Volunteer Gig: Feed My Starving Children

It’s called Feed My Starving Children, which is a bit of a turnoff for me (Note:  Not sure if it is the word “my” or the word “starving”.  Wouldn’t “Feed the Children” have been enough?). But my co-workers like it a lot so when there a group volunteer session was scheduled at the office this week, I signed up.

FMSC organizes volunteers to package meals – specially formulated for maximum nutrition – to partners around the world who distribute them to children who are literally starving. There is a location right near my office and volunteers are organized every day in two hour shifts. Food is scooped into the bags, weighed, sealed, boxed and labeled for shipment. The meals we packaged were rice-based with soy protein and added vegetables and vitamins. It looked like your average pre-packed rice dishes from the grocery store.

It starts with a video of what we were going to do and why. The instructions are simple and clear and there are cheat sheets at the tables. Then we were sent to wash hands before starting.

Everyone sort of gets into a rhythm and it is funny because someone will eventually need to change jobs. For example, my hands cramped with the cups that scoop the soy and rice. Then everyone switches places and the rhythm is all messed up. But there were lots of laughs and music playing and the staff is really efficient, which is great.

We had a group of kids on the shift with us. Many of them had been there before and were excited to contribute, which is always nice to see. When Time is called, there are specific instructions for cleanup, which goes very quickly. Then there is a closing video and optional prayer circle. I don’t go for prayer circles so I went browsing in their gift shop, which is filled with handmade free trade items from the countries FMSC serves.

Best part:FMSC Impacr 7 2015

The session’s impact report.  I’d do it again.

Speaking of Pride Day

I had dinner with my grandfather, GP, last night.  This was particularly awesome because I don’t see him very often these days and certainly not without the distraction of children and dogs.  Besides the fact that he’s a great guy, he helps me to check my politics (he was ahead of my family curve of swinging to the left) and reminds me that there are plenty of Christians out there that are standing among those I would call The Good Guys.

We’d planned for an early dinner with his lady friend, J, and I arrived at his place around 4pm.  We sat down and started talking books, because I had spent the day trolling every bookstore from Andersonville to Lincoln Park, and he told me that his church had a book club.  The most recent title was the memoir of a transgender lady.   He stumbled a bit over the word “transgender”, as though he wasn’t entirely certain that was the correct and/or polite adjective.  I didn’t really notice that at the time, since my head had exploded, but I managed to ask the title of the book.  He didn’t have it quite right, but I am pretty sure it was Crossing: A Memoir, by Dierdre McCoskey.  She is a professor at the University of Chicago.

Me:     So, did you read it?

GP:     No, but J did.  She can tell you about it.  I went to the discussion, though.

Me:     What did you think?

GP:     Mm.  I don’t like her politics.

Me:     What’s wrong with her politics?

GP:     Well.  She’s an economist and she was talking about minimum wage.  She said that it is better for the economy if Wal-Mart is allowed to pay its employees whatever it wants.  You know, I am a fiscal conservative and even I think that is wrong.

That was it.  That was all he had to say about her.  At dinner, I asked J about the book:

J:       Yes, I read it twice.

Me:    Why did you have to read it twice?

J:       It was a lot of information and I wanted to be sure I understood.  It’s very…detailed.  About the process a person goes through.

Me:    GP says he doesn’t like her politics.

J:       GP!  She said she’s a Libertarian!

GP:    I know!  That’s what I don’t like!

J went on to tell me that the book club meeting was packed full.. far more people than usual.  She expected that people were just curious.  I understood her to mean “curious” in a tabloid story kind of way, but I don’t even care.  This church – which is not just open to, but led by gay people – invited its parishioners to read and discuss the story of a local lady whose experience was completely foreign to them.  They invited the lady to meet with the parish and talk about it.

And my grandfather didn’t mention a man or a woman.  He only saw a Libertarian.  Happy Pride Day.

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Bernie’s Book Bank

I may have mentioned that my awesome employer allows for each of us to have two work days each year for volunteering events.  Last week we spent some time at Bernie’s Book Bank.  Their mission: “facilitates the collection, processing and redistribution of new and gently used children’s books to significantly increase BOOK OWNERSHIP among at-risk infants,
toddlers and school-age children throughout Chicagoland.”

They receive donations of used books from individuals and groups as well as new books from publishers.  The volunteers sort, label, and package up books for the kids. My group did the packaging for second and third graders.  It was sort of like wrapping Christmas presents!  Except instead of wrapping paper, the books were in plastic bags.  The regular volunteers told us to mix up the traditional gender books because the kids get an opportunity to trade with their classmates.  (Or, I might add, second graders might be less hung up on the traditional gender thing.)  So it was pretty easy.

When our session was over, we were shown a video of a school delivery and we could see how excited the kids were.  And check out this Thank You note that was blown up and put on the wall:

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Bernie’s has plenty of “drop in hours” so that people can show up and volunteer whenever they like without making a big commitment.  And they can certainly accommodate groups by appointment.  Even little kids can get in on the action, as one of the jobs is to put Bernie’s labels on each of the books.  So obviously, I am endorsing this place as worthy of time and donations.

