Tuesday, July 29, 2014

290th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood One Can A Week Project

Hi Folks,
Potatoes ... Who Knew?

The current weekly record for donated five pound bags of potatoes stands at 133.
The goal is 300 bags per week.
The numbers are so huge they are daunting. Over 46 million folks are hungry in America. That is the population of California and Virginia combined. The only real cure is a higher living wage and more useful jobs like fixing our decaying roads and bridges. In the meantime while waiting for those in power to accept the responsibility we gave them, we have to try to do something on our own.

For the past five and one half years my volunteers and I have been gathering as much food as possible and taking it to the Community Food Bank each week. This is a bit of a black hole because there seems to be no end in sight. Then I discovered by chance that the 140 Soup Kitchens in Tucson really need potatoes, something so common in our daily diets that no one ever stopped to ask. One day at Sprouts I noticed the potatoes were on sale for about 34 cents a pound. I normally purchased canned black beans at 89 cents a pound. I though switching to a wholesome carb would be a great way to increase the poundage. And anyway, who doesn’t like potatoes.

After the second or third deliver to the Community Food Bank’s Agency Market, Bill, the coordinator told me about the great potato shortage. This gave me a whole new Raison d'etre ... a whole new purpose. Instead of trying to fill an endless gap I now have a goal. Three hundred five pound bags of potatoes a week. This will meet the needs of the 140 Soup Kitchens.

To make it happen I have to make some changes. A sponsor is not on the horizon so I must cut as many expenses as possible out of my social security budget. And things have been working out well. Cookies are gone from my diet which has the added benefit of reducing my weight 14 pounds. So are lunches at places like Beyond Bread and Subway. The extra money is needed for gas because I now work a total of 21 hours a week, 15 at the four supermarkets … Sprouts plus the Rincon Market. And the potato count is going up. 

Since I cannot purchase the signage for the shopping carts and hand baskets any time soon, I have to come up with new marketing tools to engage more shoppers. This in turn will buy more potatoes. When I tell folks about the 140 Soup Kitchens in Tucson and who they serve … mostly older women and kids … donors often reach deeper into their wallets. It’s true. On several occasions people have dropped a dollar in the basket but when they hear who they are helping and how, they pull out a much bigger bill to add to the pile in the basket.

I’ve been reenergized now that I know I can solve one food dilemma for kids and older women who rely on daily meals from the mostly faith based kitchen around the city. And the more people I talk to about my quest, the more potatoes end up in shopping carts destine for the Community Food Bank. Of course the hunger problem in Tucson and America is overwhelming, but one small success will sure feel good.

Sprouts Farmers Market

Sprouts-Speedway and its customers celebrate their First One Can A Week Anniversary today. The donations to the Community Food Bank totaled 8,688 lbs. That’s a bit over four tons. Add those pounds to what Sprouts-Oracle and Sprouts-River Road have collected in less than one year and the number jumps to 17,109 lbs. A whopping 8.5 tons.

The best part is Sprouts Farmers Market is just doing business as usual and at the same time they are helping solve one of America’s most troubling social problems … hungry kids and their parents.

Rincon Market
Now that the Rincon Market is back online we now have a chance to reach our goal of 300 five pound bags of potatoes per week.  Their first donation to the Community Food Bank was 41 bags. This is more than a big help. It’s nearly 13% of our goal. Amazing.

27th Truck Load – 2014
 This is the 31st week of the year and so far, as the number indicates above, we have donated over 500 lbs. per week for most of them. Right now our total truck load donations stands at 21, 958 lbs. If we stay on course, we will end up donating almost 39,000 lbs. of food this year. Since it took over five and one half years for the Miles Neighborhood on its own to donate 64,914 lbs., we’re doing more than great.  Of course, we couldn’t capture such great truck load numbers without the consistent help and super support of our Miles neighbors. That’s a fact.

This week’s donations amounted to 876 lbs. and included Sprouts (Speedway), 190 lbs.; Sprouts (Oracle), 114 lbs.; Sprouts (River Road), 170 lbs; Rincon Market, 296 lbs. and Miles Neighborhood, 106 lbs.

Why We Can’t Let One Kid Go Hungry
If nearly one in four children is hungry in Tucson that means 25% of our population won’t reach its full potential. This fact always gets to me when I read stories on the web about kids doing incredible things just because they are well taken care of and encouraged to be the best they can be. Sam Gordon is one of those kids.

A couple of years ago you met Sam because she was all over the news. She was nine at the time and played youth football with the boys. Her claim to fame is she is incredibly agile and incredibly fast. The guys could not catch her. So she gained over 1,000 yards on the ground.

