Monday, December 28, 2009

Vandal Scandal

It wasn't a happy holiday here at Shared Harvest.

This morning I pulled up to the foodbank to find a Fairfield Police car parked in the driveway. I walked into the foodbank expecting a big commotion, but upon finding none, I walked back to my office and got to work. Around 8:30 I was ready to go out on our food drive pick ups, so I recruited Joe, our HarvestCorps member, to help me out today. As I was picking up the keys to Gus, Tucker asked me,

"Are you going somewhere today?"

"Um, yes. Food drives."

"In the van?"

(Knowing he meant Gus the Bus), I replied, "Yes."

"Oh, well, didn't they break the windows out of it?"


"Yeah, they hit the van, the straight truck, the tractor trailer...broke the windows out of all of them and everything's down this morning."

So thanks to the vandals who smashed in all of our windows, we are all behind here this morning. I'm not sure who would do something like this--maybe someone who was looking for food and believed the only way to get it was to break into our trucks (which are empty, by the way). Or maybe it was someone who is recently out of resources and is taking their anger and frustration out on us. Or maybe it was someone who just plain favors hunger in America.

Whoever it was, there are better ways to solve your problems, and I can't empathize with someone who would think this kind of action is the solution.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Holiday 'Hustle' and Bustle

Merry Christmas, everybody!

I hope this holiday finds you happy and healthy with friends and family around you. As I write this, It's a Wonderful Life is playing in our VCR, and Taylor and I are aspiring to make a bigger impact on the world in 2010.

Speaking of impact, some local businesses have made a tremendous impact on the local community by way of food drive donations. I don't have the complete tally from Monday and Tuesday's pick-ups with me, but here are some of the more memorable stops we made:

Hobsons, which I believe is an educational recruitment company in Mason, made a contest out of their food drive. They requested 10 barrels, and what do you know, they filled all of them and then some. This is just a sampling of what we found on Monday when we arrived to pick up their barrels:

Multiply this by 5 and you can imagine how full Gus was from this single pick up. In fact, we couldn't fit all ten barrels and the overflow food in the truck, so we had to come back on Tuesday to retrieve the rest. Hobsons collected just under 2000 pounds of food--amazing! Well done!

Other pick ups included but were not limited to:
  • College Suites, an apartment complex where I used to live when I attended Miami. In addition to food, the students were so generous to put clothes and an old ironing board in the barrels as well. Oh, there's just one problem, though. You can't eat those things. Hmm.
  • Indiana Wesleyan in West Chester. They really surprised us with more than 900 pounds of food! Great job!
  • Valco Cincinnati, a company specializing in electronic monitoring systems and strong, durable adhesives for packaging, right here in Fairfield. I don't remember exactly how much food they collected, but I do remember that their barrel was full and that Alex had a can of tomato juice leak all over her as we loaded the barrel into the truck.
  • Showcase Cinemas ended their month-long holiday movie food drive last weekend, and we picked up their last round of donations earlier this week. Again, I can't remember exactly how much they collected, but the barrel was a lot heavier this time around than in prior weeks. That's always a good sign.
  • And then there's a food drive stop that I will likely never forget. Just take a look below:

I can't remember how much food the adult novelty store brought in--I think about a barrel and 3 boxes' worth--which they collected by offering an incentive of some percentage off of patrons' purchases for every canned food item brought in. I even heard that other Hustler stores around the country participated in food drives in their respective communities this year, too. Actually, I bet you didn't know that Hustler has been a long-time supporter of the foodbank since its start in the 1970s.

To anyone out there clicking their tongues at this food drive, just remember that food is food, no matter where it is collected. And that's all I'll say about that.

You never know where AmeriCorps*VISTA will take you, especially during the holidays.

Monday, December 21, 2009

6 months down, 6 to go

Yes--December 20th marked the 6-month mark of my year of service!

In that time:
  • I have trained 66 counselors on the Benefit Bank software.
  • I have traveled to all 7 counties in my portion of the SW Ohio region. Total miles driven for the Benefit Bank: 3094.3 miles. That would be like driving from Solutions for Progress headquarters in Philadelphia, PA, to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 6 months time. (Why didn't I just do that?)
  • I have collected 23,727 pounds of food with either Alex or Holli or Mary over the past 3 months with Gus, the pick-up truck, or Taylor's Ford Explorer (see below). That's the equivalent of a couple of killer whales. And there's more to go!
  • I have gotten to know way too many Kroger stores.
  • I have made some great friends who I will know for years to come.
  • I have gained a new perspective of poverty that I would have never had without this position.
This past weekend I saw family members for some early Christmas parties. I received several questions about if I liked my "job" and if I were to go back to June, would I do it again? The answer: yes. Absolutely, yes.

The past 6 months haven't been easy, and as you know, I have questioned my decision to live and work in poverty for a year. But without this position, I wouldn't have gained so many great skills that I can use in the future. For example, without this position, I would have never discovered how creative I could be in the face of a tricky situation. Last Friday, Gus wasn't available for food drive pick ups, and Alex and I can't drive the stick shift pick-up truck. But we still had 11 food drive pick ups to manage! So we recruited Martha and Gary to help out with 4 of the pick ups in the pick-up truck, and Alex and I retrieved the rest in Taylor's Ford Explorer. Amazingly, 2 barrels and 10 boxes could fit in the vehicle at one time, so we were able to do all of our scheduled pick-ups by 1:00 P.M.!

Don't believe me? Take a look:

And while I'm at it, a quick shout out to the students and staff at Fairfield Intermediate School. They collected 1250 pounds of food, which we picked up last Thursday. Way to go, kiddos!
They even decorated the boxes used to collect the food. At a time when it is easy to get stressed out and overwhelmed (especially with so many places doing food drives) these boxes served as a great reminder of what this is all about:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pets live in poverty, too

Earlier Wednesday morning I heard a cat meowing very loudly outside of my window. Thinking I was dreaming it, I fell back asleep and didn't give it a second thought. That afternoon, as I was putting in some laundry in the basement of the building, a woman about my age came downstairs carrying a cat. She said it wasn't hers, but had wandered into the building, and she was trying to find its owner. I told her it wasn't ours, and she carried the cat back upstairs. I thought that was the end of it.

Apparently, she never found the cat's owner. A few hours later I was about to leave the apartment to run errands when I saw the cat sitting on the stairs near our apartment door. As I walked out of the apartment, it ran toward me, half meowing and half crying. I went back inside, filled a bowl with milk, and brought it back to the cat.

This was probably my first mistake. The cat immediately warmed up to me, and I went back inside to text Taylor to see if we could keep her. I've been wanting a pet for a while now, but with our incomes and expenses, we just can't afford to support another living being. Sadly, cat food, toys, litter, and vet bills don't have a place in our budget.

Upon receiving Taylor's texts and frantic calls confirming these truths, I opened the door just to check if the cat was still in the hall. Sure enough, the cat had been waiting on our doorstep and ran right inside my apartment! I didn't mind, though. She walked around a little and I prepared a can of tuna for her. I have heard cats like tuna.

As she ate, I searched the yellow pages for animal shelters where we could take her. Even though we couldn't keep her, I didn't want to just leave her out in the cold! The first shelter I called was filled to capacity and couldn't take her. I called the only other shelter listed, but they were either on the other line or away from the phones and couldn't answer. Their automated message told me I could call the police department to pick up stray animals. So I did. But they couldn't pick her up until about 9 A.M. the next day, so that wasn't going to work. I called the 2nd shelter back 3 times before I got through and found that we could take her there. By this point, the cat had found a bell on a string and so I played with her out in the hallway until Taylor got home and we could take her to the shelter.

