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……

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. 

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?