Thanks to you The Cooperative Feeding Program was able to send 1000 Broward County kids back to school last week with brand new backpacks filled with school supplies.  A number of these families are homeless and also needed help accessing addittional resources for new uniforms and immunizations.  Many of you donated school supplies your own children selected while picking out their own supplies.  It was great to see all of you who dropped off backpacks and supplies.   Of course we also have to thank those of you who helped us purchase more supplies by donating or buying virtual supplies through our Changing The Present site.

Thanks again.  We couldn’t do it without you!

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During the Great Depression, the homeless and down-and-out ended up living in shantytowns or tent cities. They were called Hoovervilles, after the president who lorded over the economic collapse, Herbert Hoover.

Certainly we’d never slip back to that reality. Right?

After all, we’re the living-large culture. Two TVs and three PCs in every home.

But at some point you begin to wonder … Manufacturing collapse. Housing collapse. Banking collapse.

Hmmm.

How far are we, really, from Bushvilles?

We may already be seeing the first ones.

But our modern version of a shantytown is much different than those from the last century. Hey, the average middle-class American couldn’t survive in a tent unless it had central air, a Wii and plasma TV. With remote.

Tents would never do.

The 21st century Bushvilles are full of the very symbol of American middle-class abundance: cars.

Tony Santa Barbara, Calif., has opened 12 car lots where the newly homeless can safely park at night. The lots are open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and are monitored by a homeless advocacy group to make sure they’re safe and secure.

“The way that the economy is going, it’s just amazing the people that are becoming homeless,” Nancy Kapp, a lot coordinator, told CNN. “It’s hit the middle class.”

Don’t fool yourself into thinking this is an only-in-California thing. We’re seeing the same middle-class migration to homelessness here.

“All of our beds are full and they’re not full of people you think of when you say, ‘homeless,'” said Sally Gress, spokeswoman with the Salvation Army in Broward. “One section of beds that were hardly ever full before was our section for single women. Now those beds are almost always full.”

They’re full of the working homeless. Secretaries and teachers. People getting salaries that no longer keep up with housing, insurance, food, utilities and gas.

“We offer rent and mortgage assistance,” Gress said. “And before, the calls were always for help with rent. Now, the calls are for mortgage assistance. And they’re coming from all over the place.”

And, of course, with tighter family budgets, there’s also been a drop in giving. In a report by Christian fundraising group Dunham and Co., 46 percent of Christian adults said they had reduced charitable contributions.

Even those at the higher end have been affected. Thirty-one percent of those making more than $100,000 said the economy was stifling their charity.

Another perfect storm in this season of economic hurricanes.

And we’re just beginning to feel the damaging storm surge.

“It’s just now starting to affect people with higher incomes,” Gress said. “It almost makes you think it could happen to just about anybody who loses a job.”

So now, more than ever, it’s time for those of us who aren’t living out of our car, or a cardboard box, to step it up.

And I’m not talking about handing your wallet to the alcoholic vagrant on the corner.

It’s about supporting already-established programs such as the Broward Coalition to End Homelessness and the Salvation Army in both Broward and Palm Beach counties.

You don’t have to be rich. Every Thursday morning this summer, my wife has been taking our kids to work at the Cooperative Feeding Program.

The kiddos complained at first, but have come to enjoy it. It didn’t hurt that they were allowed to dole out the desserts.

Besides, feeling a sense of purpose through service can be addictive.

Particularly when the people you’re helping don’t look so different from you.

Ralph De La Cruz can be reached at rdelacruz@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4727 and 561-243-6522.

PS – In case you are wondering –  no Cooperative Feeding did not know that one of our volunteer’s spouses was a Sun-Sentinel columnist.  He mentioned us all on his onsies….Sure is one small world……


AP

Police say teens beat homeless Ohio man to death

Fri Jun 27, 2:10 AM ET

CLEVELAND – A group of teenagers beat a homeless man to death as passers-by slowed to watch the attack, some of which was caught on videotape, police said.

Anthony Waters, 42, suffered a lacerated spleen and broken ribs during the attack Wednesday night and died at a hospital, police said.

“The pack mentality going on in the city of Cleveland must end,” police Commander Calvin Williams said Thursday at a news conference where he urged the attackers to come forward.

Portions of the attack were caught on a surveillance camera outside a towing company on the city’s east side. Police said the videotape shows passing cars slowing to watch three teens attack Waters until he staggered into the parking lot, where he was assisted by employees of the towing company.

“It was just horrifying the way he looked,” said Marlo Massey, Waters’ sister, who saw her brother’s body after the attack. “They beat him to death and I just can’t stop thinking what was on his mind while it was happening.”

Waters suffered from blunt abdominal trauma, a head injury and damaged internal organs, the Cuyahoga County coroner said.

The attackers, who appeared to be between the ages of 14 to 17, robbed Waters of a music player and headphones, police said. No arrests have been made.

Waters was a welder by trade but had been staying at a Cleveland-area homeless shelter, said Paul Eadeh, a friend.

“He’s a good guy, a hardworking person,” Eadeh said. “He was just trying to make some money to eat and to live.”