It was hard to give her up, but I knew it was best for all involved. Like many people right now, we couldn't afford to keep an animal. In fact, the people at the shelter said they have seen an increase in pets left at the shelter and a decrease in adoptions because people can't afford to take care of their pets. And I think that's a sad indicator of the times.

In my mind, I know that every living thing, pets included, deserve to be taken care of. But when you work at a foodbank, it's hard to think about meeting pets' needs when 1 in 6 kids struggle with hunger in America. I guess it's just another reason why we AmeriCorps*VISTAs need to work a little harder to save the world. In the meantime, in addition to your local foodbank, maybe consider donating a little money/pet food to your local animal shelter. I'm sure they could use the help.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An interesting day

Tuesday was for food drives. Yes--that's the best word I can think of.

We had 4 places to pick up food--all local. We started at Cincinnati Christian School where we thought we were emptying the contents of two barrels of food so that the food drive could continue, but it turns out the school had only collected half a barrel of food. So we had that loaded up in about 15 minutes.

Total weight collected: 115

Next we went to the DNA Diagnostics Center in Fairfield. Upon arrival, we were sent to another entrance, then we followed the receptionist through a long maze of twists and turns to the barrels. Both barrels had the Shared Harvest poster taped to the front. One barrel was full of food and one was full

Yes. They had used one of our barrels for a toy drive in conjunction with the food drive. Which was fine--we're all for Toys for Tots--except we had to take both barrels that day, and Shared Harvest doesn't take toy donations. We're a foodbank. The receptionist didn't seem to know what to say, so I told her again that we needed the barrel sans toys. We ended up wheeling both barrels to the front and unloading the toy barrel in an office before heading out.

Total weight collected: 200 lbs. (that's food only, no toys)

Next stop was to the Meadow Ridge apartment complex. Due to a shortage of empty barrels at the foodbank, we decided to load the contents of the barrel we were collecting into boxes, just to free up another barrel for a big food drive at the Hamilton City Schools in January. As we were emptying the barrel we came across another interesting discovery.

Every piece of food in the barrel had this sticker on it reading: "Happy Holidays from your friends at Meadow Ridge Apartments 513-860-2866." Now, this is a nice, personal touch (and free advertising), I suppose. But the reality is that this food isn't going to be distributed in time for the holidays--it still has to go through the inspection process here at Shared Harvest! So hopefully this food can be sent out around another holiday...maybe Valentine's Day?

Total weight collected: 145 lbs.

The final food drive location was a plasma center in Hamilton. After waiting for several minutes in the lobby (and watching a three-way tie with the big wheel on the Price is Right) we were asked if we could leave the barrels in a last attempt to collect a little more food. We agreed, packed up the cart, and came back to Shared Harvest.

All in all it was an easy day (although kind of a weird day) for food drives, with limited lifting. And we still collected several hundred pounds of food. Again, I want to express a hearty thanks to all businesses who are participating in food drives with us this year. We are so grateful for your donations--and just remember, we need your help all year round!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Barrels are for food, not trash

After a busy week last week, Alex and I were back together in the office for about an hour before we hit the road on food drive pick ups yesterday. We had 7 stops, all pick ups with multiple barrels of food, and some of the locations were even keeping their barrels for more "food driving" through December! In these cases, we needed to bring enough boxes which we could use to unload the food from the barrels. Usually, loading the food into the truck is the biggest task of the trip, but this time, just packing the boxes was an ordeal in itself. You try wheeling 21 boxes on a small cart through the warehouse!

After only a few minor spills, we made it to the Bus. These boxes were used to collect the food from two area Kroger stores' barrels (see comments at the end of this post for more info), as well as food from a barrel at Showcase Cinemas in Springdale. And the food drive at Showcase is pretty cool. Every Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is a special morning showing of various Christmas movies. Admission is free with the donation of a non-perishable food item! Every week we pick up the food collected from the previous Saturday, and this coming Saturday, Dec. 19th, is the last opportunity for the food drive promotion. They're playing "It's a Wonderful Life" so go check it out!

At the remaining stops it was all barrel pick-ups. As always, the barrels were FULL of food, which proved exciting and tiring all at the same time. I've got a few more pictures from the various food drive locations.

Here is a picture from Security National in Mason:
Total weight collected: 630 lbs!

Here is a picture from Seapine Software in Mason:
Total weight collected: 380 lbs.

Here is a picture from Atrium YMCA in Middletown:
Total weight collected: 150 lbs!

And here is a pic from Bridgeport Elementary school in Hamilton:
In between the fire drill scheduled there, we picked up 5 full barrels of food, but we don't quite know the weight yet. We imagine it was pretty high!

And lastly, I have a little beef with the shoppers at area Kroger stores, particularly the ones in Fairfield and Liberty Township. We pick up food from the barrels at the front of several Kroger locations every Monday/Tuesday. Please note that these barrels are for food, not trash. We do not appreciate your chewed gum stuck on our cans of food. Nor do we appreciate your candy wrappers, McDonald's bags, napkins, etc. among the food at the bottom of the barrels. I mean, seriously? Come on, get it together.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"You have an easy job!"

Apologies for the lack of blog postage. It's been a busy few days.


  • Driving into downtown Cincinnati with Holli and Gus to pick up boxes of food from Kroger's corporate offices on Vine St.
  • Watching 3 guys (wearing no coats!) load the food for us while we sipped hot chocolate.
  • Arriving at Wildwood Elementary School in Middletown a few hours later to find 6 full barrels of food after only, like, 3 days of food drive-ness.
  • Spending the entire afternoon unloading the contents of these barrels into about 30 boxes to take back to the foodbank--leaving the barrels with them for MORE food collection. Total weight of food collected so far: 1225 pounds. Go kiddos!
  • Scarfing down popcorn chicken and tater tots that Holli bought for me at Sonic at 3:40ish for "lunch." Thanks, Holli!
Tuesday morning:
  • Driving to TEN Kroger stores for the Check Out Hunger campaign.
  • Hearing a bagger tell me that I have "an easy job."
  • Trying to explain to said bagger that I have to do this every week at 15 Kroger locations, in addition to other job duties at the foodbank, such as food drive pick ups, Benefit Bank trainings, etc.
  • Watching the bagger's facial expression turn into a blank smile, then listening to her insist that my job is cake. She was not being sarcastic.
  • Giving up, then erupting in crazy maniacal laughter.
Tuesday afternoon:
  • Driving to Dayton after lunch for a Frail and Elderly Services Provider meeting at the Job Center (JFS).
  • Waiting in a LOOOOONG line that snaked all the way outside just to get in the building, let alone talk with someone.
  • Receiving a coupon that had my destination (conference room) on it, then smiling meekly as I pass the stern-looking security guard into the hallway.
  • Following a trail of orange flags to get to the conference room. There were also purple flags and red flags and blue flags and green flags on the ceiling, leading people to different locations in JFS.
  • Sitting down in the conference room, only to hear the service providers complaining about how they had to wait in line with all of "those people" (i.e. "Welfare riff-raff.")
  • Making a mental note to be more empathetic than these alleged "service providers" when I'm a licensed social worker. This shouldn't be too hard now that I've experienced being a member of the "Welfare riff-raff" firsthand, you know.
Wednesday morning:
  • Driving in hurricane force winds/rain to the remaining 5 Kroger locations for the Check Out Hunger campaign.
  • Filling up my gas tank for the 2nd time in 5 days. In hurricane force winds.
And that brings me to the afternoon! Now I'm awaiting a food drive pick up and 2 barrel deliveries with Gus, but we can't go until the adhesive on his new windshield sets, which should be any minute now.

Tomorrow I'm headed to Xenia for a training and then Friday I'm in Columbus for 2009 tax training.

