Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Friday, July 25, 2008
I'm of an age that the phrase "cool beans" was part of my childhood lingo. It thus made me pretty happy to be able to title this post with those words. And let me tell you -- today's story is about some seriously Cool Beans.
Not just cool beans... magic beans (giant not included).
They're small...they're edible...they're brightly colored...
...they say things.
Yup, just like the valentine candy hearts, these particular dried beans have a message for the world. "Success" one states. "Hope" announces another. "Zebra!" cries a third. (Not verbally - there is an actual zebra engraved onto some of these beans. I also spotted a giraffe, a crocodile, a lion, and a flamingo).
What's with the verbose vegetables? They're a novelty gift, basically. The creators (inventors? designers?) of the magic beans discovered that when something is laser-engraved into the exterior of a dried bean, the image or words also appear as the bean sprouts. You stick it in the ground, and up springs a little plant still proudly bearing its message. Don't believe me? Check out the website. They're pretty awesome.
How did we come to possess these magic beans? As in any manufacturing, sometimes there are slight goofs. An animal printed off-center here. A word smudged there. Little things that render those poor beans un-sellable.
So they donated them to us! Lots of them. We're talking 500 pounds of magic beans. We're putting them to good use in our Soup Kitchen (chili anyone?) and also distributing bags of them in the Food Pantry. Clients have been a bit wary of the pastel-colored legumes, but once we demonstrate that the coloring washes right off and assure everyone that they taste just like beans, most people come around.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Officially, they are part of the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), but around our Hunger Programs, they're just called "Senior Boxes." The goal of the CSFP program is to provide extra food to certain low-income populations, including pregnant women, new mothers, young children, and seniors. It's similar to the WIC program, but instead of providing food vouchers, CSFP actually provides boxes of food.
Starting this April, we began receiving monthly delivers of Senior Boxes via the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Currently 31 of our Meals on Wheels and Food Pantry clients receive the boxes, which contain a variety of food staples, designed to provide supplemental nutrition.
For example, July's boxes contained:
Mixed canned fruit
Each recipient also got a block of reduced fat cheese. And just to be clear - each box contained all of those things!
That's quite a good supply of very healthy and diverse foods and it makes a real difference to our elderly clients who live on fixed incomes. And because the CSFP is a federal program, we don't have to fund the boxes. All we have to do is identify eligible clients and make sure they have a means of receiving their boxes.
Friday, July 18, 2008
I rode along on a Meals on Wheels route for the first time this week, accompanying veteran volunteers Flo and Bernard. Flo drives the route and organizes the meals, and Bernard navigates and makes the actual deliveries.
It finally really hit me that most of our clients aren’t just the elderly. They are the poor elderly. Some pay a token sum for their meals (about $25 dollars a week for seven days of meals, two meals a day), but many can’t even afford that. I knew those numbers as an objective fact, but experienced them on a more emotional level as we drove.
The neighborhood we delivered in is a rough one, often featured on the evening news. Bernard pointed out local landmarks – “that’s where the fire was last year that killed those kids” or “over there is where that shooting last week was.” The houses themselves told a story of poverty and neglect. Battered cars parked along streets pocked with deep potholes. Rusted fences, boarded up windows, and sagging porches. Once beautiful homes, now peeling and graffitied and tired.
But in the midst of the decay, there were the inevitable marks of human occupation, signs of lives not just endured but enjoyed. A tattered American flag in a window. Wind chimes swaying gently on a porch. A well-tended rose bush growing defiantly among the weeds.
Most of the clients that I met matched their surroundings – old, tired, but with grateful smiles to greet the arrival of their meals. Most were shy about meeting me, hesitant to have their pictures taken (although most relented after being assured that they looked just fine).
“Oh, I’m not dressed for that!”
“Let me just freshen up a bit.”
“Well, now, you caught me in my bathrobe! Can’t take a picture like that.”
For some of these men and women, that brief interaction as the meal is delivered and pleasantries exchanged might be their only human contact of the day. I got the impression that they treasure it. That it’s every bit as important to them as the food we brought.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
At EECM, we try hard to pay attention to the needs of our clients and adapt our services to meet as many of those needs as possible. This often means slowly expanding programs, refining them and making them better and better with time.
Take meals at the Men's Emergency Shelter. Every night of the year, local groups prepare and serve dinner to the men staying at the shelter. Depending on the group, dinner can be anything from spaghetti and meatballs to fried chicken to Korean specialties. Breakfast most days is less elaborate -- cold cereal mainly. But over time, Saturday breakfast at the shelter has expanded and taken on a more delicious flavor.
Our dinner schedule became so full (the calendar to serve an evening meal is often full several months in advance!) that we began to encourage groups to provide a hot breakfast on Saturday mornings. Now, several Saturdays a month, the men in our shelter get to enjoy pancakes, breakfast casseroles, and other tasty morning treats.
Now, the Shelter meal program is evolving once more to include passing out bagged lunches on Sundays.
Why just Sundays, you ask? EECM's Soup Kitchen serves lunch Monday through Friday and another kitchen in the area is open on Saturdays. That just leaves Sunday as a vacancy in meals for the homeless in this community.
We're trying to fill that void. Interested groups can now sign up to prepare sack lunches that staff will distribute as men leave the Shelter on Sunday mornings. Ideally, the lunches will include a sandwich, piece of fruit, beverage, and "snack" (like pretzels or chips or a dessert).
Does this sound like a project you'd like to undertake? Contact EECM's Volunteer Coordinator, Emily Huck at 412.361.5549 ext. 403 for more details. And thanks!
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
We all know the US economy is in a slump (or at least if you don't know, you are probably living the austere life of a hermit somewhere in the Australian outback and are not reading this blog). And I think we all have an intuitive sense that a bad economy can hit hardest those who already have the least.
Here's a brief article from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) highlighting exactly that point. The article observes that 1.5 million MORE people utilized food stamps in March of 2008 than in March of 2007. Wow.
Rising gas prices mean rising food prices and for families barely getting by, these increases can mean empty cupboards and bare tables.
Friday, July 4, 2008
This letter is to extend my sincerest thanks to you and the EECM L-5 Program staff. As you may know, my daughter was at her lowest GPA (2.8) in her elementary school education. The staff of the L-5 program welcomed her and almost instantly I could see her interest in learning return as well as her joyful attitude. From the first day until now, she frequently talks about the program activities and skits and especially how she enjoys the way that program leaders explain difficult academic subjects to her. The return of her confidence in her ability to achieve is a blessing.
The results of the leadership in the L-5 after-school program are exhibited in her current report card with a GPA of 3.3.
What I have observed is that the structure and coordination of the program leaves no question to the participants about what is expected of them. I have also noticed that children who may have behavioral issues that distract them from learning elsewhere have remarkable focus and confidence that I can only describe as remarkable.
So again I say thank you to the leaders and mentors of the EECM L-5 program. I hope my daughter can continue with EECM throughout middle school and into high school.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Zack’s only been on the job a couple weeks, but so far he says its going well – “labor intensive, but good” were his exact words. He’s spent time sorting donations, cleaning the dining hall, and even moving refrigerators while rearranging the Extras Room. He’s learning the ropes so that when our summer groups start arriving, he’ll be ready to help them.
When he’s not hard at work at EECM, Zack likes to hang out with his friends and play sports – golfing and cross-country are his favorites. He’s also a huge Penguins fan.
Zack has agreed to write a blog or two about his experiences as a City Teen in the weeks to come so keep your eyes open!