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.