But it's fine--my job is so easy, after all!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Santa's Helpers

We Southwest Community Trainer VISTAs had a great day today--we got to see Santa Claus! After our regional meeting with Jess and Meredith (and a quick burrito at Chipotle), we drove to Tri-County Mall for a picture with the man in the red suit. I brought my teddy bear Koko along, and, oh yeah, we also changed into our pajamas for the occasion.

Pictured from left to right, top row: Annen Stuckert, Santa, Michelle Lydenberg
Bottom row: Alex Moning, Kaitlyn Baker (and Koko)

Sadly, Alex Ives was not able to join us today, but we have plans on how to include him in this photo, which will be posted shortly.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Being resourceful in Dayton

Coming to you live from Kettering, Ohio (a.k.a. Dayton), I'm at another resource fair geared towards job-seekers. The fair is supposed to last from 3-7 P.M. in conjunction with a blood drive held at a church here in town. Being the early-bird over achiever that I am, I arrived at 2:30 to set up my booth. Slowly the other 15 vendors or so trickled in, and I discovered my neighboring booth would be the Dayton Public Library. I have spent the past several hours chatting with the woman staffing this booth, who has lived in Fairfield, Richmond, and Cincinnati before settling in Dayton. We have a lot in common and we've enjoyed each other's company.

I have also received a 10-minute chair massage from a licensed massage therapist here doing free massages. I am considering moving to Dayton solely to be in close proximity to this massage magician. Ah, so relaxing.

I have eaten a great free meal provided by the church, including a handful of fresh strawberries!

I have talked with a few representatives from local agencies about becoming a Benefit Bank site or at least how to refer people to a local site.

But I haven't seen many clients. In fact, I haven't seen ANY clients. No one has come through the doors today looking for help--everyone here is a service provider or a blood donor. So I've done my best, but I can't help but feel a little disappointed. Dayton has been hard-hit with this economic recession and I was sure that I could do quite a few quick checks and site finders to connect people with the help they need. But that wasn't the case. My neighbor from the library told me that a resource fair like this would have been better suited in a "worse" part of town. I'm not so sure--people are out of jobs and resources everywhere, not just in the bad neighborhoods, but for whatever reason, the turn out today was pretty low.

Now it's time to pack up and make the drive back home. Woo hoo, 13 hour days!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Miami Hami

I write this post from my third computer lab on Miami University's Hamilton campus.

Today I taught 7 new counselors how to use the Benefits module on the Ohio Benefit Bank. I arrived on Miami Hamilton's campus well ahead my class's start time, and was surprised to find our contact person waiting for me in our computer lab in Mosler Hall. He looked nervous, but pleasant enough, as I shook his hand and introduced myself. Turns out he had a good reason to be nervous--he had double-booked our computer lab. Normally I would have started hyperventilating at such news, but he had such a nice, pleasant demeanor that I was able to stay relatively calm as he explained the issue.

Fortunately, he had already solved the issue before I had arrived. He had arranged for us to use a computer lab in another building, Phelps Hall, until 2:00 when a class would be using the lab. At that point, we would need to move to a third computer lab in the library to finish the training. Because this third lab wouldn't be open until 2:00, we had no choice but to play musical computer labs.

I posted a sign to inform the participants of the change, and I was pleased to find everyone had made it to the correct computer lab by 9:05 this morning. To avoid further confusion and time-wasting, I decided to postpone lunch to 1:00 so that the class could reconvene in the third and final computer lab an hour later at 2:00. Once again, everyone found the final computer lab and we were able to finish the training without a hitch.

I don't mean to toot my own horn here, but I'm pretty proud of how I handled this change in plans. I didn't freak out, I didn't cry, and I didn't even need to call Meredith! The situation was resolved and I went on with my training. It's amazing to me just how much I am gaining as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member. Not only am I learning a lot about poverty, hunger, and social work in general, but I am also gaining valuable skills in communication and assertiveness. I'm learning the importance staying flexible and easy-going in the face of a "crisis;" valuable skills I know I will continue to use in the social services field.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sunday in the Times

And here it is--Jason DeParle's article specifically on food stamps in Southwest Ohio has arrived! It originally ran in the Sunday edition of The New York Times on November 29, 2009. It is very well-written and even includes a quote from Tina, so check it out!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

New York Times update

It has arrived! Jason DeParle's first article from his food stamp series has debuted. Here is the first installment of the series, with more articles to come shortly. This first article is pretty general, but does a great job in setting the stage on hunger and work support programs, like food stamps, across the country. The word on the street is that his articles on food stamp usage specifically in Southwest Ohio are coming soon!

Until then, enjoy!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Food Drive Round Up

As promised, here is your Thanksgiving Week Food Drive Round Up! Even with two days off, this week was full of food drive pick ups all over the region.

First up on Monday morning was a pick up from the Springboro Area Small Business Network. Despite its name, the location had a Lebanon address, which confused my GPS so much that General Paulette just couldn't put them on the map. Instead, we followed MapQuest directions, which led us to this cool old farmhouse on a very rural country road:

Turns out the food was being stored in the garage of this house, so we were in the right place. With several more stops scheduled that day, we decided not to dawdle and just threw the bags of food in the back of the truck.

Of course we ended up paying for that later. Our next stop was at Summit Academy, a private school in Middletown. The school had two barrels and a ton of overflow food--all located in the school's basement, with no elevator. A teacher sensed my nervousness about getting all of this food loaded before sundown, and recruited a bunch of kids on their way to martial arts class to help carry the food out. They even brought us the barrels!

Alex and I needed to construct some boxes and organize the food from our last stop, so we had the kids set the food down in the parking lot next to Gus. Here they are:

After a bit of a delay in Middletown getting Gus organized and loaded up, we were set to pick up 9 barrels from an organization called Catnip 'N Carrots. (For more information about this organization and their food drive, click here.) Once again, Alex and I found ourselves in a residential neighborhood where the food was stashed in a friendly woman's garage. Somehow, we got all 9 barrels into the truck.At this point, Gus was very full of food and barrels, so we went back to Shared Harvest to drop off the food and get some lunch. By 12:45 we were ready to go back out for 3 more food drive pick ups.

Our first stop Monday afternoon was to a PNC Bank near Fairfield. Sadly, their food drive wasn't too successful and I was able to lift and carry the barrel+food without any assistance. Keep in mind, I'm not that strong, so it wasn't a whole lot of food. Still, every little bit helps.

Next we drove to Sacred Heart Elementary School, a private school in Fairfield. Alex and I had delivered 3 barrels to this location just last week, so we didn't anticipate a large amount of food.

We were wrong. This is what we found when we arrived:

It literally took Alex and me HOURS to pack and load this food into Gus. In addition to the three barrels, we filled 15 boxes as well. By the time we had finished, Shared Harvest was closed and we still had one more stop!

Our last stop was to Petland in Fairfield. After the massive response from Sacred Heart, we were a little disappointed to find a completely empty barrel inside Petland. We were just about to take our empty barrel and leave, but the employees asked us to leave it for a little while longer with the promise of more food next time we came back. By the time we returned to Shared Harvest, everyone else was long gone (except for Holli!) so we had to wait to unload and weigh the food.

On Tuesday morning, Alex had a doctor's appointment for her ankle, so I accompanied Holli to 3 local Kroger locations to empty the contents of their food drive barrels. We ended up working so fast and so efficiently, though, that we decided to go ahead and pick up at all 8 of our locations listed for the day. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera, so I don't have any pictures. But at the rate we were packing boxes and loading barrels, I don't know if I would have had time to take any pictures anyway!

So here's the totals from all of the food drive pick ups this week.

