Monday, February 24, 2014

268th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood One Can A Week Project

Hi Folks,
Well Played, Rocco

Rocco DiGrazia has been a One Can A Week participant right from the beginning. I knock on his front door and step around the side of the house. In a few seconds, Rocco hands me something nutritious over the gate. When he’s not there his wife and kids know exactly what to do. So in the past five years, he hasn’t missed a Sunday unless he and his family were away.

We chat when he has time about what’s going on in the world and his responses are always pithy.  Rocco wants everybody to grow up and get on with things.  But he knows human nature so he says things with a bit of irony and humor coloring his philosophical directives.

If you have ever driven passed Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria on Broadway Blvd. there is a medium sized sign out front with a marquee on the bottom. There Rocco announces his specials like, “We now have draft beer.” He also uses that space to give drivers and pedestrians a piece of whatever is on his mind. “Ghost Town Ahead” was one of his recent comments on the happenings in the city proper just three miles down the road.

On Friday morning while checking out news stories on The Huffington Post I noticed the headline: Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria Serves Up Fantastic Response to Arizona’s Anti-Gay Bill. I knew immediately who they were talking about. There is not another Rocco like Rocco in Arizona or any other state for that matter.

Barbie Donovan here is Tucson created the legislator ban graphic and posted it on Rocco’s Facebook feed. The next series of events are pure Rocco. He saw the graphic and immediately sent it out to be reproduced “family pizza size” and then laminated. Not long after mounting it on his window, a customer took a photo and again posted on Facebook. Twelve thousand “Likes” later, The Huffington Post came calling.

This just goes to show that if businesses—big and small—stand up to the nutsness everywhere, their customers will jump right in to support such community leadership. Starbucks promotes community service; Costco, the minimum wage; CVS, ban on cigarette sales; and now Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria, discriminatory laws.  Why not stop by Rocco’s at 2707 E. Broadway Blvd. soon and ask him “How’s business?” I know you will like the answer.

5th Truck Load - 2014 – There were two trips to the food bank today. The morning run delivered 435 lbs., significantly under the 500 lb. mark for a truck load. Then after lunch Dian Scott from the Shiva Vista Neighborhood stopped by. Her donation didn’t take up much room in the truck but it put us way over the truck load poundage.
 This week’s donations amounted to 549 lbs. and included River View Estates, 32 lbs.; Sprouts (Speedway), 151 lbs.; Sprouts (Oracle), 36 lbs., Shiva Vista, 114 lbs. and Miles Neighborhood, 216 lbs.

Too Good to Pass Up – While picking up a few items at Wal-Mart on Saturday I noticed a terrific sale price on a 4-pack of Libby vegetables. A couple of weeks ago the price was 50 cents a can. Now they were 37.25 cents per can. I called Maen at the Axis Food Mart immediately and he told me there was $30.00 in his Community Food Bank donation canister. Within minutes we had 80 cans or 74 lbs. of food ready to make the trip to the food bank.  

We collected a total of 216 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $32.00, a $25.00 check and $7.00 in cash.

See you Sunday,


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

267th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood One Can A Week Project

Hi Folks,
Closed Door, Open Mind
Michael McDonald, CEO,
Community Food Bank o f Southern Arizona

The email Monday morning, February 3rd was from Danielle Stroud at the Community Food Bank and her subject line read: Meeting with Michael McDonald. “Oh, boy,” I thought, “off on a new adventure.”

Michael sent me an email weeks ago commenting on my blog about Amira, the 9-year old opera singer. He wrote, “Today’s blog was especially touching, and a good reminder that in the midst of hardship there is hope and beauty and joy.” I smiled, “Exactly… think I’m going to like this guy.”

Before reading the new message I checked out all of the info first to get a better understanding of what was coming. Melissa Wieters the Vice President of Development was the only cc. A month or so before Michael arrived we talked in her office. I asked Melissa to wait until he has some time—maybe three or four months to settle in—before mentioning I’d like to meet with him. This invitation was a little soon so I knew she had something to do with it.

Okay, I was ready to read Danielle’s email. 

“Hi, I hope you are having a wonderful Monday morning. Michael had asked me to see when you might be available to come into the food bank for him to meet you and thank you for all that you do.”

Of course I took the first time offered. I always take the first time. The closer the meeting the more unlikely it will be cancelled. Those meeting with top executives that are weeks or months away?  Forget about it.

Michael’s door was closed but at 2:30 sharp it swung open and I was greeted with a smile and an extended hand. He then motioned for me to sit in the chair to the left of the coffee table. He closed the door behind him and took a seat to my right. This was great because I could spread out my presentation pieces on the table in front of me and easily hand Michael a document to review.

He sat at an angle in his chair and looked quite comfortable. I on the other hand, was somewhat nervous because the situation reminded me of many of my meetings with top management at Merrill Lynch and New York City publishers … in particular Harold McGraw, the president of McGraw Hill Publishing Company who was dignified, humorous and always on point.

