Archive for November, 2011|Monthly archive page

Combating Hunger in America

Today I read an article that said 1 in 5 children are at risk for hunger. 14.5% of households in 2010 did not have the resources to feed everyone. (US Department of Agriculture) Two things that don’t help is the lack of knowledge of tasty, healthy and cheap meals and the lack of time to prepare them. Naturally the author outlines the volunteers who are working to combat this problem. Teaching parents how to shop and cook while getting children enthused to help. The full article is http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/23/us/cnnheroes-hungry-children/index.html?hpt=hp_c1

It is awesome that there are people – lots of culinary students – who will give up their time to teach parents and children to survive in these tough economic times. But what about the briefly mentioned population that work two jobs for 16 to 18 hours a day, who barely find time to eat themselves yet alone can prepare dinner for their kids? The single mothers and fathers whose only real options is to give the babysitter enough cash for McDonalds or three slices of pizza from down the street.

Now what about the exceptionally broke youth, fresh out of Mom and Dad’s house, who now must learn to prepare food for themselves as well. They are underemployed, on a tight budget and don’t know how to eat healthy….

Yesterday my friend who is 18 made dinner for 5 people. Homemade Kung Pow Chicken, the night before it was homemade green curry. She is only 18 and works as a kitchen manager in a local bakery. On a nightly basis she makes food with us, improvising, using what she has, and teaching who ever is in the kitchen how to prepare what ever treat she is making.

Another friend of my is superawesomefantastic at soul food. Once a week she will feed about 30 people at her house and another 10 to 20 who are hard at work at local bars. These kids (I call them kids even though they are all a decade older than me) would not be able to eat a decent meal after their shift. Most would go to bed on a stomach of liquor and tater tots.

Both of my friends are great with children which got me to thinking, what if we could set up a volunteer babysitting service for those families? The ones who don’t have the time or energy to shop for and prepare healthy meals? Teach the youth who are fresh out of their homes how to cook (and babysit) and then have them spend a couple of hours a few evenings a week helping a family at risk of hunger.

Parents of course would have to buy the ingredients or give the volunteer money to buy ingredients. But every evening, one more family could rest on the fact that their children were fed. That one parent could conserve a little energy and place it instead into play time, bed time, or work; which ever the case may be. And the kids would be learning how to cook in the process furthering the cycle. Once those children got old enough, they can also volunteer their time to help families in the same situation as themselves.

It’s a small idea, but I hope you can help it grow. A tiny twist on an existing program, but it could reach so many people. Are you a good cook and good with children? Do you have a few hours in the evening, even if its just a few times a week, to  help these families? Do you have youth of your own,maybe a teen? Could you teach your youth to do the same?

Even if this isn’t your cup of tea, if this is an idea you can stand behind, if you know someone who could do this, tell them. Seriously. Humans need to help one another, we need to feed each other. Let’s come together in these tough times and make a difference.

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The Season of Giving, You Have the Power to Make a Difference

This week officially kicks off the holiday season. This thursday we will prepare an obscene amount of food for our friends and families then eat until we pass out. Wake. Eat another piece of pie (or three). Pass out again. Eventually we put the left overs in the fridge and everyone goes home.

Then Black Friday, probably the most dreaded day of the year for retail employees. The gluttony of Thursday is met with greed, pride and further gluttony as countless parents, grandparents and lovers take to the stores to begin their holiday shopping. In their fury of Christmas shopping, everyone needs something. One month and hundreds of dollars later Christmas finally happens.

This is supposed to be a season dedicated to being grateful for the gifts we have and to spread joy, love and peace. Instead I am sitting at a job that can barely pay me to Facebook all day, thanking the heavens that its the Christmas season, because Lord knows there is no other reason to buy any of the crap that I monitor.

What have the holidays become? Days for us to fill our refrigerators full of food that we cannot possibly eat and buy crap that will likely be returned or thrown out in a year. We are raping our food resources while starving others and then polluting the earth with our consumerism. All the while we drop some change into the fish bowls of the Salvation Army Santas think that we are helping those less fortunate. The season of giving and gratitude has become a season of consumerism and greed!

I’m not saying that I don’t have a christmas list, I do. There are things I need and would prefer to have specific versions of the things I need. Likewise, I have Christmas lists for my friends. Things I know that they need or could use. But what about things that you can’t buy in a store?

