was destined to spin
around violently instead of being T-boned.
At about 2:30 am last Saturday, an extremely drunk, 23-year old man named Jeffrey crashed into my dear friend, Maen Mdanat, owner of the Axis Food Mart.

If Maen had driven a tiny bit slower before he came to the intersection near Fry’s on First Avenue or hit the breaks when the drunk ran into his vehicle or tried to steer out of trouble, he would have died.

In many of our casual conversations, Maen and I often talk about how, no matter how we struggle to do the right thing, the fates just don’t seem to be paying much attention.

On one occasion standing outside his store while he smoked a cigarette, I told him a joke about Farmer Jones who built up his family and farm three times just to have everything destroyed repeatedly. After the last disaster, Farmer Jones fell to his knees out in the field and said, “Lord, what am I doing wrong?” The sky darkened and a booming voice came out of the heavens, “Farmer Jones, there is just something about you that pisses me off.”

We got a good laugh but agreed that even if our life stories are already written, we just aren’t going to stop trying.

Even with all of his special forces training, Maen was completely blind-sided by that drunk. He saw nothing because his field of vision was already passed that side street when the car shot out of the dark at more than 45 miles per hour and slammed into his gas tank and rear tire.

His Jeep spun to the right in three complete circles eventually severing a wooden utility pool in half that came to rest arched over his car like a Teepee, sparks flying everywhere. In all of that chaos Maen did have time to think.

After the police and tow truck arrived, the driver of the tow truck asked Maen how come he did not flip. In many SUV accidents, the car flips making matters worse.

The moment Maen started to spin he just let the Jeep go, lifting his feet in case the engine block would come flying through the firewall. Then he crossed his arms and grabbed his shoulders because he did not want the air bags to knock the wind out of him as happened in another accident years ago.

What did happen is Maen fractured three consecutive vertebras but there are no bone fragments, only hairline breaks. This is good news but there is still a huge amount of pain and he is restricted to lifting just five pounds. This is some comedown for a man who tussles with 200-pound kegs of beer the better part of a day.

The drunk villain in this story wasn’t hurt, of course, but he is being charged with Super Extreme DUI (BAC .200 or higher). Jeffrey was so drunk he could not stand up and had to be carried by the police to the cruiser when he was arrested. The icing on the cake is he also did not have an insurance card in his car.

Other not so good news is once you have an attorney in an accident case, doctors don’t want to treat you. So Maen’s lawyer had to recommend an Orthopedic specialist but first he must visit a chiropractor. What’s that all about?

Within 12 hours of this horrific accident and emergency room visit, he was back at work. Saturday is one of his biggest days of the week and he has to be there.

All of our stories may be told the moment we are born, but in Maen’s case—and we might look to him for inspiration—nothing is really over if you pause to think when life goes terribly wrong.

It Happened Again
Maybe its rained three or four times on Sunday when I collected our food. And each time I start out getting drenched and then by the time I get to Lorraine Aguilar’s home, the rain abates and the sun slowly slides out from behind the clouds. This Sunday was no different.

Of course, I appreciate Mother Nature’s consideration but it makes me wonder. Do the 400 or so nativity scenes in Lorraine’s house have anything to do with helping me feed the hungry in comfort? Not sure, but I’ll bring up the phenomena again the next time it rains on Sunday.

We collected a total of 178 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $37.50, a $25.00 check and $12.50 in cash.

See you Sunday,


Monday, March 12, 2012

166th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,
What a Great Meeting
Bill Carnegie, CEO of the Community Food Bank holds a proof sheet for the soon-to-be- published Miles Neighborhood One Can A Week 11 x 17 poster of participants. There are so many folks photographed with the Community Food Bank award plate Bill gave me a few weeks ago, it made us both smile.

Photo by Molly Thrasher
We had an agenda for today’s half hour meeting with Bill Carnegie at his office but soon after I read the statement “None of the proposed programs below need involve or burden current Community Food Bank programs,” the discussion fell into free form. Even Molly Thrasher who was there to shoot the delivery of Miles’ weekly food donation and be introduced for a later interview with Bill, joined in to help me make a few salient points.

I opened with those words because Bill runs a tight, efficient and austere ship. There is such a high demand for food now that no new program can encroach on their current manpower or revenues.