Monday, 11/23
Springboro Area Small Business Network: 180 lbs.
Summit Academy: 655 lbs.
Catnip 'N Carrots: 370 lbs.
PNC Bank: 16 lbs.
Sacred Heart Elementary: 1166 lbs.
Petland: 0 lbs. (so far!)

Tuesday, 11/24
Kensington Apartments: 100 lbs.
Camelot East Apartments: 235 lbs.
Tanfastic: 105 lbs. (so far)
Progressive Rehab.: 80 lbs.
WellPoint Anthem: 529 lbs.
(And contents from barrels at three Kroger locations--but I don't know their weights right now!)

All in all, 3436 pounds of food came through Shared Harvest from area schools, churches, and businesses' food drives. In two days. Wow.

What some people may not realize, is that this food, although collected before Thanksgiving, was not distributed for the holiday this week. In fact, this food will not be distributed for a couple of weeks. Staff members at the foodbank have to go through every box and barrel, item by item, to make sure everything is safe to eat, which can take a little while. The food that went out this week to our partner pantries was most likely collected in late October/early November, and this round of donations will probably make it out in time for Christmas. Thus, the food collected between now and Christmas will probably be distributed in late December/early January. Of course, this isn't a bad thing--people will still be hungry long after the Christmas lights are taken down, so please keep donating! Your donations will make a difference at any time of the year.

Just a little Food Drive 101.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Cheer

On the eve of this Thanksgiving, I found myself where no one really wants to be: standing in the checkout line at the grocery store. No, scratch that. It was really about 70 checkout lines at 8 grocery stores, to be exact.

Yes, today was spent touring half of my 15 Kroger stores to monitor the Check Out Hunger coupon placards that I put up two weeks ago. I visited the first half yesterday, and for some reason, I honestly believed it would be better to save half of my stores for today--the day before Thanksgiving. Much like the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, I had a bizarre sense of déjà vu all day. No matter my location, each Kroger visit went the same way: crawl through traffic, scan parking lot, park in the closest free space to the entrance (which was always a half mile away from the store).

Once inside, I stopped at the Customer Service desk to check in the with managers and make sure there weren't any problems. (And yes, we've had some problems.) Last week when I did my Kroger rounds, I discovered that the barcode on some of the green $3 coupons have not been scanning correctly. Apparently, the green barcodes are too sophisticated for the simple checkout scanners to read. To combat the issue, Kroger Advertising suggested making copies of the $3 coupons on white paper so the scanners could more easily read the barcode. So today, before I set out, Alex helped me make more than 140 laminated white copies of the $3 coupon to distribute to the cashiers. But not all of the cashiers--some stores haven't had any problems reading the green coupons' barcodes.

To put it simply, in addition to replacing any empty coupon pads, I had to reeducate some cashiers on the new procedure with the white paper coupons, all while fighting through the crowds of stressed out Thanksgiving chefs purchasing their last minute ingredients. My patience was stretching pretty thin, and by the time I visited my last Kroger store in Lebanon, I was relieved to program my GPS (General Paulette Surefire) for home.

I'm home now, patiently (okay, not so patiently) waiting for Taylor to get off work so we can make it to Urbana tonight for Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family tomorrow. I've been so busy and stressed out lately that the next 4 work-free days will provide some much needed clarity during this holiday weekend. Like many college-aged kids from cushy middle-class homes, I have always taken Thanksgiving for granted. I am embarrassed to admit that I have taken more time to cut a piece of pie than to really reflect on what this holiday is all about.

This year is different. After seeing and experiencing poverty for the first time, Taylor and I are so grateful for all of our friends and family who have enriched our lives by offering their support and love this year and always. I know that this year, for the first time, I will celebrate Thanksgiving with more than just a full stomach, but a full a heart, as well.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Stay tuned for a Holiday Food Drive round up on Friday.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Letter

I knew this day would come but I didn't know it would be so soon.

I got a letter from Butler County Job and Family Services last Friday. It reads as follows:

This is information about your benefits. Please read all pages.

We have made decisions about your cash, food, or medical benefits. You can appeal if you disagree with any of our decisions. This notice explains our decisions and how you can appeal. You can reapply at any time if we denied or stopped your benefits.

If you need translation or other help to read this notice or to communicate with us, contact your caseworker. You will find your caseworker's name and phone number below the Mailing Date above.

We will STOP your FOOD ASSISTANCE on 12/31/2009.

The people affected by this action are:

We based this action on OHIO ADMINISTRATIVE CODE, Rule 5101:4-4-11
Yes. Because Taylor's gross income went up from $7.35 to $10.15/hour, our food stamps are stopping at the end of this year. Cold turkey. And it's funny, really. When Taylor and I first got our food stamps, I dreaded going through the check out line with our EBT card. Now I dread going through without it. Stigma or not, our food stamps helped us get on our feet this year. Not only were we able to afford quality, nutritious meals, but we were also able to put the hundreds of dollars we would have spent on food over the past 7 months towards other expenses, making it easier to pay down credit card debt and even build a small savings account. As of January 1st, though, we'll have to add food purchases to our limited budget. And to make matters worse, we'll be adding Taylor's health insurance premium and my car insurance premium into the mix, as well. Oh, and did I mention our wedding coming up in less than 4 months? It has its share of expenses, even with my parents footing a majority of the bill.

To prepare for this onslaught of expenses, we're putting as much money as we can into our savings and dramatically decreasing our spending. We anticipate buying less fresh food and more frozen and shelf-stable foods that tend to be a little cheaper, which should help lower our grocery bill.

Still, I'm nervous. Food stamps stabilized our household, and even though Taylor is making more money now, I'm nervous that our household will fall behind without them. I'm nervous that January 1st will mark a step backwards for us.

And remember how I mentioned that the holidays usually trigger a "VISTA slump" among VISTAs? Well, this isn't helping. Last Friday marked my 5-month anniversary as a VISTA. And to be completely honest, I'm not sure if my VISTA-ship was the best idea. Now more than ever, I find myself feeling down about how little I'm contributing to our household financially. As the breadwinner of our family, Taylor has had to shoulder a major burden to keep us afloat. He's taking 11 hours of pre-nursing classes and working 39-40 hours a week in some pretty tiring shifts. He's even considering joining the Oxford volunteer fire department to bring in a little extra money on the weekends. He's working so hard and doing so much that I just wish I could do a little more; bring a little more money to the table to make our lives a little easier. But because I'm a VISTA, I'm barred from working a second job--not even have a morning paper route.

To put it simpy: it sucks. It just sucks.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Doorbells in Dayton

What do 7 counselors from Dayton area agencies, people in need of Thanksgiving meals, and the Dayton Fire Department have in common?

They all showed up to my training yesterday!

I had a Benefits class at the Dayton Vineyard Church yesterday from 8 A.M. to 3 P.M. Before I go too much further, I just want to make it clear that I did not set the church on fire. In fact, there wasn't even a fire. But I'll get to that in a second.

I like training at the Dayton Vineyard Church because they have a great computer lab and a very friendly, helpful contact person. The computer lab has 10 computers and one big monitor that can be used to demonstrate different features of the software in the class. They also have a large table in the middle of the lab, which is nice to use during the non-software related parts of the training.

But there are some things I don't like about the Dayton Vineyard church too. First, the building is in a neighborhood that has no restaurants near by, making the lunch hour a little frustrating for class participants. Secondly, the building is kept locked all day, so I have to personally let every class participant in to the church. They have to ring a doorbell and I go down a flight of stairs to let them in.

