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.