Among the many things on my To-Do List (for example: win the lottery, write a best selling novel, canoe down a lava bed in a titanium canoe), one of the things I've been meaning to do forever has been to volunteer at a local food bank. I've always thought it seemed like such a good and necessary thing to do, and something that would not only help others, but be rewarding, too. I had a friend who could never do anything on certain nights, and she never said why -- she just couldn't -- and would change the subject. When I finally pressed her long and hard enough (I was SURE she was having an affair), she admitted that she was volunteering at the local soup kitchen, and even taking Spanish classes so she could talk to a lot of the people she was serving. The way she spoke about it when her secret was revealed was so inspirational, and it made me want to help, too. (I wasn't even disappointed to discover that she wasn't having an affair. That's how happy she was.)
But, as usual, life got in the way. Weekends are always busy. Work is tiring. Too broke to donate. And HOW does one even go about doing anything? The closest I ever got was Jennye and I collecting donations at The Mid Century Supper Club Potlucks, which yielded a lot of cans donated in a barrel at work, which was actually really great. But it wasn't until my BFF Leslie created a volunteer day for our work, and motivated 2 groups of us to help out at The Alameda County Community Food Bank that I finally got to do what I've been meaning to do for years.
I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew you had to dress for warehouse conditions and wear close-toed shoes (which I always do anyway), but other than that, I had no idea. Would we be hauling cans? Sifting? (Jon had sifted, so he told me all about that.) Sorting?
Turns out, it was none of the above. It was bagging celery.
Lots and lots of celery.
But by doing this:
(This is Leslie in action, BTW. She gets a Big Blue Star in my book.)
We wound up doing 6,082 pounds of this:
And that, my friends, is an awesome feeling.
The Alameda County Community Food Bank serves 49,000 people a week. One in six people in our county is hungry and can't afford food. And it's not just in Alameda county -- there are 49 million people across the United States struggling with hunger.* And if the economy doesn't get better, it will just get worse and more people will be relying on the food banks for help. We had an information session, and I don't know if there was a dry eye or a throat that didn't have a lump in that room. We were told stories of teachers who had always been fine financially, but like so many, they had gotten laid off and finally in desperation had to come to the food bank. And stories about fathers who couldn't afford to have birthday parties for their children, and the food bank made it possible. (Just thinking of these stories makes me well up all over again.) And there are many, many more stories on the news, on the internet, and even from the people you walk past every day. They may not necessarily be holding signs, but they're there. The food bank makes it possible for them to eat, and gain something just as important: dignity. I think we all walked out of there feeling really good that we had helped, and even more -- we were ready to do more.
Around the same time that I volunteered, my awesome friend Mary started a virtual food drive called "Feed Oakland" through the Alameda County Community Food Bank and made it fun -- each neighborhood in Oakland "competed," and at the end of 30 days, she had raised $1500! The Food Bank is able to stretch dollars so that for every dollar donated, they can distribute $5 worth of good, nutritious food to families in need. Mary's great idea turned into $7500 worth of food!
So I am totally stealing Mary's amazing idea for this blog (thanks, Mary!), and it just so happens that October 16-22 is National Food Bank Week -- I had no idea until I sat down tonight and started writing this blog. What perfect timing!
I created a virtual food drive with Feeding America, so that anyone anywhere can donate. Feeding America is the leading domestic hunger relief organization, with network food banks serving every state. Feeding America’s nationwide network of over 200 food banks provides food and groceries to 33,500 food pantries, 4,500 soup kitchens and 3,600 emergency shelters. This extensive network helps feed 37 million Americans each year -- delivering over 3 billion pounds of food. Each week nearly 5.7 million people receive emergency food assistance from an agency served by a Feeding America member.
And what's great about them is that for every dollar donated, they can provide SEVEN meals for hungry individuals. That's amazing!
So if you can, please donate:
The 97 Things Virtual Food Drive
I made the goal $970. Get it? 97 Things = $970? Yeah, okay, it's cheesy, but I like it. And it's a good goal. That means if we can raise that money, that will be 679 meals for people who would otherwise have to go without. And please, spread the word! Email the link! Facebook the link! Blog the link! Learn and love the link!
And there are other things you can do, too. Find your local food bank, call them, and ask them for a barrel for your workplace and ask your co-workers to bring in non-perishables. Leslie did that at our work, and now, every time I go to the grocery store, I buy 2 extra cans of something to donate. So easy to remember! This is Alameda County's list of what they need and take, and I'm sure it translates everywhere:
Canned fruits and vegetables
Canned meats and fish
Peanut butter (in plastic jars -- no glass of any kind)
Canned soup (low salt)
Low sugar cereal and oatmeal
And, of course, you can volunteer at your local food bank, too. Just remember that the holidays are usually booked up(which is a good thing) -- but they always need help the rest of the year.
So in honor of National Food Bank Week, please help! It would be fabulous if you donated to the blog's food drive, but really, anything anywhere helps. I myself am going to forgo MY favorite snack, Taco Flavored Doritos, and instead of buying that delicious treat I am going to donate the money I'd spend on them instead. I know I sound flip, but I am serious. And plus, it's good karma, and an even better feeling knowing you're helping someone who needs it. What an Accomplishment that is, right?
Forty-one down, 56 to go.
*Feeding America, 2011