With jobless rates still rising in Florida (we were up .5% from April – May 08 and up 1.6% for the year) and food costs going even higher, more and more working poor are falling in to crises.    According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) from March 2007-March 2008, the price of milk has risen 13.3%, egg prices rose 30%, cheese increased by 12.5% and bread costs 15% more.  Caught in the squeeze many families are for the first time ever needing to reach out for help.

FRAC reports that 1.5 million more people nationwide participated in the USDA’s food stamp program in March 2008 as compared to March 2007.  In Florida we saw an increase of 19% for the same time period. That’s an increase of more than a quarter million persons for our state alone.  From March 2003 – March 2008 we Florida saw a staggering increase of 37.5% in the number of persons participating in the program.  What is even more amazing is that the USDA estimates that approximately 1/3 of all eligible households have not even applied for benefits.

Besides helping families purchase nutritious food, the food stamp program provides local economic stimulus.  According to the USDA, for every $5 in new food stamp benefits, $9.20 is generated in local community spending.  (Click here for the story from the USDA)  They further estimate that a 5% increase in the national participation rate would create 2.5 billion in new nationwide economic activity.

Navigating the system can be tricky for first time users.   If you, or someone you know, wants to find out about eligibility they can either come on down to The Cooperative Feeding Program (we operate a satellite food stamp office on our campus) or check out DCF’s website for eligibility guidelines and other information.

The National School Lunch Program provides free or reduced cost lunches for thousands of children in Broward County.  In fact 49% of all students in the county are eligible for the program.  That’s over 104,000 children.  For some this may be the only guaranteed, nutritious meal they have for the day.  Now that schools are closed theyhave lost access to that and their families have to find other ways to feed them.  With rising food costs and limited job opportunities the simple act of giving your kids summer lunch – a ham and cheese or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a slice of pizza or some mac and cheese – they’ve become items to be budgeted, worried over.  As you enjoy your summer fun, keep these kids in mind.  Keep an eye out for those 2 for 1 sales….1 for you…1 for your local food pantry to share with a needy family.

There are some programs available this summer for lunches.  If you or someone you know needs help feeding their children this summer, click here for sites and guidelines and of course families can turn to Cooperative Feeding for help. 

It’s been in the news a lot lately… fears of rising unemployment, economic stagnation and mortgage woes. We’re seeing it at The Cooperative Feeding Program. Where we used to provide 300-400 hot meals a day we’ve been well over 400 for a while now and have had a number of days in the 550 range.

It can be quite overwhelming and a lot of times individuals feel they have no power to effect change. Everyone is looking for someone else to have answer, the President’s stimulus package, a bail out of Bears Stearns, or some solution to the mortgage debacle. While we certainly need some leadership in these areas at the end of the day there is something you can do – put your money where your mouth is.

Money definitely talks in our society. If you don’t like what a company does, don’t support them. Just as importantly though if a company is doing great things – supporting the community, treating their employees fairly or building a more sustainable corporate environment – help grow that by choosing to buy from them. There are lots of great companies, big and small, doing some great things. You’ve seen a few of them mentioned in this blog or on our website –UPS, Target, Transworld Business Brokers, Jarden Consumer Solutions, CASF, BankAtlantic, First Data, ABB Con-Cise – they’re all doing things right now!

I’ll make it easy for you to get started. On April 1st (no, it’s not a prank) at 7 P.M. Dorian Cirrone, a local author, will be at the Barnes & Nobles at the Broward Mall to sign her new book – Prom Kings and Drama Queens – a story about high school students staging an alternative prom. Come out to the store and support a local author working to empower youth to make better decisions and….. if you use this nifty voucher when you purchase something, Barnes & Noble will donate a portion of the proceeds to Cooperative Feeding. If you can’t make it that night, the voucher is good through April 4th. See how easy that is?

Help the Homeless Month Decree

On December 29, 2007 Governor, Charlie Crist declared January “Help the Homeless” month in Florida. Here’s 5 fast ways you can make a difference.

1. Clean out your closet. Can you imagine going to fill out applications and the only thing you have to wear is what you’ve been wearing for a few days? You may not wear those khakis, polos, and jeans any longer but they are the perfect thing for someone who is trying to get a job. Clean clothing – especially work wear, men’s clothes, socks and shoes are always in big demand. Drop them off at CFP and help someone get a job.

2. Open up your schedule. Come volunteer with us and bring your friends, co-workers and families. Volunteering isn’t just good for the cause, it’s good for you! Call Chris, our Volunteer Coordinator, at 954.792.2328 or e-mail him – chris@feedingbroward.org and find out about all the great opportunities there are. Think you’re too busy to come to our site? There are loads of ways you can help from home, your office or place of worship.