Well, Sam Gordon is now eleven and will be playing football again with the boys this fall. Check out her latest video at the University of Michigan football training camp.

Folks asked her if she were worried about being hurt. She replied, “If they can’t catch me, they can’t hurt me.”

Unfortunately every hungry kid in Tucson can be caught and that is what hurts me. They just don’t have a chance to develop into the super stars each was born to be.  

We collected a total of 106 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $26.00, a $25.00 check and $1.00 in cash.

See you Sunday,


Monday, July 21, 2014

289th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood One Can A Week Project

Hi Folks,

The "Feel Much Better Donation"

The woman, guiding a full shopping cart, slowed only to drop a $20.00 bill in the basket. As she picked up speed again on her way through the automatic doors, I flared my hand over the money in the basket and said hurriedly, “You know, all this money goes to buy food for the 140 kitchens here in Tucson which feed older women and kids. They have no potatoes on a regular basis so I buy nothing but Sprouts potatoes.”

She slowed slightly, looked over her left shoulder and gave me a big smile. “Thanks, I feel much better about my donation.”

If I have a chance to tell Sprouts donors how their money will be spent many say the same thing. They really like to know what is going on with their dollars. I have that inquisitive feeling, too, because I simply want to feed people. This is why I always keep an eye on such things as operational costs at my most favorite charities.

Money Goes In and Food Comes Out
On Friday, Feeding America threw an email newsletter into my inbox. They were talking about Summer Food Programs but there was one little item farther down the page that caught my attention. Charity Navigator, the premier independent charity evaluator awarded Feeding America another 4-Star rating for the third consecutive year.   

To further define Charity Navigator, here is their mission in their own words from their own website: “Founded in 2001, Charity Navigator has become the nation's largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities. In our quest to help donors, our team of professional analysts has examined tens of thousands of non-profit financial documents. We've used this knowledge to develop an unbiased, objective, numbers-based rating system to assess over 7,000 of America's best-known and some lesser known, but worthy, charities.

“Specifically, Charity Navigator's rating system examines two broad areas of a charity's performance; their Financial Health and their Accountability & Transparency. Our ratings show givers how efficiently we believe a charity will use their support today, how well it has sustained its programs and services over time and their level of commitment to good governance, best practices and openness with information.”

When researching the Community Food Bank years ago, I discovered Charity Navigator. Interestingly enough our Food Bank has a 4-Star rating from them also, for the same reasons. Very low operating costs, 3% actually and efficiencies that would make any Marine First Sergeant proud.

I’m telling you all this semi boring stuff because I want you to help us feed more hungry kids, older women and families here in Tucson. Your dollars and food really do feed folks … sometimes the next day like the potatoes I deliver twice a week. That speed makes me feel good and I see no reason why you shouldn’t feel good right along with me. 

Next time you see a request for a Community Food Bank, Feeding America or One Can A Week donation, just dig down into your purse or pocket. You’ll feed some family soon and that’s the best feeling in the world … next to hugging a puppy, of course.    

26th Truck Load – 2014
Kym, our 13th Street volunteer, dropped off two big white basketball looking things Sunday (see photo above on the right). They were new to me so I had to ask. Her answer came back squash. Still not enough information so then Google told me the official name is Lumina Squash. Very pleasant moniker but I still don’t like the stuff.

This week’s donations amounted to 768 lbs. and included Sprouts (Speedway), 202 lbs.; Sprouts (Oracle), 206 lbs.; Sprouts (River Road), 228 lbs; and Miles Neighborhood, 132 lbs.

More Food Lingo
The first time I heard the phrase “food insecurity” to describe hungry folks I though it sounded a bit forced. Now there’s “foods to encourage” which is just another way to say fresh produce. Instead of trying to create stilted expressions Feeding America should just come right out and say what they mean. Their food network—which includes our Community Food Bank—distributes way more produce than anything else. The figure is holding steady at 67%.

Not only is that fact encouraging, it is very impressive, too.

We collected a total of 132 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $30.00, a $25.00 check and $5.00 in cash.

See you Sunday,


Monday, July 14, 2014

288th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood One Can A Week Project

Hi Folks,
If the Poor Just Didn’t Act So Poor ... 

If the Rich Just Went Downtown More ... 

We’re really good at defining problems. Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute wrote an article in The Huffington Post the other day. His contends that “Donors Who Lavish Money on Elite Institutions Only Exacerbate the Wealth Gap.”  

Of course they do and this is not said to belittle Mr. Eisenberg’s work in any way. For instance, Mr. Eisenberg writes, and I paraphrase here:

  1. Private money for public schools ends up in affluent neighborhoods.
  2. Elite colleges benefit for the same reason and their tuition is too high for the poor and middle classes.

