Friday, August 31, 2012

Hunger is No Game

Since The Hunger Games movie came out in March, I’ve been featuring in my Today’s Ways to Help how you can fight hunger by taking a quiz from World Food Programme and Feeding America. Last October when I heard that Manna Food Bank, a local food bank in my area, was almost out of food, it didn’t occur to me that Hunger Action Month had been the month before in September. I just wanted to do something to help.

Since 11/11/11 occurred last year and it happened to be my birthday, I had planned with another friend who shares that birthday to have a big shindig. We wanted to do something to benefit a worthy charity in lieu of gifts so we collected nonperishable food and money for Manna and another food bank. A couple of days after the party (after we had recovered), we brought the food to one food bank and I mailed a gift card to the other one.

It was just a drop in the bucket but I’m sure it helped some people. This year I want to get the word out about Hunger Action Month so it doesn’t happen again. That’s why on this last day of August, I’m telling people that September is Hunger Action Month.

It’s a beautiful season of the year with the hot summer days drawing to a close. The National Association of Letter Carriers does a Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive each May, but by fall those supplies can be running short.

According to Feeding America, nearly 49 million people in America face hunger. That means one in six people go hungry, and more than one in five children. Feeding America has some great tips for how to change that. Orange is the color to wear on September 6 or go 0range digitally through the Feeding America Facebook application to raise awareness about hunger.

There’s another organization I want to share with you that makes feeding others an art. It’s Canstruction. Have you ever seen a sculpture made out of cans? If you haven’t, then you should check out their website.

I did and there were two upcoming exhibits in October that are near where I live. These shows are amazing. Often it’s architects and engineers who come up with designs made out of cans, of things like cartoon or pop art characters, scenery, animals, mermaids, just about anything you can think of. All of the cans go to food banks. It’s a great way to get publicity for your company or product while helping others get the food they need.

I have known about some of the wonderful things Manna does for years and on my website, I have a story about two fabulous ladies that started an organization to help Manna and the other local food pantries by providing fresh fruit to them.  I’ll have to save their story for another blog, but if you can’t wait, you can check out the link above.

I have to admit, orange is my least favorite color, so I don’t know if I have anything I can wear, but if you check my Volunteer and Charity Guru Facebook page, it may just be sporting orange on the 6th.  Hope yours is, too, and if you don’t have one, maybe you can bring a few cans to your local food bank or organize a food drive at your work, church or neighborhood. It’s the charitable thing to do.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Philanthropy Across America

Have you ever wondered how charitable your neighbors are?  Your town? Your state?  A new study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy compares tax returns of taxpayers who earned $50,000 or more in 2008 to determine their levels of giving. The trends were that those that had less gave more.  States that voted Republican in 2008 gave more.  People in states considered deeply religious gave more, too. As for volunteering, the statistics show that more than one in four Americans volunteer.

The families studied gave $135 billion or almost two-thirds of the $214 billion donated by all individuals in 2008. Giving was calculated after major expenses like taxes, housing and food to level the playing field. The median charitable donation was 4.7 percent of discretionary income.

The state with the highest percentage of giving was Utah at 10.6 percent.  The people of Utah also topped the chart for volunteering at a rate of forty-five percent.  That’s almost half of all people giving their time to others. Way to go, Utah!

It’s also 19 percentage points above the national average of 26 percent, which is pretty high as it is.  When at least one in four of all people in the country volunteer, you know you have a nation that loves. 

My state Florida was fourth in the nation in total contributions and 19th by percent with giving at 4.6 percent per person on average.  People in my zip code gave 4.2 percent of their income and areas close to me gave even more. To find your own statistics go to these maps.

The religious makeup of the state made a big difference. Two of the top nine states—Utah and Idaho—have high numbers of Mormon residents and the remaining states in the top nine are all in the Bible Belt.

The pattern holds in the cities where residents of Salt Lake City, Memphis and Birmingham, Alabama, gave at least seven percent of their discretionary income to charity, while those in Boston and Providence average less than three percent. 

