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!

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……

This Valentine’s Day show people where your heart really is and say no to stale grocery store chocolates and flowers that will just die anyway.  Join us over at Changing the Present  and send your special someones a virtual gift that benefits The Cooperative Feeding Program.  For just a buck you can send your sweetie a PB&J, your brother a toothbrush or your grandma  a pair of scoks to pay her back for all of those holiday ones she gave you.   $5 will grab you school supplies for needy kids and for $10 you can pick between sending someone to the showers or helping them get an ID.  Donate $20 and you can do lunch for 10 and $50 will feed a family.  Of course you could go for broke and donate $1,000 for a van load of food.  All fine choices and all way better than that stale box of chocolates.

If you are a Facebook user, you can send it direct to another friend on Facebook and let the whole of Facebook know where your heart lies.   Just look for the Changing the Present icon.

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.