Yesterday was a very yucky, rainy morning, so we had 2 people arrive to the training late. Every time the doorbell rang, I had to pause the class, leave the room, and let them in. I'm sure these interruptions were distracting, but we managed. By 8:35 A.M., 7 of the 8 participants in the computer lab had arrived and we continued with the class. I wasn't sure if the 8th person was coming or not, so when the doorbell rang around 10:00, I decided to answer it.

That was a mistake.

Instead of our eighth class participant, I found two guys standing outside of the door--both looking for turkeys for their holiday meals. Apparently, the Dayton Vineyard Church offers this service--but not until office hours from 3-8 P.M. I explained that I didn't work with the church but that if they came back in the afternoon that someone could help them then. I'm sure this was confusing, especially since I answered the door, but they seemed to understand.

After that, I decided not to answer the doorbell anymore unless it was to let class participants in after lunch. I stood firm on this resolution, and despite several doorbell rings throughout the day, including one at five til 3 (five minutes to go in the class), I did not answer the door the rest of the day.

That was a mistake, too.

It turns out that the last doorbell ring was the Dayton Fire Department. Around 3:00, one of the class participants was exiting the building at the conclusion of the class. As he left, he let 3 Dayton firefighters into the building who had been waiting outside for a few minutes. I heard some kind of commotion in the hallway before the man nervously came back in the lab and asked me to talk to them. I looked out the window and, sure enough, a ladder truck was parked outside.

What in the world?

As the last 3 participants finished up their training exercises, I calmly walked into the hall where 3 stern-looking firemen stood, arms crossed. I introduced myself and asked how I could help, secretly sniffing the air for smoke. One fireman launched into a long, confusing story about how they had received calls from the Dayton Vineyard Church over the past few weeks, but each time they tried to respond to the call, they were sent to 122 N. Main instead of 1222 N. Main. I guess they just wanted to investigate the confusion, but of course, I had no clue what they were talking about. I explained that I didn't work there and quickly called our contact person who arrived a few minutes later. By that point, the class had finished, so I quickly packed up my materials, said good bye, and hurried out of the building.

I wasn't in trouble or anything, I just wanted a picture of the fire truck for my blog before they drove it away. :)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I received the following email from my dad in response to my post from earlier this morning. I felt it was prudent to share it with you.

That is not a semi. I drive a semi. That is a straight truck. The difference is the body is mounted on the frame of the truck. A semi is hooked to the trailer via a "fifth wheel" which allows the trailer to turn and supports the load of the trailer.

That is the kind of cab and chassis that I used to deliver for Interstate. Where was the body for that truck made? Is it a Morgan, or Supreme? The cab and chassis were most likely made in Springfield I'll bet.

Love you,

And in response to his response, I have no idea where the body of the truck was made. But wasn't that educational?

Thanks for the hippo!

Yesterday, Shared Harvest received a hippopotamus from the kids at the Fairfield Middle School.

Okay, not really, but they did receive 5555 pounds of food, which is about the weight of an adult hippo. (I bet you didn't know that! You're welcome.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself--let me begin at the beginning.

Last week, Holli told me we had a food drive pick-up at the Fairfield Middle School scheduled for Monday. She said that the kids had filled 10 barrels with a little overflow, so I was going to pick up with Mike, a truck driver at Shared Harvest. His truck is an actual semi truck (an International truck to be exact--I know you were wondering, Dad), complete with a gate lift to make our job WAY easier. I was looking forward to the adventure, but a little nervous about moving all of those barrels. Still, I thought, how hard could it be?

Famous last words.

Bright and early on Monday morning, we loaded up the semi with three dollies and a few boxes to catch the overflow food. Holli drove separately in her car and met us at the school around 8:40 A.M. We checked in at the office, then made our way to the library, where all of the food was collected. Now, I don't have a picture of what we saw when we walked in, but just close your eyes for a moment and picture this. (Er...I guess you can keep your eyes open so you can continue reading.) Sure enough, there were ten full barrels bunched together in the corner. But they were easily overshadowed by the mound of boxes surrounding them, as well as the wall of cans and boxes lining the top of one of the library's book shelves. This wasn't just a little overflow!

We definitely had our work cut out for us; we needed a strategy. First we needed to plan our exit route. What would be the most efficient way to get the food out of the school and into the truck? The library was very close to the front entrance, but there was just one problem: 3 little steps. There was no way we were going to hand carry all of the barrels and boxes up those steps. Fortunately, the other part of the school was accessible with ramps leading to other exits. The school even gave us two of their flat-bed carts, which allowed us to move even more food than with our two-wheel dollies. But as Mike put it, we had to travel a "country mile" to use those carts on the ramps. Any energy we saved by avoiding the steps was spent walking through the ENTIRE school to get to the truck. One well-placed ramp would have made a world of difference. (Okay, I feel a disability rights rant on accessibility coming on--I'll save it for another day.)

A couple hours later, Mike, Holli, and I were drenched in sweat, completely breathless, and in dire need of a drink of water. But we managed to get all of the food out of the building AND into the truck. Although the lift made our jobs 100 times easier, it wasn't necessarily easy to get the food onto the lift. It took a lot of maneuvering of our carts, and a lot of lifting to compensate for when the carts just couldn't be wheeled onto the lift, but we did it.Above is the lift in action. I tried to avoid riding on the lift, mostly because it reminded me of an amusement park ride (and I don't do well on amusement park rides).

When we got back to Shared Harvest, we still had to weigh all of this food. Can you guess how many palettes it took to transport 10 barrels and dozens of boxes? Let's count together!
One palette, ah ha ha!

Two palettes, ah ha ha!

Three palettes, ah ha ha!

Four palettes, ah ha ha!

Five palettes, ah ha ha!

Yes--it took 5 palettes to move all of that food. And if you recall, we ended up weighing 5555 pounds of food. It would seem the number of the day was: five! 5! Five! 5! Five!
(And I think that's my last Sesame Street reference. P.S. Happy birthday, Sesame Street!)

In any case, the kids (excuse me, tweens) and teachers at Fairfield Middle School are awesome! Of course, this sign says it all:

Friday, November 13, 2009

"You two are a mess."

The past couple of days have been full of cans, boxes, and lots of laughter. I'll begin with yesterday.

Holli scheduled Alex and me to deliver and pick up a few barrels at three different locations, all in Mason. Although Alex is still on crutches, she served as the "rear view mirror" for the drive, and was still able to help unload the heavy barrels of food up to me in the truck, just like we did during our last food drive pick up together.

Our first stop was to Security National, near Cintas in Mason. We've been there before, but that didn't stop me from getting a little turned around and driving over a couple of curbs in the process. We unloaded 4 barrels for their food drive, and went on our way.

Our next stop was to Siemens Motion Control Industry. Alex and I remember delivering the barrels to this location a few weeks ago, so it was cool to come full circle and pick up their food. The people there were very excited to help load the food into the truck, all 510 pounds worth! They did a great job.
Our next and final stop was to the HiTek Manufacturing plant in Mason. The workers here pooled their money, then went out and bought food in bulk with the funds. They were able to buy quite a bit of food, mostly cans (which, again, are very heavy in bulk). I don't have any pictures, but Alex does on her blog. Somehow Alex and I were able to get 464 pounds of food out of their barrels and into our truck. This factory has about another month left on their food drive, and we're excited to see how much food they end up bringing in.

And that brings us to today. Gus was already reserved for senior food box deliveries, so Holli was planning to take the little pick-up truck to collect donations and deliver a couple of barrels. Because it's a stick shift (and because Alex and I have no experience driving a vehicle like that), Holli drove and I rode along to help. Our first stop was at Australian Sands Tanning Resort, here in Fairfield.They filled one barrel, and it was quite a lot of weight--251 pounds. Holli and I wheeled the barrel out to the truck, unloaded its content into boxes (which were easier for us to lift into the truck bed), lifted the half-empty barrel into the truck, and secured everything with some strategically placed straps.