Secular charities benefit more greatly from people in the Northeast, who give 1.4 percent of their discretionary income to secular charities, compared with those in the South, who give 0.9 percent.

Families with the lowest income also gave a higher percentage than those that make more money.  Households that earn $50,000 to $75,000 give an average of 7.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity, while those with income of $200,000 or more gave an average of 3.9 percent. Overall, those with annual incomes of $200,000 or more—accounted for 11 percent of the tax returns and gave 41 percent of the money.

Politics also plays a role in charity.  The eight states where residents gave the highest share of income to charity voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain in 2008.  The seven-lowest ranking states supported Barack Obama.

All in all, there were few surprises in the rankings.  These trends have largely been the same for many years. I was a little surprised that my area in particular was just at the average in giving and when I looked nearby the numbers were much higher. Let’s hope my blog might change a bit of that the next time The Chronicle of Philanthropy does a study.

Friday, August 17, 2012


This year if you were to visit a class of 40 students, on average by the end of the year ten of those 40 students will have dropped out of that school. In a school of two thousand students, that would be five hundred dropouts. Frightening numbers, aren’t they?
General Colin Powell founded America’s Promise Alliance over a decade ago. In 2010, America’s Promise launched the Grad Nation campaign to fight back against the dropout trend.  According to the America’s Promise Alliance website:
Grad Nation is a large and growing movement of dedicated individuals, organizations and communities working together to end America’s dropout crisis. Grad Nation goals include achieving a 90 percent graduation rate nationwide by 2020, with no high school graduating less than 80 percent of its students, and regaining America’s standing as first in the world in college completion.Grad Nation is a 10-year initiative focused on mobilizing Americans to end the dropout crisis and ensure that young people have the supports they need for college and a 21st century career.
The above numbers are an average because the nation’s lowest-performing high schools actually account for about 50 percent of all young people who drop out of school. Grad Nation concentrates special attention on the communities surrounding these schools.
What Grad Nation found was that students who have five things, or five promises, fulfilled in their lives have a greater chance of finishing school, of making good grades and of contributing to their communities and avoiding violence.
The five promises important for the success of high school students are caring adults, safe places, a healthy start, effective education and opportunities to help others. Young people must experience these critical supports in their families, at schools and out in their communities throughout their lives for success.
I find it insightful that one of those supports is about helping others. One of my favorite quotations is by Antoine De Saint Exupery that “When you give yourself, you receive more than you give.”  It’s so true.
Grad Nation has worked to find Promise Places to provide these supports for students. Promise Places include schools, churches, community organizations, businesses or any other place that provides all five promises to young people.
America’s Promise and AT&T have also begun an alliance of young leaders from across the nation called Impact Network which unites and empowers youth to take action to address the challenges facing their communities. These young people have the opportunity to put their ideas into action using Idea Grants funded by AT&T.
At the beginning of this year, ReadyNation joined America’s Promise to expand support for early childhood as a key starting point in improving high school graduation rates and delivering the Five Promises.
All of these programs are useless without participation from organizations and individuals. If you are concerned about dropouts in your community, I urge you to contact America’s Promise and see what you can do to help. It’s impossible to ignore the seriousness of this problem when one fourth of all students are not graduating from high school in America. Think about it at the beginning of this school year.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Start the School Year Off Right

Yesterday my son and I went shopping for school clothes. You would have thought I was torturing him the way he complained. Florida also had a tax free weekend for school supplies and clothing last weekend. We had returned from being out of town that Sunday so we ran over to Walmart at 7 p.m. that night to get his composition books and pencils, too. 

From my Facebook page, I can see that some of the children of my friends are already in school. My son starts next week. So, it’s time to start thinking of teachers, schedules and homework again. Amidst all the preparation, you will see boxes in major chain stores like Walmart asking for school supply donations for needy kids. 

