Volunteer Journal #98 - LA Regional Food Bank

The trusty work boots at sunset. To my knowledge I have not been stuck in a freezer the size of a tennis court yet, so this was a first.

I was in the gleaning room of the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank, going through thousands of pounds of salvaged food from restaurants, grocery stores, and manufacturers.

Celebrating 40 years of service, the LA Foodbank has redistributed over 1 billion pounds of food to the needy. 1 in 6 people in Los Angeles are at risk for hunger.  Many of them have worked their whole lives, but are members of the working poor - those who must decide between rent and  food, or medicine vs. lunch and dinner.

Physically, the building is imposing, looking like a Costco with pallets of food stacked from floor to ceiling. And the gleaning room - is freezing. My infamous knee high work boots (see pic) and nano puff jacket were almost not enough. I needed a hat and gloves.

My group of volunteers was tasked with sorting everything, and throwing away any donated items without a clear expiration date and ingredient deck.

LA Regional Food Bank

Most of the mountain of food was salvageable, however I was not sad when I had to make the call to trash several hundred pounds of an unmarked butter substitute/margarine.  To be fair the margarine company probably didn't want to print the ingredient deck because it's nasty.

What was fun? Climbing on top of a mountain of food to pass packages down.  Hey, heat rises. I'm nothing if not practical, and a monkey-like climber.

It's tragic that we still need such a large facility because so many people live in poverty. However, I am eternally grateful that the LA Regional Food Bank exists, and that over 200 volunteers showed up, today and many days, to get food ready so many people in LA, including 400,000 children, don't have to go to bed hungry.

Volunteer Journal #97 - Angel's Flight

Princess is standing in for the kids.  Or more like sleeping in... On Wednesday night, after a long day at work, I found myself staring over a hand of Uno cards at a runaway teen.

I had come to Angel’s Flight near downtown LA to spend the night playing games. I ended up in one of the most intense, war-like games of Uno ever.  To be fair my opponents were tough and sophisticated. True survivors.

Angel’s Flight is a shelter for homeless and runaway kids between thee ages of 10-18.  Many of the children are fleeing abusive families. The kids are given food, clothes, and shelter, appointed case workers and therapists to help them cope with what they’ve been through.

The Uno game went on for 2 hours, a time during which I forgot about my work. Which is priceless.

Trucker hat kid = me

I don’t feel comfortable taking pictures of minors, especially teens forced to escape unimaginable circumstances.  A can briefly tell you about them because they were exceptional and interesting:

A 16-year-old former vegan, wanna be guitarist, who was thrilled that I taught him how to “count cards” in Uno. He was very proud to be starting college level classes soon.

The 11-year-old who had arrived at the shelter the day before.   He was tiny for his age and scrappy. His clothes were 3 sizes too big.

Playing games.

A girl in her final year of high school who couldn’t bother to play games because she had to finish her homework on the center’s tattered couch.

The 13-year-old who hid the fact that he started crying when, in the heat of Uno battle, another kid called him stupid (a crime that was reprimanded).

The only picture I took at this event are the Uno cards. I think you can understand.

Kidsave Wins and Breaks My Site!

After 15 grueling days of voting you’ve chosen Kidsave to receive the Reader’s Digest $1500. Kidsave supporters voted from around the world and one fan pledged to double the Reader’s Digest award so Kidsave will be receiving $4500 which is amazing and I’m beyond happy for them. I would like to thank all the groups that participated.  You should know that you all have rabid supporters and fans.  They flooded my site and as a result broke it.  Right now we are trying to resolve a technical issue, which reroutes every article to the Award blog unless you click on the title.  YOU BROKE MY FREAKIN SITE!  And honestly, no sarcasm, I’m thrilled. It warms my little heart.

Please carry the enthusiasm that you had for voting into action.  Know that all these groups deserve and need physical and financial support to survive.

Remember…  Without clean water we all die - so thanks Heal The Bay. Our greatness as a species is measured by how we treat other creatures - thanks to The Lange Foundation.  If we don’t educate then we’ll never improve – many thanks to EarthEcho International. If we don’t lift people out of poverty they can’t even consider education - thanks Kiva.  And our children (and they’re all our children) deserve so much more than what we’re leaving them right now - thank you Kidsave.

My Volunteer Journal: Episode 55 – Nashville Flood Relief

img_0529I never go back home. Not just because of the expensive plane tickets. My family can be… difficult. My grandfather was one of the only consistent people in my life, thus the tribute when he departed. But I wanted to attend my brother’s law school graduation, which would put me in the path of my extended family. So I flew into Nashville, TN two weeks after the worst flood in over a century. I spent some time doing disaster relief. Oh... and I helped clean up after the catastrophic flood too…

Once I had landed in the bosom of the south it was next to impossible to find time to escape the cavalcade of dinners, lunches, and general family nagging to volunteer. Finally, on Sunday, I secured two hours to myself. I set off for the neighborhood of Antioch; an old part of Nashville that had found itself submerged under 30 feet of water only days before.

img_0527I’ve never been in a disaster zone. I’ve seen Anderson Cooper in disaster zones - in his tight black t-shirts, looking good, emotionally sad, but always pulled together. I thought I would be prepared as an Anderson devotee, but no.The smell hit me first, then the insects, then the mud and then the sadness.

A flood zone smells like death. Like a rodent that died in your garage or wall or behind the fridge - only magnified and put in a humidifier so it sticks to your skin. Everything is rotting, molding, turning black, and crumbling. Flood conditions are also the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. In two weeks Nashville had developed swarms so thick they needed ground control to keep from knocking into each other. As soon as I stepped out of my car I was covered in mud. I hadn’t necessarily done anything the mud just jumped on my clothes. These were the small things I hadn’t anticipated. The sadness though… you could taste it. It was in the silence, the lack of laughter, the slowness with which everyone moved, the dirt that people didn’t wipe from their cheeks, it was everywhere. I had been told that insurance companies weren’t reimbursing people in Nashville because no one had flood insurance. The people of Antioch had been wiped out and you better believe that level of despair has a taste.

img_0530The visuals were too bizarre to absorb. Everything seemed like a special effect: a double-wide trailer thrown against a hardware store, a beautiful Victorian split in half, and trees decorated with toilet seats, clothing, and tricycles twenty feet in the air. I’ve attached pictures I took of some of the damage.

I’m not going to talk much about what I did. I only had two hours to give and other people were going to be there all day so I didn’t do much. The house I was working on was being gutted of everything that could grow mold – that meant everything save the 2 x 4s and bricks. It smelled like death, was dirty, and felt like a steam sauna. Basically I scooped, swept, and carried wood and plaster to a debris pile.

img_0521I found a Norfolk Naval Base cap in the debris. I couldn’t let them throw it away. I took it to the guy everyone said was an owner or knew the owner. No one could get the story straight. He said to trash it – there had been a whole uniform, but at this moment the family didn’t want to keep it. I proceeded to look for the uniform in the debris. Tossing away military uniforms is tantamount to sin. I couldn’t find it. But I kept the hat. Maybe when the panic subsides I can get it back to the owner.

To physically volunteer in Nashville check out Hands On Nashville www.HON.org. To give to flood relief go to RedCross.org.