I introduced a project called The Red Umbrella Corps, which is solely based on the success and weekly averages of One Can A Week in the past three years. In a nutshell, we have donated 229 lbs. of food and $50.18 in cash over 156 straight weeks. If he could help support and encourage others to begin a One Can A Week program in their neighborhoods, the end result would be more than 17 millions pounds of food and nearly $4 million in revenues annually.

The numbers break down like this. There are 300,000 plus homes in Tucson, not counting apartments. If, as in the Miles neighborhood, there is a 50% participation rate, that would require 1,500 folks visiting 100 homes each Sunday to pick up the donations.

At this juncture, Molly said that during her interviews for the video, several participants said they started out giving just one can a week but as time progressed, they upped their anti to two or three. This is why the number of participants stays the same but the yearly donations steadily increase.

Bill’s reaction was quite positive as evidenced by his smile in the photo that was taken at the end of our meeting. He had to hurry off to a conference call but said he wanted to get together soon, maybe for a cup of coffee at the Rincon Market this Saturday where we could have more time to talk.

Something is in the air with respect to One Can A Week. Molly contacted us because she wants to show folks though her short video the amazing problem solving ability of community service.

Bill, too, was visibly moved by the story we can tell with our One Can A Week success. And just tonight, I got an email from a political science student at a West Virginia university who requested information because her class is starting a One Can A Week program and she needs comparative data.

I love colleting food from my neighbors every Sunday to feed the hungry, but I have to say, sticking and staying feels pretty good, too. 

 Hannah and Ari Back in the News
Hannah inspects the local Red Cross Food Pantry before
makingher delivery.
Now that’s much better. Check out the food added to the first
and second shelf. Even the fourth shelf is puffed up.
Six-year-old Hannah and her dad Ari, who live in New Jersey, are out of the snow this week but they are still setting a great example. The photos above show how hard they are working to help the folks in their community. In fact, their efforts have inspired their neighbors to get involved.

A girl scout troop of fourth graders, sixteen girls in all, has decided to collect food for the month of April. Each scout will collect two cans from their neighbors and add two to the pile themselves. This means at the end of April they will have a total of 192 cans.

Let’s hope these girls have so much fun helping others that they decide to do it again …every month.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
Christina hesitantly asked me if the Community Food Bank takes baby food. A family member’s baby suddenly became allergic to his Similac baby formula. Of course, they do. They can distribute any human food or pet food or even personal care products like soap and toothpaste. Look at how many Similac formula canisters cover the top of the shopping cart. In addition, there are a dozen or so glass baby food jars below.

We collected a total of 174 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $7.50 in cash.

See you Sunday,


Monday, March 5, 2012

165th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood Food Collection Project

Hi Folks,

One Can A Week
Works for the Left … and the Right
Molly sets up her tripod and JVC camera to start the taping session.
Molly Thrasher, a blogger on the web site who reviews eateries around town, didn’t tell me her political leanings with respect to her new venture, creating documentaries on self-contained community projects such as One Can A Week, but the title of her new web site gave me a bit of a clue. The truth is I was having a hard time remembering the web site name every time I  introduced Molly to a neighbor. For Molly’s new web site, some reason, TryFreedom is just not a left leaning moniker.
Molly’s new web site,

Anyway, Molly is doing us a terrific favor by video taping a number of our neighbors talking about their experiences with One Can A Week. Of course, I’m in there, too.

The idea of the documentary is to show that we, the people, can fix a huge social problem like hunger without the help of “The Government” or other social agencies. I totally agree with this premise.

As we wrapped up the video session, I was beginning to understand Molly’s motivation for taping the documentary. Proof is so much better than saying over and over again that we, not the government should fix our own problems.

I also brought up the fact that unbridled freedom is never the answer either. Anyone can have all the freedom he or she wants just as long as no one gets hurt. Not polluted streams. No mine cave-ins. No housing crisis. As we used to say back in the day, your freedom stops at the tip of your neighbor’s nose.

Like Out of a Movie
When Molly and I pulled up, Kym was by herself on 13th Street, tugging her food wagon slowly behind her. But within a minute or two, folks started to spill out of their homes to hand Kym their donations. There was so much energy; the scene appeared to be choreographed. And the timing couldn’t have been better, what with a videographer along for the ride.

We collected a total of 174 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $63.50, two $25.00 checks and $13.50 in cash.

See you Sunday,