It’s an easy way to donate. Just pick up a few extra boxes of pencils and reams of paper at the same time you’re shopping for your own children while most of these items are on sale.

However, there’s another group of kids who need supplies just as much as the older ones—preschoolers. We have a home daycare in our neighborhood so I talk to the lady who runs it on occasion especially when I lock myself out of my house on a weekday morning.

A few years ago, I had done just that and since most other people are gone to work at that time, I ended up knocking on her door to use her phone. We started talking and I found out she had taught a book my son had also done in kindergarten—Flat Stanley. 

It’s about a boy whose bulletin board falls on him and flattens him so that he can fit under a door. Many teachers have their kids make a Flat Stanley and mail him with a letter to relatives and friends so they can see how far around the world Flat Stanley can go.

This preschool teacher had done just that and had gotten the president of the United States (Bush at the time) to receive and send her Flat Stanley back.

After my son had enjoyed Flat Stanley so much in kindergarten, I purchased a set of books about him. In them, I think Stanley went to Egypt and the moon or something like that. I told my neighbor about them and she got so excited.  She asked if she could borrow them and since by then my son had read all of them so I gave them to her to keep.

Other things besides books you can give to preschool daycare centers are toys that your kids have outgrown, playdoh and crayons—in general anything that your kids enjoyed when they were in preschool. The large daycare centers may or may not take things but in home daycares have a great need for them.

It’s a good idea to ask the owner if there’s anything they need in particular, too. How do you find a daycare nearby? Many counties have licensing programs for the in home ones.  You can google county licensing programs for daycare and call to get phone numbers for a few near you.

It’s great for the daycares and for your children when they give away their old books and toys. It is also another way you can start the school year off right for you and your children—by helping others.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Kindness is Back

I am ecstatic. My husband who has been in Kuwait for a year and in Birmingham the year before is BACK!  He’s been home for a little over a week.
We went on a nearby base a couple of days ago and I stopped and got Slim Jims for the guys at the gate.  It’s something I started doing back during Random Acts of Kindness week in February. I bring them snacks since they’re on their feet outside for hours at a time. 
He asked me why I did it and I said because I like to. Another great kindness event is coming up next Saturday, the Great Kindness Challenge.  It’s an event aimed at getting children involved in helping others, but it’s also a great day for everyone to do as many kind deeds as they can.
If you’re having trouble thinking of some things your kids can do, the Great Kindness Challenge website has a list of 50 suggestions which you can print and check off as you do them.  They include things like leaving a flower on someone’s doorstep, reading a book to a younger person or cleaning up a park.
The last one is notable, too, since we just finished National Park and Recreation month in July.  I’ve been visiting a lot of parks over the last month since there’s a contest I’m hoping to win.  I’ve visited 112 parks and taken over 550 photos of them. 
They’ve run the gamut from nonexistent (no sign, no facilities, no road) to outstanding (playground, splash pad, lake complete with ducks, covered pavilions, grills, exercise area, gazebo, walking path and volleyball, tennis and basketball courts). Overall, I have been amazed how many wonderful parks are out there waiting to be discovered because although I haven’t officially kept track, it seems like at least half of the ones I have visited are empty. 
The Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup is also coming up September 15. Over the past 25 years, nearly nine million volunteers from 152 countries have cleaned 145 million pounds of trash from the shores of lakes, streams, rivers and the ocean. Since I live near the ocean, I’ve participated in the cleanups before.  It’s always on a Saturday and you can just show up and pitch in.  You can also sign up here.
It’s also not too late to make a statement about finding alternatives to fossil fuels. Tomorrow, thousands of people will be joining hands around the globe at noon in your time zone for Hands Across the Sands. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend but there’s an event planned in Pensacola. To find an event near you, check here.
It’s a great time to practice kindness to people and also to our environment. The sun is out, the days are long and everyone can fit in at least a few acts of kindness next Saturday.  Share your ideas here!