Our next stop was at the Richard Allen Academy in Hamilton. It's a little private school that I called, hoping they would do a two-week food drive and collect a couple hundred pounds of food. Well, they collected a couple hundred pounds of food--and then some. They had collected 752 pounds of food, and they aren't even finished with the food drive! The kids have really gotten into it, which might be due partly to an ice cream party incentive for the class that brings in the most food. There are the leading classes, as posted in the school's foyer:

Also in the foyer were two full barrels, 2 full boxes, and about a dozen cases of canned and boxed food that some generous kid or teacher had brought in. We struggled to wheel these two very full barrels outside to the truck, at which point one astute teacher jokingly commented, "You two are a mess!" She was right. We didn't have enough boxes to off-load the barrels, so we had to dump the contents of the first set of boxes back into the barrel we had collected from the tanning salon. We figured we'd deal with unloading that barrel later. So that freed up several boxes, but still not quite enough. We crammed food into the "backseat" of the truck, and into the crevasses in the truck bed. Somehow, we got it all loaded.

Our last stop was a barrel delivery to S.A.N.E. At first I thought this was the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program, with whom we work in the Rape Crisis Program. But no--this place is a supply company housed in a warehouse way back in this junkyard-like lot. Check it out:The company was having their biannual warehouse sale this weekend, so they decided to incorporate a food drive into the sale. They had requested two barrels for the food drive.

But here's the problem--after those first two pick ups today, we had 3 half-full/full barrels in the back of the truck, but no empty ones. So when we arrived, Holli and I just dumped out the contents of the two half-empty barrels from the school into the truck bed. We figured, "what the hay?" Problem solved. We delivered the barrels, scoped out the sale, then hit the road. So here is what our truck looked like after two food drive pick ups and a delivery:Upon arriving back at Shared Harvest, we had to unload all of this loose food by hand. We scooped the cans into boxes, loaded them onto some wheels, and then recruited a little help from Gary and the forklift in unloading the full and heavy barrel from the tanning salon.

I won't lie. It was a LOT of work. Holli and I commented that no where else would all of this food have been handled so personally as it was with us! We did the best we could with what we had--which just so happened to be a little green pickup truck (who I have not yet named) and a few empty boxes.

After the [mis]adventures with the pickup today, I have to admit--I miss Gus!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'm sorry, so sorry

Run-down of the day:

5:45 A.M. Wake up, shower, get dressed.
6:30 A.M. Get in the car, program GPS, pull out of apartment parking lot.
6:37 A.M. Drive through McDonald's for hash browns and a desperately needed vanilla latte.
7:30 A.M. Arrive at training location in Dayton.
7:32 A.M. Get out of car, approach building, and find that training location is locked.
7:35 A.M. Call training location contact person. Leave voicemail. Get back in car.
7:42 A.M. Call training location contact person. Leave a slightly more frantic voicemail.
7:45 A.M. Get out of car to tell gathering trainees to "hang tight" while we try to get the building unlocked.
7:48 A.M. Get back in car. Call anyone I can think of--Shared Harvest, Meredith, training location contact person. Reach new level of panic.
7:55 A.M. Get out of car to tell more trainees to "hang tight" as they arrive for training. Get back in car.
8:00 A.M. Call training location contact person. Leave no voicemail because this would be the 4th one in half an hour.
8:05 A.M. Come up with game plan with Meredith.
8:25 A.M. Get out of car, tell all trainees the class will need to be rescheduled.
8:26 A.M. Apologize to trainees profusely, two of which are very upset and threaten to not ever be trained on the OBB.
8:28 A.M. Apologizing continues.
8:30 A.M. Apologizing ends. Trainees drive away. Call one no-show for the class to tell him the class has been canceled.
8:31 A.M. Get back in the car, program GPS, pull out of training location parking lot.
9:40 A.M. Arrive back at Shared Harvest.

Okay I think that's enough.

So yes--I was supposed to do a tax class today but we ended up having to cancel due to an inability to walk through walls--aka, the building and computer lab were locked. Instead of training, I spent the day getting caught up around the office and making a bazillion bajillion phone calls. For a great representation of these phone calls, please see Alex's blog.

3:25 P.M. Time to go home. Close enough.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Working for the weekend

It's only Tuesday night but I'm already looking forward to the weekend. What a busy week!

Today I accompanied Mary on 3 food drive pick-ups and 1 box delivery--all before noon! Our first stop was St. Susanna Parish in Mason. In one week's time, the students at the school collected 36 boxes of food, and were eager to load the truck for us! Check them out:

Did I mention they collected 907 pounds of food? Oh yeah.

After dropping off that food at Shared Harvest, our next stop was to the Butler County Prosecutor's Office to deliver 20 boxes for their food drive. Then it was back on the road to Ross Middle School for another food drive pick up. Here's what we found when we got there:

The boxes were full of cans--which are very heavy, in case you didn't know. But we didn't have any help this time, so Mary and I strategically loaded the boxes of food using only our precious two-wheel dolly and our brute strength! Turns out we hand-loaded 672 pounds of food.

Our last stop was at the Messiah Lutheran Church where we were to load 50 cases of food packaged by volunteers last weekend. Each case weighed 33 pounds, totaling 1550 pounds of food that we moved into the truck. Here it is, pre-Gus:

Even though food drive pick-ups are more strenuous and definitely more tiring than food drive deliveries, it is a very rewarding feeling at the end of the day to know that all of that food is going to help people in need in our community. It's also a great feeling to pull into Shared Harvest and watch the guys unload all of the food with forklifts!

The rest of the day (and more!) was spent on the Check Out Hunger campaign. I finished preparing the last 80 placards for our last 8 stores, plotted the stores' addresses in my new GPS, then hit the road. I left Shared Harvest at 3:00 and didn't return home until 8:00, but I am happy to say that the 2009 Check Out Hunger Campaign is officially launched! From now until the end of the year, I'll be visiting 15 of the 17 Kroger stores once a week to replace any empty donation coupons at the registers. Fortunately, Sam (one of Shared Harvest's drivers) will monitor the Kroger stores in Oxford and Eaton so that I can shave off about an hour and a half from my weekly travel time! Still, it will be a big task, but, as always, a rewarding one.

For now, though, it's bedtime. I have a tax class tomorrow in Dayton that starts at 8:00 A.M., putting my departure time at 6:30 A.M.

Is it the weekend yet?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Check Out Hunger 2009

This weekend was the kickoff of another holiday project at the Foodbank: the Check Out Hunger Campaign! If you're not already familiar with it, the campaign is an effort to raise money for the Shared Harvest via donations made at the checkout lines in area Kroger stores.

For the past four years, Shared Harvest has partnered with 17 Kroger stores in Butler, Preble, and Warren Counties. In each store, we put up placards with coupons in $1, $3, and $5 increments at every cash register. While in the checkout line, customers can take a coupon off of the placard and have it scanned with the rest of their items. The amount on the coupon is added to the customer's total, and when the campaign is over, Kroger writes one big check from all of these little donations to the foodbank.

Part of my VISTA Assignment Description is to monitor this campaign through the end of the year. This weekend I put up about 85 placards at cash registers in 9 stores, and I will visit the remaining 8 stores this week when we get more placards in. Additionally, I am to check in on each store once a week to replace any coupons that have run out over the course of the week. But just in case the coupons run out before I get there to replace them, I made a laminated "master" copy for the cashiers to scan for customers still wanting to donate. I distributed about 6 of these copies in each store with the placards.