Eadeh said Waters worked odd jobs for him at a beverage store.

Tammie Fills the Warehouse

In case you somehow missed it, this past weekend was the NALC’s 16th annual “Stamp Out Hunger” Food Drive. Across the country people were asked to donate non perishable food by leaving it at their mailbox for their letter carrier to pick up. In Broward County, that would be members of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 2550. The response was fantastic, with almost 250,000 pounds of food donated to The Cooperative Feeding Program! (The final numbers aren’t quite ready yet as some branches have continued to receive donations and some of the smaller branches donations were given to other local agencies. )

What a lot of people don’t realize is how much volunteerism is involved in this project. This is a tremendous effort that is spearheaded by the NALC but involves people across the postal service and other AFL-CIO unions. Individual letter carriers lugged donations back to their branches on Saturday, May 10th.   NALC members, their families and community volunteers sorted, boxed and sealed the food for transport to CFP.   Amazingly they managed to process all that food and get it on to 10 tractor trailers.  The food was delivered to CFP throughout the day on Sunday, May 11th – Mother’s Day.

Fortunately we didn’t have to unload that all ourselves! NALC members and Target team members were on hand to help unload the trucks and stock the warehouse throughout the 11 hour day. Tammie Cadwell, the coordinator for Broward County, even got in a little forklift practice (see pic above). In between deliveries they cleaned and stocked the pantry, sorted out the warehouse and did a host of other projects that needed doing. It was a long day of work that netted huge results. I would say you all made your mothers proud!

Define it

April 24, 2008

funny dog pictures

How many of you looked at this picture and thought get a job, get rid of the dog or go home to your folks? How many of you looked at it and thought these two need help, who can help them? If you are in the second group Cooperative Feeding can help and so can you by volunteering, doing food drives (which can include pet food) or just by spreading the word. If you are in the first group, maybe you need to come spend a little time with us in the food pantry or community kitchen and look at how you define home, need, unconditional.

Looking at this picture we can’t really know anything about this person or his furry companion, but I’m sure we all look at it, make assumptions, and react. None of us know what has brought them here, what other options they might have, or where “here” even is and that’s rather the point. You don’t know.

What I find most intriguing about this picture is that it raises the idea of defining homelessness and what homeless persons (the furry sort too) need or want. I think most Americans think of the homeless rather like this picture. The truth might surprise you.

Many of our homeless clients you would walk by on the street and never know they were living in their car, sleeping on friends’ couches, staying in one of the county’s shelters or living on the streets. Then there are those that have shelter, but worry each month if they will lose it, or perhaps they live with family or in a motel. Not technically homeless, but definitely not housing secure and they too often find themselves not paying utilities or buying food so that they can pay the rent.

They often have jobs, education, families. A health emergency, an accident, a bad decision, an addiction… things that could happen to any of us move them from living pay check to pay check to needing public assistance or being out on the streets. Sometimes what they need isn’t what you think. It could be that getting food stamps would have been enough to put food on the table and pay the rent. Maybe mental health counseling would help them move forward and maybe a beloved dog is what is giving them the stability and love they need to make it through one more day.

Maybe just a bag of dog food a month and a hot meal a day would help these two make it through life a little easier. Maybe just a kind word directing them to a place like Cooperative Feeding is all they need to help re-define home. They seem to have the unconditional part down pretty well.

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?

Which world do you live in?

February 2, 2008

If you are like 60% of the world’s population you live in the 3rd world. On January 23rd Nova Southeastern University illustrated this by hosting their annual Hunger Banquet. Each guest drew a lot upon entering the banquet, held on campus at The Commons. Just like the real world, 60% of the guests sat on the floor, ate rice with their hands and had only water to drink. 25% were lucky enough to have chairs and basic utensils and were able to have beans with their rice portions. A very lucky few – 15% – had a full meal at a table set with proper plates and utensils. I think I even spied a little dessert there!

The weather that evening provided a great backdrop, as one of our famous tropical rainstorms provided a downpour that ended up dripping on those seated on the floor of the tent in the third world ~ another reminder of how lucky so very many of us are. Cooperative Feeding staff were on hand to provide information on the ongoing hunger right here in Broward County. One staff, Gwen Perry, even shared her personal and moving story of hunger. The floor was then opened for discussion about poverty, homelessness and hunger.

One interesting thing that came out of the evening was a comment by one of the group representing the third world. Seems that their fellow students seated at the first world table felt enough compassion to sneak them a few forks and paper plates, vastly improving their experience. An interesting parallel to the real world perhaps ~ when truly faced with the reality of hunger and poverty, most of us will act and the action does not have to be monumental to make a difference. A simple act of compassion, sharing your excess with those less fortunate, does effect change.

Today take this challenge. Just as the students opened their eyes and saw the need right in front of them, open yours. What do you see? Do you see the elderly gentleman who looks just a bit too thin? Maybe the grandmother who has taken in her grandchildren and only has social security? Or maybe you see the family with all of their possessions in the car because they have no place to live. Now look at your own life. What do you have that you can share? Food, clothing, household items, cash, or maybe time and talent? Just like the students at Nova, you don’t have to go far to share.