  1. Art Institutions that cater to upper and middle classes are along for the money train ride, too.

  1. On the whole, foundations and donors only give minimally to nonprofits serving the poor and grassroots organizations.
And why do the wealthy do this? Are they mean? Do they hate the poor? Absolutely not. They are just terribly uncomfortable around folks who are different from themselves. I have seen this social phenomenon all my life. And so have you. In the high school cafeteria cliques sit together. I sat with all kinds of interesting kids. One friend at a new school I attended remarked that he was amazed at how I fit in so quickly. When in Germany during my Army days, I went into local restaurants alone. Most GI’s never even went downtown. If things aren’t different, that is when I feel the most uncomfortable.  

So how do we get rich folks to like, accept and help all kinds of poor folks? Mr. Eisenberg wasn’t optimistic at all as he closed his very informative article. He suggested we should not “hold our breaths expecting change.” My thinking is there is always a way. The British band Tears for Fears told us that “Everybody wants to rule the world” so if I had the chance I would do the following:

All bosses of large corporations will become an Undercover Boss periodically. Have you seen that TV show? The end is almost always the same. The boss gets overwhelmed by how smart, caring and committed his or her staff is. This should be a requirement every five years for major CEOs.

All nonprofits that care for the poor like the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona should take donors and prospective donors downtown to celebrated community restaurants and dine with the locals. Everybody at the table tells stories about life and their loves even the guest donors. This will give those donors insights they won’t ever forget. And this should be a monthly event.

Donors and prospective donors could also sponsor kid’s soccer, baseball, tennis, swimming, basketball, etc. teams. And they are required to attend at least half of the games during the season simply to talk to the kids…again about their life and loves.

All of these activities for donors and prospective donors should be made very easy to attend but they have to be told that they will be socially uncomfortable until they become engaged with the interesting folks who surround them.

Since I really don’t want to rule the world, I am just going to change folks I meet one at a time. I know it’s working because look at how much food we get to donate to the Community Food Bank each week.  

Sprouts Farmers Market Update

Old Potato Record: 130 five pound bags.
New Potato Record: 133 five pound bags.

25th Truck Load - 2014

Just two weeks ago we set a potato bag record. This week we broke that record by three bags. Since there is no way of knowing how much money folks will donate weekly at the three Sprouts supermarkets beating an old record by even a little bit is a big thrill. On Wednesday while packing up a woman handed me $40. I had already purchased the Sprouts-Oracle potatoes for the week but that didn’t matter. I grabbed a cart and bought another 23 bags ending up with 60 bags instead of 37. That was kind of thrilling, too.

This week’s donations amounted to 993 lbs. and included Sprouts (Speedway), 379 lbs.; Sprouts (Oracle), 350 lbs.; Sprouts (River Road), 122 lbs; Shiva Vista, 44 lbs. and Miles Neighborhood 98 lbs.

Feeling Uncomfortable Again
Neighbors come and go. When that happens to a participant, I always try to meet the new neighbor as soon as possible so donations stay consistent. A home on Cherry Street had a new neighbor but after trying to catch someone home on a number of Sundays I gave up trying.

This past Sunday I saw another car at the home and thought about making a call. “Nah,” I thought, “how many times do I have to try before giving up?” That’s when the uncomfortable feeling showed up. It strongly suggested I force myself to go make the call.

Shortly after I knocked, a gentleman named Tavi (ta ve) answered the door and within a minute or two he said he would be happy to participate. In the article above I talked about how rich and poor folks seldom leave their comfort zones creating both a wealth and a human connection gap. When I get uncomfortable I know making a connection is the antidote which kicks in just as soon as I say “Hi.”

We collected a total of 98 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $30.00, a $25.00 check and $5.00 in cash.

See you Sunday,


Monday, July 7, 2014

287th Week Update - Miles Neighborhood One Can A Week Project

Hi Folks,
Miles' Weekly Food Donation Averages:
Simply Astonishing.
2014 Second Quarter Donation Results for the Miles Neighborhood.  
A couple of years ago while creating a concept called The Red Umbrella Corps to encourage other neighborhood in the city to implement a One Can A Week program I included a chart that listed weekly averages for food and cash donations. In addition I extrapolated the numbers based on the averages for 1,500 volunteers in 187 neighborhoods. The annual results would have generated millions of pounds of food and millions of dollars.

This pipe dream (Hookah dreams for those more contemporary folks) never created much interest because the basic requirements were commitment and consistency. Now that we are 287 weeks deep into our neighborhood program I decided to check the weekly averages again. What a surprise. From January, 2009 to June, 2012 (Week 1 – 181) the weekly averages were 228 lbs. for food and $50.40 for cash. At the end of last week (Week 286), the weekly average was 227 lbs. for food and $50.22 for cash. Since I have dyslexia, you know, I checked those numbers over and over again until I got matching results time after time.