Here I am at my first (and easiest) stop--our Kroger in Fairfield!

I put in about 7 hours on Saturday traveling throughout the region to get to these Kroger stores. My time was split 50/50 between driving to each location and waiting for customers to clear out of the checkout lines so I could post my placards.

After my first run, two things are certain:
1) This project is making me much more assertive (read: mildly aggressive). I don't have time to wait for customers to clear out to check the coupons every single time I go out. So if you live in Butler, Warren, or Preble County and you see me coming with my clipboard full of coupons, please, move out of my way. Thank you.
2) I would have never made it without Alex's GPS, Rita, and Taylor's assistance, as well, which is why Taylor and I decided to use one of my expense reimbursements to purchase our very own GPS today. I haven't tested her/him out yet, but when I do I'll tell you her/his name.

Note to future VISTAs: if you will be doing a lot of traveling with your position, invest in a GPS early in your term. It is the best investment you will ever make, I promise.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Happy Holidays

When I started my term as a VISTA, I went to a week-long Pre-Service Orientation in Indianapolis (I think I have mentioned this, yes?). One day, the PSO organizers invited VISTAs currently in their year of service to come to the conference center and talk with us new baby VISTAs over lunch. Our table's "veteran VISTA" was Maddy, who was currently serving her term in Indianapolis. We were encouraged to ask her questions and get the inside scoop on this whole VISTA lifestyle from someone who had obviously been living it for the past year.

The conversation started out pleasantly enough:

US: "So do you like being a VISTA?"
HER: "Yes, it really has been such a positive experience."
US: "Where are you serving?"
HER: "Here in Indianapolis at the American Red Cross."
*Smiles and nods of approval*
US: "It sure has been rainy this week."
HER: "Yeah, it has."

We continued to chat in this manner over our gourmet catered food throughout the lunch hour, but when dessert rolled out, the tone of the conversation changed. Maddy leaned in, folded her hands, and said something along the lines of the following:

"You all are starting in June like I did. I just want you to know that around the holidays you will hit a bit of a slump. You will have been in service for about 6 months, and you're going to start questioning your decision to live in poverty for the year, especially now that you're at the holiday season and you can't afford gifts for your friends and family. I just want you to know that it is really hard to go through that phase of service. Any depression or sadness you feel is pretty normal--all of my VISTA friends here in Indy reported similar experiences, but we made it through. Just thought you should know to expect that."

Um, thanks?

I left PSO wondering if I would experience a holiday season slump like Maddy and her friends had. At the time that I started my year, money was very tight but I loved my work and thought nothing could bring me down. But now I'm not so sure.

Don't get me wrong--I am very glad to be here; I still love what I do. But the volunteer wage is starting to get to me, especially when thinking about the holidays.

"If only I made just a little more money," I think to myself. And then I start to feel sorry for myself and picture myself as some kind of unfortunate, Tiny Tim-esque character, sacrificing everything in service to my country and Butler County. Dramatic, eh?

Taylor and I would like to give our family nice (read: somewhat expensive) gifts in thanks and appreciation for everything they have done for us over the past year. But the truth is we just can't--not on our household income, not with our regular expenses and a wedding coming up.

So what are we supposed to do? Sulk because I made a decision to serve as an AmeriCorps*VISTA, thus putting our household in poverty? Come empty-handed to holiday gatherings, let everyone feel sorry for us, and feel even sorrier for ourselves? Have a panic attack over the thought of giving gifts? Max out our credit cards and pretend like we have money to spend on brand new fancy gadgets for everyone we know?

Of course not. We're going to get creative and give gifts that are homemade and meaningful and still just as nice as a brand new fancy gadget.

So if you're like me and don't have much expendable income for the holidays, take a different approach to gift-giving this year. Give something homemade, give an experience, and share in the holiday season with people you love and who care about you. Need help getting started? Take a deep breath, keep your chin up, and click here for over 30 fun and easy (and cheap) gift ideas you can make this year. The article comes from a blog I read called Get Rich Slowly.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


With winter months (and our wedding!) fast approaching, we recently decided to join our local YMCA. Taylor and I try to go at least 3-4 times a week, with our exercise activities including swimming, water aerobics, biking, elipitcal-ing, and weightlifting.

But today I realized that the Y isn't the only place to go to lift weights. I can also just go to work.

The mission today was to pick up food collected at 3 local businesses. To do this, Alex and I would need a two-wheel dolly, a couple of boxes, and of course, Gus. We started on our mission a little before 9:00 this morning with a trip to Ohio Casualty/Liberty Mutual in Fairfield. Upon arrival, we were instructed to go to the dock area, which would ultimately mean backing into the dock. Sensing our nervousness, one of the dock workers offered to back the truck up to the dock for us. We eagerly accepted his offer, thus keeping Gus scrape-free and in tact. (You're welcome, Tina.)

To our pleasant surprise, we discovered that the dock also had a hydraulic lift, which would allow the dock workers to wheel the barrels directly into the truck. And that's exactly what they did!

Before we knew it, the workers had loaded all 6 of their barrels into the truck and we were on our way back to Shared Harvest to weigh the food. So how many pounds of food did the folks at Ohio Casualty/Liberty Mutual in Fairfield collect? Drum roll please...938 pounds of food!

Once we unloaded those barrels at the foodbank, we were back on the road to our second stop: a Staples manufacturing/ordering center (or something like that) in West Chester. We were picking up 8 barrels there, but only 3 of them were full of food. Actually, one barrel was full of a very essential personal hygiene item: toilet paper! Unfortunately, there was no loading dock and hydraulic lift at this site, so we had to manually lift all of the barrels (and their contents) into the truck.

So exactly how many pounds of food did we lift at Staples? About 246 pounds of food (and toilet paper)!

After a quick lunch back at Shared Harvest, we set out on our last stop of the day: Ohio Casualty/Liberty Mutual in Hamilton. We were picking up 5 barrels here, but when we arrived, the barrels were still scattered throughout the building. Two workers in the office took off with our dolly to retrieve the barrels, and as they brought the barrels out to us at the truck, we worked to load the food.
By this point, Alex and I had developed a great strategy. First, we unloaded about 2/3 of the barrel's contents into a couple of boxes that we lifted into the truck. Then we lifted the barrel with its remaining 1/3 of food into the truck, and transferred the contents of the boxes back into the barrel. We did that same procedure for the rest of the barrels--transferring enough food out of the barrels on the ground into boxes and barrels inside of the truck to then lift the barrels into the truck. It was a tiring process, but it was all worth it. The final count back at Shared Harvest: 422 pounds of food!

That brings us to a grand total of 1606 pounds of food today, November 3rd! We have two months to go in the holiday food drive, and I can't wait to see how much food comes through Shared Harvest's doors.

With these food drive pick ups also came a new game for Alex and me. At each stop, we guess how many pounds of food have been collected at the site. Then, once we're back at Shared Harvest, we have the food weighed. The person who guesses closest to the actual weight without going over is considered the "winner" and doesn't have to drive to the next stop. Today we even added another wager to the game--the winner of 2 out of 3 rounds also won 2 mini Reese's Cups.

So who won today? Well, let's just say estimation has never been my strong suit.

Monday, November 2, 2009


On election day eve, I'd like to post in the style of some campaign ads I've seen running on TV lately (and Dwight Schrute on The Office).

(Please note, this post has nothing to do with the issues on the ballot tomorrow. But while we're talking about the election, polls open at 6:30 A.M. and close at 7:30 P.M. That's 13 hours of voting! No excuses--go vote!)

FACT: Shared Harvest is a warm place. Yes. We have finally reached November; thus, Tina has turned on the heat! I can now comfortably shed my coat and work in just two layers, as opposed to three. Ahh.