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The Least I Can Do

The news broke last night that a Grand Jury determined not to indict the officer that shot Michael Brown to death in Ferguson, Missouri.  At about the same time, Marissa Alexander accepted a plea deal in Florida.  Ms. Alexander was facing decades in prison for firing a warning shot – hurting no one – at her abusive husband.  Her case has been held up in contrast to both George Zimmerman’s in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin a few years ago and this recent case in Ferguson.  As you can imagine, both my Facebook and Twitter feeds are flooded with..conversation.  In a lot of ways, these cases demonstrate the title of this blog.  And with all of my white privilege, I have a sense of despair.  But I am trying to listen more than I talk.

24 hours later, Ferguson is still burning and there have been a lot of suggestions tossed around about What We Can Do.  One that I saw more than once was something like, “Ferguson schools are closed today, but its library is open. Donate to help the community.”  Now you all know I am in favor of voting with my pocketbook, and I think libraries are the cornerstone of civilization.  But somehow, my head keeps going back to Marissa Alexander.

Domestic violence.  Self-defense.  Stand your ground.  Oh, how I hate guns.

Crowdrise, my favorite online giving tool, is having a – very well sponsored – fundraising campaign over the holiday season.   I used it to donate to the WINGS Program.

The WINGS Program is “one of the largest domestic violence service and housing providers in the state of Illinois.  Single women and women with children are able to receive temporary safe shelter through WINGS housing while staff provides one-on-one, individualized assistance that allows women to set personal goals that will enable them to work, continue their education, and care for themselves and their children.

Instead of fighting racism, I am helping women.  Instead of helping Ferguson, I am going local.  But this Thanksgiving week, this is where I can find some meaning in the madness.  I hope you can find some, too.

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An Evening with the History Nerds

Civil War BooksFriends of the Glenview Library hosted a program last night with John Alexander, a Civil War scholar who runs a used bookstore downstate with his lovely wife.  I found him particularly charming because he said several times that his interest was not necessarily in the military, so when he was doing the Q&A and someone asked about the action he would say something like, “Well, my military friends would tell you that the West had the A team in the field.”

He argued that Senator Douglas has been made to look like a villain because “every hero needs a villain”.  But in fact, Douglas totally had Lincoln’s back after the election was over and he made sure to bring the unionist democrats with him.  Mr. Alexander maintained that the election of 1860 killed Douglas and I rather believe it.

Another intriguing line of thought was that it has been popular to argue that Grant was the worst president ever, but he thinks the tide is going to turn and History will declare that he wasn’t so bad after all.  He didn’t have time to elaborate  – he literally had to talk over the “library is closing” announcements.

So.  Next time you are downstate, please look up Books on the Square in Virden, IL.  It’s for history nerds.

Shout Out for Amy

The other day a post popped up on my Facebook feed from Heartland Animal Shelter.  This isn’t unusual, as they are active in social media, but the post was a flyer for a fundraiser in memory of Amy Thier, founder of Splash Dog.  My mother, Kay, used to take our late dog, Shadow, to Splash Dog in his senior years and it was great for his arthritis.  I wrote about them when Gibbs went for a visit a couple of years ago.

I hadn’t known Amy well and hadn’t even heard that she died, but she was active in the local rescue community.  I decided the least I could do was show up at the fundraiser yesterday and plug our common causes today:

Heartland was founded by a veterinarian and the facility is adjacent to his practice in Northbrook.  They are very active in the community, with volunteers bringing adoptable animals out to meet potential forever families in the neighborhood almost every weekend.  The next event listed on their website is Portraits with Santa Paws on December 7 from noon to 3pm.  I am considering taking Fiona, as you know she photographs beautifully.  (This is from a similar fundraiser a couple of years ago for a different rescue.)

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The Puppy Mill Project serves the rescue community by educating the public about and actively protesting against puppy mills.  In particular, they shine a light on the connection between pet store puppies and the horrible industry that mass produces them.  Besides the cruelty to the breeding dogs, the puppies that come from these conditions are notorious for coming with major health issues.  It is so bad that the state of Illinois literally has a Puppy Lemon Law.  They do not have any upcoming events listed on their page, but I am sure donations would be welcome on their website.

Finally, both Amy and I adopted from Wright-Way Rescue.  You might remember reading about a bus crashing into their old facility (no people or pets were hurt), and they have recently re-opened in Morton Grove.  Wright-Way has an interesting “business model” for their work – they take in pregnant mama dogs and the litters of puppies that are dumped in county shelters.  Gibbs was one of a litter of eight.  Wright-Way maintains a page of Facebook for people to hook up with the families of other adopters, which led to Gibbs having a play date with his brother, Kermit:

 

and Kermit

 

I don’t see any upcoming events listed, but I did find that they are now doing kids’ birthday parties.  Education, celebration, support rescue work!  I hope this catches on.  Also, I have a fundraising project for Wright-Way on Crowdrise that you can find here.

Rest in Peace, Amy.  We will do our best to continue your work.