In the spirit of giving I have a few suggestions of ways that you can enrich the lives of humans both in your community and around the world.

1. This is the easiest, donate to goodwill. Just go through your stuff, your kids’ toy box, your husbands 6 same sized ratchets, your teens thirty fully functioning hair straighteners, ect. Donate what you are not using. You’re just gonna get more crap soon anyways.

2. Donate your old glasses. Its a donation that will change the life of the receiver. Imagine a child whose education is halted because he can’t see the words in his book. A mother that has never clearly seen the faces of her children. An artist, a shop keeper, a seamstress, a wood worker, anyone who cannot see their craft an suffer financially. Here is a link to New Eyes for the Needy http://neweyesfortheneedy.org/ to learn more.

3. Donate livestock to needy families around the world. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for life… the same holds true here. Heifer International is an organization that takes your donation, uses it to buy livestock for families in need and send it in the name of your loved ones. It could be a small donation like a flock of chickens or a big donation for a cow, llama or goat. To find out more about this wonderful organization, follow this link http://www.heifer.org/homeview?msource=magento. They have a catalog so you can see the cost and benefits of each option.

4. Support American soldiers. There are plenty of ways. Trees for Troops is a donation programs to donate Christmas trees to the families of soldiers, treesfortroops.org. Or AnySoldier.com allows you to see what would be of use to our service men and women and how to donate. We can all agree it sucks to be alone for the holidays, imagine being in an active war zone, or having your loved one in an active war zone. Agree with the war or not, these soldiers and their families need love, otherwise their sacrifice is pointless.

5. Donate to your local Occupy Movement. Seriously, take them some warm Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Take them blankets and socks. Books and fresh water. It’s cold and wet out, take them hats, scarves, mittens and coats. Bring them coffee, hot tea or cocoa. If you have the means take them gas masks and padding for the occasional police raids. These people are standing up for humanity, protesting the things that have gone wrong with the world. They are present when you are not and they freeze for us. They go hungry for us. They sacrifice their comfort, suffer beatings and pepper spray for you.

6. Look around your community for other charities and talk to your canvassers. There are plenty of ways to offer your help and many more that have not been thought of. Set up a donation drive and get creative. Use the internet to help you, Facebook and Google will get you started.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure it is with love in your heart and compassion in your soul. And finally, don’t stop making a difference just because Christmas is over.

FAFSA Reform, What I Need

The idea that FAFSA, that application that determines which students get federal aid and how much, has been in the news for the past few years as needing reform. The political leaders all agree that the application process is too long and requires too much information. I vote it needs an even more important reform; the definition of an independent student.

I am between the ages of 18 and 24 and prior to being an adult I was not an orphan or emancipated from my parents’ care. This means to FAFSA that I am a dependent of my parents and that they are responsible for my education.

I am completely independent of my parents, I live in a different state than my them and have been told since I was 12 that I will be paying for college on my own. Every year I file my taxes independent. I make all my own money, I pay all my own bills. I have been doing this since I was 18.

My mother and her husband make “plenty of money” and have enough assets (I find that funny, their debt outstrips their assets) that they should be able to contribute XXXX.XX amount of money to my education and therefore I get no financial aid. My father and his wife on the other hand are poor so I file using him as my “provider.”

The problem with using my father for FAFSA is that it takes him until April to file his taxes – FAFSA opens for applications on February 15th most years. After that it takes anywhere between 2 to 4 months to get him to get me his tax information. Next it takes me about a month to get to a point where I am ready to brave the exhausting task of filing FAFSA. The filing process also includes a phone call to him to make sure that not only do I have his tax info, I can ask him if he got any assistance this year, how many this, how much that ect ect. Sometimes it takes two nights.

THEN when I finally reach the end “Please sign with your electronic PIN” God I hate this part. This is another two-week process. And what happens if you don’t sign with your electronic pin? Well apparently your FAFSA is incomplete and you must re-file. Great. By the time this whole process has happened I am sitting at the beginning of the new school year completely disheartened and desperately upset and unprepared for school. I go through this every year, I have yet to attend college.

I am not the only student forced to be dependent on her parents. I have met countless students who live outside of their parents’ home, often times in another state. Students, or should I say potential students, who work their asses off to provide a life of their own, independent from everyone. Yet when they file FAFSA they must answer that critical question – Are you of 23 years of age or older?