Soon after Michael laughed at my first joke I calmed down and got to my agenda. We covered the Miles Neighborhood focusing on its 5-year history of donating to the food bank, the implementation of a new neighborhood volunteer service called The Red Umbrella Corps, the innovative approach to weekly food donations at Sprouts supermarkets, the costs to bring all five Spouts stores online and then finished up with the Twenty Eighty program where community service becomes a “fact of life” in America.

Yes it was a lot for a 30-minute meeting but we have thousands of kids to feed right now. Although I hurried, Michael was with me at every turn because he asked interesting questions. Toward the end of our time together he picked up his Smartphone and mentioned he had to move on. “There’s a lot going on in my mind,” Michael said swirling his right hand in the air, “so how do you propose starting?”

“Well, my thinking is you would select two or three people I could work with and we’d put together strategies and focus group findings.” I paused a second, “You would then have the information necessary to make decisions.”

As I gathered my stuff, Michael asked me to send him my Twenty Eighty proposal and he wanted to keep the Sprouts expansion budget. He said he would visit the stores to see thing for himself.

Maybe 15 feet from Michael’s door I ran into Melissa in the hall and walked her back to her office. We chatted briefly and she said Michael asked her right away after assuming office who he should meet. I had already guessed that and thanked her with a big hug for including me on the early list.

While driving slowly out of the Community Food Bank parking lot I mulled over the fact that I talk to people all of the time about feeding hungry folks … but never on the level I just did with Michael. That was a first and I hope it won’t be the last.

Can't Miss the Community Food Bank Bin Now

No matter what checkout lane you are in at the Sprouts – Oracle store, you can’t help but see the 2’ x 10’ One Can A Week banner hanging over the ice freezer. And then there’s that big red arrow pointing the way to the collection bin.

The sign and the positioning was Richard Rodriguez’s idea. He’s the store manager and he wants to make it as easy as possible for his customers to help the Community Food Bank.

All They See is Food 

The first inclination was to place the One Can A Week label as close to the top of the basket as possible. (Photo on right.) This way customers could read the reminder to donate to the Community Food Bank as soon as they picked up the basket. What actually happens is folks enter the store, spin backwards, stoop over and snatch the basket up by a handle not reading or seeing a thing. While on the move toward selecting their first item they flip the basket a few times until they grab the other handle and drop the basket to a waist high position. Only when they place the first item in the basket do they look down … maybe. 

After weeks of observing this basket ballet I decided to place the label on the bottom instead of the side. (Photo on left.) There are two advantages to this position. They may look to see what is stuck in their empty basket as they enter the store or they may see it when they deposit the first or second item. If there is more food in the collection bin this Saturday then I will know for sure that putting the label on the bottom was a good move. 

Nice surprise
One of the parents at the Miles School donated $375.00 this week. Seems her office decided to give their kitchen budget to the food bank. There was another $2.00 in the collection plus 106 lbs. of food.

The Miles School has been participating in the One Can A Week program for almost 4 years now and their program just keeps getting stronger.

We collected a total of 132 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $41.00, a $25.00 check and $16.00 in cash.

See you Sunday,


Monday, February 10, 2014

266th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood One Can A Week Project

Hi Folks,
"I say SNAP and they say
something stupid...uh, excuse me, ill informed."

SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program commonly referred to as food stamps. Stamps are no longer used but the stigma persists even though the government switched to a plastic card similar to a credit card. Consequently, the phrase “food stamps” lives on like most of the misconceptions associated with helping the poor feed themselves and their children.

In many, many conversations I have had about the food bank, people often mention early on in our chat that most recipients take advantage of the system. That is code for race. I immediately say, “Did you know that in Ohio, 49% of SNAP participants are white? In fact, you can almost assume that whichever majority is dominant in a particular locality— white, black, Hispanic, etc.—that majority will have the most SNAP recipients.”

In checking out my 49% figure for this blog I found more up to date information. On July 11, 2013 Paul Krugman wrote an article where he stated that “…nationally, 48.7 percent of food stamp recipients were white. In swing states the number was higher: for example, 65 percent in Ohio." The data Mr. Krugman cited was published in 2011 by the American Community Survey.

If our SNAP conversation doesn’t die there, we often move on to how wasteful government is and the food stamp program is probably one of the worst. Well, maybe twenty years ago that may have been an issue, but today effective and efficient are more accurate words to describe the SNAP program.

The final phase of our conversation usually ends up on unemployment. Another code for lazy.

In DC there is an independent research/lobbying organization called The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities that “works to influence federal and state policies and budget decisions that have a direct effect upon the lives of millions of low-income Americans.” (As an aside, this group is responsible for the two graphs above.)

The Center writes on its website that “Most SNAP recipients who can work do so. Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP—and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP. The rates are even higher for families with children.”

The most surprising fact they state is “Almost 70 percent of SNAP recipients are not expected to work, primarily because they are children, elderly or disabled.” And if you remember my blog from two weeks ago the new face of SNAP recipients is working-age Americans. So work is not an issue either no matter what people assume. 