3. Get informed. Homelessness is a complicated issue, but there are answers. Jump on our website for information on how it affects our community. Click here to see some national stats and information.

4. Talk it up. Put all that good information gathering to use! In our society we often try to hide poverty and homelessness. Bring it out into the open by discussing the statistics, causes and possible solutions with your family, friends and people you meet. You may be surprised by people’s opinions or experiences.

5. Vote. It’s a bit early, but by starting today you can impact the next election. Find out where your legislators stand on the issue and what they are doing to help. Call and e-mail them with your comments on what you want to see done or not done. Ask them to sponsor legislation, back upcoming bills for positive change and get involved. Start an e-mail campaign and invite everyone you know to join in. The more your elected officials hear about an issue, the more they’ll know to take notice. By election day they should have a full plan of action to help those who are on the streets now and to prevent future generations from getting there.

Are you a Bubba?

November 17, 2007

The Cooperative Feeding Program was fortunate to be featured in a story on diminishing federal aid to food banks by the Sun-Sentinel last week. If you didn’t catch the print version it included a very nice picture of Barbara, our Pantry Manager, and Bubba, one of our customers, as she handed him his bag of food. It was a nice picture and we passed the paper around commenting on it and how much we liked Bubba. He volunteered with us often, helping others through their morning meal. Everyone had a story to tell, a connection to make.

This morning the picture went around again, but for a very different reason. Bubba was shot a few days ago and died after suffering a massive heart attack on the operating table. Of course we were all shocked, another act of senseless violence right here in our hometown. What really struck me though was what a big hole in the world, one which can be palpably felt, his passing made. He was no political leader, no major philanthropist or life saving surgeon, but he was kind, compassionate and genuine. If your life was over right now, in this instant, how many people could say that about you?

Most of us will never broker a Middle East peace accord, discover a cure for a disease or be a captain of industry, but we can all be kind. Hold the door for a stranger. Smile gently at someone on the street who looks in need of a little kindness, a little compassion. Acknowledge the cashier at the grocery store and for the few minutes it takes to check out engage with them, ask them how they are and mean it. If someone cuts you off in traffic, slow down and let them in. Be thankful that you didn’t have an accident and your life come to an end sharply, abruptly and without warning.

These are not big things, not complicated acts. But if we each were a little kinder, a little more compassionate, a little more like Bubba wouldn’t the world be a better place? As we move into the holiday season ask yourself this question….. Are you a Bubba?

He’s My Hero

November 12, 2007

Ricky and Chris

Meet my friend Ricky, pictured above with our Volunteer Coordinator, Chris Polzer. (Ricky is on the left) Like most of us Ricky is a lot of things. He’s really funny, hard working, dedicated, a vet, a chef and homeless. How and why he became homeless is a story for another time. This story is about where he is in the here and now and the courage it took for him to be here.

Ricky first came to Cooperative Feeding like most people, looking for a hot meal, a shower and some clean clothes. He came looking for that, but he needed more. He needed a place to belong, a place to rebuild, a place to call home. He started off slowly, by volunteering to wash the dishes and lending a hand. Then he started coming in every day as a scheduled volunteer staff member. As time went on he was asked to take on an increasing amount of responsibility. He met each new task with determination and with each new task met he grew in confidence.

Today he is our Chef, getting here bright and early to prepare the day’s meal with careful consideration and kindness. Ricky still has a long road ahead of him, but he has a job, a safe place to sleep and he is in recovery. Under extraordinarily difficult circumstances he did something very few of us could do under ideal circumstances. He took a good long look at himself and his life and had the courage to change.

This Veteran’s Day meet Ricky. He’s a vet, a chef, a friend and my hero.

Happy Veteran’s Day Ricky.

November 12, 2007

Today is Veteran’s Day in the United States. The news is filled with stories of heroics and self-sacrifice juxtaposed with stories of homelessness, mental health issues and limited benefits. Originally this inaugural blog was to be one of those; a banner waving for social justice for those who have sacrificed so much for us. It was to be discreetly published under the agency’s site as more of a commentary. When I thought about the vets I knew – my father, brother, aunt, uncle, coworkers and friends – that seemed so trite, so unimportant, so self-serving. Not at all the reflections one should have in honor of Veteran’s Day. So I’ve decided instead to write a real blog, with my real name and post it where everyone can see it. Not exactly storming the beaches of Normandy, but here goes….

PS – the real blog is next