What I need from FAFSA is the option to file independently under the age of 23 or 24. (this number seems to change from year to year… maybe its just the time of year I file?)

So many students and potential students have parents who are unwilling or unable to pay for their child’s education even though FAFSA says that they are financially capable. And there are just as many students whose parents refuse to give up their personal information for the FAFSA application. And who can blame them? Filing FAFSA is like being interrogated by the Green Beret… even once you give up the information you don’t go free.

And the issue goes beyond financial aid. If a student doesn’t file for FAFSA then that student is not eligible for a student loan. If that same student does file and finds that she needs $XXXX.XX to finish the year, oddly, she can’t get the loan on her own, she needs to have her parents co-sign.

What if the parents refuse to provide information for FAFSA. Like hell those parents would co-sign a loan. Perhaps the parents’ credit is worse than the non existent credit of the student. What then? Scholarships?.. Hmm, still need to have filed FAFSA.

The lawmakers and Congress people are right. We need FAFSA reform, starting with the first question. “Are you financially independent from your parent or guardian?” Lets start the movement now, let’s get ourselves and our future generations educated.

We are the 99%, but not Really

This is a very important time in human history. If we really want change, beneficial and long term change then humanity needs to act together and decide now the change it needs and the long term goals of their ideal societies.

The first official statement of the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly calls in to question generalizations of just about every crime the corporate world has committed. But my favorite line in this is not calling out their crimes but rather the acknowledgement “that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members” (If you have not already read it: http://ablazeofbrightblue.blogspot.com/2011/10/statement-from-general-assembly-of.html.)

Once more for clarity: “The future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members” – All its members.

Two days ago was October 15, 2011, the day of occupation. Around the world  hundreds, thousands, millions of people met in common spaces to protest corporate greed, the dividing and widening of the classes, they came to protest that the bankers have taken everything and left the people with nothing but their voices. They have made a system to fail and they pay our politician to promote their own agendas.

But in these developed countries primary complaint stems from fundamental rights not being met, the right to get an education, to have a job that pays the bills with money to spend on ridiculous shit. People are mad as hell that they are in debt because they living, they can barely pay their bills yet alone someday retire…

Wait. These people are, in a way, still the 1% in the world. This whole world is set up so that we can drive our Lexis or Mercedes, so that we can have your triple mocha latte in the morning, watch TV tonight, and buy those new shoes, purse, scarf, whatever.

What about the people whose water has been diminished for the sake of our Coke-a-Cola? Or the people who were happy and thriving who are now starving on their own land because they are growing cash crops for the developed world? The countless developing countries that are suffering in pollution because its cheaper to develop their countries with coal and oil rather than develop cleaner technologies? People who live in landfills because we have exported all our trash to them. Poor souls forced to work in sweat shops, under paid, under nourished and unable to rise out of that poverty! – All because we don’t want to do it, not in our back yard.

And your children! Your children do NOT need jobs, they don’t need more things to try and satisfy the empty feeling that comes with existing in an expendable in a society. The children of this planet need a safe place to live. A place where the water is fresh and clean, where food is un-poisoned and grown in the community, where there isn’t such thing as a garbage bin, where our products and our excess is reused and recycled. They need a world free of oil spills and excessive green house gasses. Fields to play in without cutting their feet on broken glass or losing limbs to land mines.

Most importantly, they do not need to inherit our greed, our wars, our hate, our consumption, our persistent dissatisfaction.

The children need a world where education is valued and free to all. A society that has a goal for something better, not just the illusion of better. A place in which you can go to one town and see a rich culture and well balanced economy then travel to another place and see something new, instead of McDonald’s and Subway at every pit stop. A world in which human life is valued as more than just a dollar.

The things we should value is human health, education, spirituality – and find peace and tolerance for everyone within that – hard work, community, honoring the elderly, preparing the youth, LOVE, honesty, protecting and providing for the weak, sharing. And we should create a society in which these values are promoted and honored and exercised regularly.

Please my brothers and sisters, remember when you chant that we are the 99%, you and your neighbors are only a part. There are many who have less and whose only crime was being born in the wrong part of the world. When you protest to end corporate personhood, demand that money be removed from the political system and cry for accountability on the bankers and corporations, don’t just settle at your own comfort. Call for change around the planet that will enrich the lives of every soul.