FACT: Shared Harvest is a warm place. Right, I just said that. Well the foodbank is a warm, as in friendly, place, too. This isn't really anything new--everyone has always smiled and said hello in passing. But because I spend most of my time either in the office or on the road, I haven't been able to really get to know many of the full time staff at Shared Harvest.

Until today!

Alex had the day off today, so I had the pleasure of accompanying Mary, a self-proclaimed "Warehouse Floater," to drop off 12 barrels and 20 boxes to 6 area businesses participating in the holiday aid food drive. We left Shared Harvest a little before 10 this morning and didn't return until after 1 P.M., so we spent a good chunk of the day swapping stories as we navigated (or tried to navigate) Butler County roads. Thanks, Mary, for an enjoyable adeventure out of the office today!

FACT: Shared Harvest Foodbank is a leader in holiday food drives.
The proof is in the pudding--check out this story about a local nonprofit group who has partnered with us for a 2009 Holiday Food Drive. Just one of many!

FACT: More families than ever before are in need of extra help this holiday season. Check out this article from the Hamilton Journal News about the increase in need for Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets for area families. To sponsor a family, call 2-1-1 to find out how/where to donate this holiday season.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tax Training Haikus

I would like to sum up my tax training in Dayton today with a couple of haiku poems.

Students work slowly;
I say, "please learn to type and
Follow directions."

A long day, but the
Burrito with my best friend
Made the drive worth it.

Yep, I think that says it all. And the class only went over by half an hour. Weekend, here I come!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Back in the saddle

Just a week shy of "The Accident," I was on the road again today to a Benefits training in Preble County. The drive was easy (and beautiful--gotta love those fall leaves!) but it doesn't mean I didn't cringe a little when applying my brakes. In time, I'm sure my fear of the car behind me will fade, but for now I'm still a little shell-shocked. I am happy to report, though, that I made it there and back all in one piece.

I trained 5 new counselors today from two new agencies: Butler Behavioral Health Services and the Preble County Council on Aging. This training was actually pretty close to my heart, because Alex and I personally recruited these two agencies! A representative from Butler Behavioral Health attended a presentation we held in Butler County, and we met the ladies from the Council on Aging on our Tour de Preble County. Less than a month after that cold-call visit, these two women were in my Benefits class and inviting me to lunch with them. How cool is that? I'm a proud mama.

All in all, the day was pretty typical--I feel like an old veteran on benefits, but of course, I'm still learning new things every time I teach a class. Here's my top 5 list of lessons learned today:

5. People tend to tune out instructions about remembering and writing down passwords.
4. When counselors start the first practice scenario, the room gets too quiet. We could use a radio in there...
3. A trip to Preble County isn't complete without being stopped at a railroad crossing for at least 5 minutes.
2. Counselors like the federal name for food stamps (SNAP) when explained with accompanying hand motions.
1. No one will ever complain about a class ending a little early (including me!)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What day is it?

Today was my first day back in the office since last Tuesday. Between training in Columbus, my tax class in Xenia, and another visit to the hospital yesterday for CT scans and a chest x-ray, it had been a full week since I'd last set foot in Shared Harvest.

I spent much of the day making follow-up phone calls to potential OBB sites just getting started in the process, as well as to current OBB sites who might be interested in holding tax clinics next year. Aside from a residual headache, it was a good day. It felt good to get back into a routine.

This week is particularly busy for us Shared Harvest VISTAs. Alex has 3 classes throughout the week and I have two--one in Eaton and one in Dayton towards the end of the week. With all of the events and trainings going on, I think we're starting to get a tiny taste of what tax season will be like. By the time Alex and I are back in the office together, a week and a half will have passed. That's crazy!

After being out for so long, I'm not entirely sure what day it is. Monday? Thursday of last week? I think I'm entering a parallel VISTA universe...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

When it rains, it pours

It's been an eventful past couple of days. Where to begin?

On Friday I drove to Xenia for my first 2008 Tax Class. Zach Reat, the OBB regional coordinator from the central region, was to observe my training as part of my tax certification process. As you know, I was already nervous about doing a training less than 24 hours after being trained myself. That nervousness was only compounded as I drove to the training site through a torrential downpour. The rain fell so hard and so fast that I didn't dare drive over 55 mph on the interstate. I was anxious about being late for the class, but fortunately, I had left plenty of time to get there. But even though I was ahead of schedule, the class still didn't start on time. We had to wait for quite a while to even gain access to the computer lab. Finally, a few minutes after 9:00, we were led back to the computer lab area and I jumped right into the training.

Once I got started, I felt myself relax as I covered the first few parts of the training agenda/outline. I am still getting a feel not only for the material, but also for the rhythm of the class. Zach offered great encouragement and support throughout the day, and I feel much more confident in my tax training abilities. Before too long, I'll be a little tax expert wannabe, throwing around tax jargon with the CPAs.

After the training concluded around 4:00, I decided to make the short drive down to Wilmington to visit my Grow Food Grow Hope VISTA friends. I had never been to Wilmington, so it was nice to see the town and college campus during my visit. Here are a few pictures:
The Grow Food Grow Hope headquarters, housed at the college's Service Learning Office.

Sonja walking through the community gardens, located on Wilmington's campus.

Around 5:20 I got back in the car and embarked on the trip home. Again, I encountered very heavy rain, which fell, strangely enough, during bursts of bright sunshine. It had been a very long day and I was really ready to just get home and relax.

But when it rains, it pours.

One of the last legs of my journey, I exited onto I-275 heading westbound, and immediately encountered heavy rush-hour traffic on wet roads. As I neared the I-75 interchange, the traffic ahead of me slowed to a stop, but the person behind me did not. She plowed into me at full speed. Although I don't remember this, I somehow avoided slamming into the car in front of me by steering the car onto the right shoulder. The other driver passed me, then pulled over in front of me, her car a mangled wreck:

Upon seeing her car, I immediately called 911 who dispatched an officer. I had never called 911 before, and thanks to my dad's highway driving lessons, I was able to provide surprisingly clear directions to the scene.

What happened next is a bit of a blur. Somehow I managed to call Taylor, who was just off of work. He met me at the scene still in his EMT uniform, minus the ambulance. I also got a hold of my dad and, through a steady stream of tears, told him what had happened. Because my dad was finishing round three of repairs to my car, I was driving his vehicle on Friday. I couldn't bear the thought of telling him that his car was wrecked, not after all he had done for me in fixing my car. But of course, the car was the least of his concerns.

Long story short, the other driver and I had no obvious traumatic injuries. We exchanged insurance information and took photos for our respective insurance agents. The policeman issued the other driver a citation and arranged for a tow. My car was still drivable, escaping with relatively little damage, compared to the other driver's vehicle, that is. Both of us were lucky--it could have been much worse.

As I pulled away from the scene, I realized my head, neck, and back were pretty sore, so I went to the ER to be checked out. After a 4-hour wait, the doctor prescribed me with pain medication and muscle relaxers, both causing serious drowsiness. He advised me to lay low over the weekend, because I would feel even worse in the days to come. Unfortunately, he was right. I woke up on Saturday with painfully stiff muscles, a terrible headache, and tightness in my chest that made it difficult to breathe.

Of course, this accident couldn't have come at a worse time. Saturday was Make a Difference Day, and Alex and I had made plans to help out at a local food pantry in the morning. Then in the afternoon, I was scheduled to attend part 2 of my grant-writing class in Cincinnati.

Needless to say, I had to cancel those plans.

Much to my chagrin, I didn't make much of a difference on Saturday. In fact, I've spent much of the weekend asleep, with little improvement today. Here's hoping Monday is a little more productive.