Based on nothing more than commitment and consistency we collected one pound and 18 cents less per week than two year ago. I like that fact a lot and it indicates that The Red Umbrella Corps would have been as successful as I thought if volunteers had stepped forward. (See Molly Thrasher’s One Can A Week video: minute 6:14.)
The Wright Brothers figured out a way to make metal buses fly. I have to find a way to motivate a thousand or so people in Tucson who are as hungry as I am to end food insecurity in the city. The easy part is the food is there, you just have to pick it up. The hard part is just teaching folks to say hello to their neighbors … right after they get up off the couch and out the door. Guess there are three hard parts.

One Can A Week is Back at the Rincon Market

Mark, the jewelry vendor was in his rightful place outside the automatic doors as I approach. He had been there since last Saturday making sales. This was a good sign because I was visiting the Rincon Market to ask for my old spot back, too.

Mark pointed and said Ron Abbott was seated in one of the large leather chairs just inside the front doors. The two gentlemen sitting on his right were quiet and as I sat down in the chair on his left, I figured out way. Ron was dozing. He sat up, smiled his big grin and told me he had been up most of the night.

I asked if he were ready to talk about One Can A Week and he joked that I had abandoned him for Sprouts. There was a bit of a pause and then he asked, “What day were you thinking about coming back?”

Saturday was always good at the Rincon Market but I now have an obligation at Spouts – Speedway. We agreed to give Friday a go. As I stood up Ron nodded off again.

John Abbott, Ron’s son was taking frozen food inventory as I walked up. He kept on working but engaged in our conversation as well. He was happy I was coming back especially since I added to his grocery sales each week. We talked about potatoes and he immediately came up with a plan. After my Friday stint he will place the order for Russet potatoes which can be pick up on Saturday.

I found Kelly, Ron’s wife placing labels on the salad bar and brought her up to date. She agreed and said she was glad they were getting involved with One Can A Week again. My last stop was the sandwich ordering counter to pick up a huge empty mayonnaise jar. They make the best collection bins because the size is impressive (see photo above) and being somewhat opaque they hid how much money is inside.  

I really missed the Rincon Market the year they were closed, but this Friday after talking to Ron, Kelly and John again, I realized I missed the Abbott family so much more. 

Sprouts Farmers Market Update

Schools with high percentages of low-income children
can now provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.

24th Truck Load - 2014

For some time now I have been paying attention to the Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. They (USDA) have been testing the program around the country for a few years now but Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, all schools nationwide that meet the 40 percent identified student threshold will be eligible to participate in this option.” With 71% of the TUSD student population on a partial pay or full subsidized lunch program, we sure as heck will meet the requirements. The enrollment period is open until August 31st for this year.    

Just click on the two links above to get quickly informed on this very important food program for kids. If you know someone in the Tucson school system please check with them to make sure we respond in time to feed our kids in the fall.

I’m one of those “If you want something done right…” folks so call around and get back to me. As they say, opportunity is often disguised as hard work. So let’s get working.

This week’s donations amounted to 634 lbs. and included Sprouts (Speedway), 202 lbs.; Sprouts (Oracle), 176 lbs.; Sprouts (River Road), 142 lbs; and Miles Neighborhood, 114 lbs.

Stressful by Design
Melanie stepped up to the table at Sprouts-Speedway on Saturday and immediately pushed the wicker collection basket further back. She then snatched the $1 dollar bill that usually hangs out of the basket and dropped it on top of the pile of bills in the center.

“There,” she said with a satisfied smile, “that’s much better. You could have lost that $1 bill.”

We have talked a number of times in the past so Melanie was only trying to help. “You know,” I said with a smile, “you just ruined all my marketing. Everything you corrected I do on purpose. The basket is more readily seen hanging a bit over the edge of the table and the $1 bill is a flag to tell folks I take money donations.” As I spoke I put everything back the way it was.

“Well,” Melanie said huffing a bit, “that is very stressful and I cannot look at it.”

She moved to the side of the table and more toward the back so the blue box blocked her line of vision. We talked a few more minutes and she said goodbye.

Some time later Brian the store director came over and I told him the story. He immediately broke into laughter saying, "That's really funny."

Yes it is for folks like us who spend most of our waking hours trying to make display more appealing, attractive and productive. It certainly is not a job for anyone with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) like Monk, the TV detective.

We collected a total of 114 of food. The money we donated amounted to $84.00, two checks for $75.00 and $9.00 in cash.

See you Sunday,