While pondering how to disseminate this SNAP information beyond a one on one discussion, I found another article that helped me understand more clearly what is going on. The Politics and Demographics of Food Stamp Recipients by Rich Morin at Fact Talk was published, interestingly enough, on July 12, 2013 just one day after the Paul Krugman piece. Mr. Morin discussed a Pew Research survey that found “significant proportions of Democrats (60%) and Republicans (52%) say they have benefited from a major entitlement program at some point in their lives. So have nearly equal shares of self-identifying conservatives (57%), liberals (53%) and moderates (53%). The programs were Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, unemployment benefits and food stamps.”     
If more than half the country participates in social programs of one kind or another and we still have misunderstanding and prejudice, then hypocrisy is at the root of this evil. So how does one beat hypocrisy? Tell folks, one on one that they are wrong … just as I have been doing all along.

Miles pothole fix in the works – In mid December I submitted 30 or so Miles potholes to the TDOT. Sometime later an article in the Arizona Daily Star stated the fix might take 40 days. I waited that many days and sent another email. The reply said I should be patient. Then a few days ago the Arizona Daily Star ran an update saying the pothole fix is currently down to 14 days but my request was up to 58 days by now.

The email I sent today was addressed to the newspaper reporter who wrote the 14-day article suggesting she talk to some pothole weary citizens instead of the folks who claim they are doing a better job.

I don’t relish confrontations but I dislike people taking advantage of others more.    

We collected a total of 160 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $32.00, a $25.00 check and $7.00 in cash.

See you Sunday,


Monday, February 3, 2014

265th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood One Can A Week Project

Hi Folks,
To change the world
you first have to change yourself

Robert Hadel, a friend and neighbor stopped by Sprouts - Speedway a week ago Saturday with his three-year-old daughter Mattie to do some shopping. He was also there to test drive volunteering every Saturday for One Can A Week.

As we talked Mattie sat patiently in the cart and several Sprouts customers dropped off food or cash donations. “See how easy it is,” I said, “you just have to say ‘Thank you and smile.’” Robert got how easy it was but there was still a hesitation in his eyes. The commitment was a concern but there was something else, something deeper. 

When our authoring days in New York City were beginning to wane, my brother Craig wanted some help selling new titles to publishers. To that point I handled production and Craig made all of the sales calls. At first I was reluctant. No, that’s not right. I am always reluctant to make sales calls. Even today. However, I also know sales makes the world go round. So I pick up the phone and make the call. That happens right after I tell myself the uncomfortable feeling I’m experiencing will go away and the person I am talking to will become a friend maybe five sentences into our conversation.

What Robert was experiencing in his mind—along with his reluctance to act—is something I face with each new endeavor. It’s actually counter productive for someone like myself who thinks of new ideas all of the time. But fortunately for me I love my ideas so much more than I hate to approach folks. Consequently I have learned how to be just a little afraid … but never chicken.

If I can change just a little bit—for just a little bit—I know I will feed thousands upon thousands of needy kids and their parents. You, too, can change and then maybe you can help me make an even bigger difference by volunteering at one of the five Sprout supermarkets for four hours a week. If it still sounds uncomfortable, think about how uncomfortable it is to be a child and hungry all of the time. 

A change to help the poor and
the Post Office at the same time

The office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Postal Service has a great idea. But first, here are the facts they laid out in a recent report. Almost 68 million people—more than 25% of the country—have no checking or savings account. These folks spent a whopping $86 billion on non-bank financial services mostly through payday loan businesses and check cashing services. The average household expenditure of $2,412 in fees and services charges is about the same amount they spend on food.

Now imagine if the local Post Office also became a no-frills bank offering basic bill paying, check cashing and small dollar loans. Millions of poor people would save big bucks on fees and interest while the Post Office could make a whole bunch of money to stabilize its balance sheet. And the Post Office is in every nook and cranny in the country giving bus riders easy access to these services.

This concept has been around awhile in Europe and the earnings of the postal services involved have increased markedly. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren supports this idea and just like her Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, expect this one to come to fruition, too. 

Sprouts Update

The Ward 6 office has some pretty nice meeting rooms so Council Member Steve Kozachik and his staff encourage anyone who uses the free facilities to donate a can or two to the Community Food Bank. Every other month I pick up those donations and today was the day. Glad I did because those 112 lbs. pushed us into another truck load. In just four weeks we’ve delivered 2,566 lbs. of food.

This week’s donations amounted to 531 lbs. and included River View Estates, 26 lbs.; Sprouts (Speedway), 78 lbs.; Sprouts (Oracle), 164 lbs., Ward 6, 112 lbs. and Miles Neighborhood, 151 lbs.

Out the door in a hurry – Besides cans and packaged goods, part of this week’s Sprouts – Oracle donation included 10 – 5 lb. bags of potatoes. As soon as Jacob Coldsmith, the Director of Logistics saw them he told the warehouse crew to take them to the Agency Market, the food bank’s distribution center for nonprofit organizations with on-site feeding programs.

Late last year when I delivered dozens upon dozens of Burger King rolls, Bill Carnegie, the former CEO, did the same thing. Those rolls were quickly sent to the Agency Market.

This is why I am crazy about donating food to the food bank. What we deliver feeds people … now!

We collected a total of 151 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $52.00, a $25.00 check and $27.00 in cash.

See you Sunday,