I have to apologize for the deafening silence that has been echoing around this blog for the last year. School caught back up with me once the competition ended and I lost track of everything but the Brigade’s facebook page. Which has actually been quite lonely as well.

I’ve been following another food blog over the last year, Fed Up with School Lunch. Mrs. Q has done a great job of bringing the problems with school lunch in her area to light. Other folks like Jamie Oliver (who I’m sure many of you have heard of) have been working to slowly reform school lunches. Today I came across a blog, Better D.C. School Food which obviously focuses on Washington D.C.’s school system. All of these bloggers and many others like them make excellent points. The system in place that decides what children eat in school is terrible and MUST change. Completely removing salt for a child’s diet, but leaving any form of sugar they want won’t really fix the problems. Sugary drinks, pre-packaged and overly processed foods won’t help the obesity problems that plague our country. Even though many schools have banned sodas in the cafeteria, without a doubt, the administrative side of the system needs to continue to change. And to do that more parents need to be aware of what it is their kids are eating and they need to step up and tell the folks in charge that this is NOT OKAY.

But while I support change from the top down whole-heartedly, I can’t help but think: What if we’re looking at this from one side? Why don’t people talk more often about the fact that parents should be teaching their children to make healthier food choices? My thoughts on this were sparked by this post about chocolate/flavored milk being served in school lunches. Now, when I was in elementary school (which wasn’t that long ago) my parents were given a choice of what milk to order for me. This allowed the school to order appropriate amounts of milk for the students to minimize waste. I went to a small Catholic elementary school so I know things were run a little differently, but maybe the process for serving children lunches isn’t all that different across the system. I was never allowed to order chocolate milk. My parents ordered plain milk for me every time. Even at home I wasn’t allowed to drink chocolate milk regularly. That was a treat maybe once a week AT MOST. So why aren’t more parents instilling in their children the idea that chocolate milk is a treat, not a beverage you drink regularly for lunch? Why don’t more schools leave food decisions up to parents and not the kids?

I think a lot more of the responsibility in getting kids to eat healthy lunches lies on the parents and not on the school. Yes, schools need to be providing healthy lunches for the students. And it would be nice if they taught them good eating habits along the way. But ultimately, its a parent’s job to teach their children how to eat healthy and to set good examples for them. Snacks are things like apples, raisins, Goldfish, celery and yogurt. Not potato chips or cookies. Snacks after school for me were things like Ants on a Log (anybody else remember these?).

I’d like to see more pressure on parents to teach kids to make good food choices. When the sides for their school lunch are potato chips or an apple, kids should be reaching for the apples because their parents have taught them its the right thing to do. Should schools just not offer the chips to begin with? Maybe. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think that children can’t be taught to make good food decisions on their own. Parents, wake up and pay attention to what you are teaching your kids about food. Set a good example and show them how to eat better.

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Woohoo!

May 21, 2010

Thanks to everyone for all of your help and support! The Lunch Bag Brigade won first place in the NABEF’s Call To Service competition. I’m very excited because DC Central Kitchen will get a $10,000 donation from the NABEF. I also get a matching scholarship. Everyone has been so supportive, I’m incredibly lucky. Please check out the competition page for more updates on the end of the project!

Thing You Might Not Know

April 27, 2010

Globally the number of those without housing is over 100 million. People talk about the United States as the wealthiest country in the world. It is the nation of freedom and opportunity. We spend billions of dollars annually as a country helping third world nations feed their hungry. We like to think that living in this nation of wealth and prosperity excludes us from frightening statistics of all kinds. But we are not excluded.

In the US 675,000 people are homeless on any given night. Thats almost a quarter of a million people sleeping on the streets in extreme heat, extreme cold, rain, wind, hail, snow. Weather you and I wouldn’t consider leaving our beds for, let alone going outside. How can we stand for this? In a year, 2.5-3.5 million people will be homeless for at least one night. 50% of those homeless will be families with young children. There are roughly 123,790 chronically homeless individuals in the US.

In a country where we pride ourselves in our military prowess and reward our serving men and women with the Purple Heart and other high honours, where we pride ourselves in our many victories and build monuments to the men and women who helped us fight the battles, 195,827 veterans are without housing on any given night. Where is the respect?

In the seat of our nation’s government, in our fair capital, the District of Columbia, there are over 6,000 homeless people living on the streets. 30% are families. 20% are military veterans. 20% are seriously mentally ill and could function in society with help. 25% have a chronic health problem and need treatment. In the metropolitan area, 12,000 people are without housing.

All of this is just the tip of the iceburg. The 675,000 people without housing tonight will most likely also be hungry. But that number does not include the 14.6% of households (in 2008) that are food insecure at least some point throughout a year. Or the 5.7% that have “very low food security”, where at least one person in the household went hungry for lack of food.

In no way can these numbers be considered acceptable. With the amount of food on the shelves in our stores and in our pantries, no one should ever go hungry. Do your part to help those in need and go to your local community kitchens and see what you can do to help.

At the start, this competition was the perfect way for me to test the Lunch Bag Brigade, like a practice run. You only practice for things you’d like to do more than once. Ideally, I’d like to continue running the Brigade every year; maybe even every semester. And that is something that is easy to envision. I have the contacts I need, and the knowledge of what needs to be done when (and how). But 150 lunches a year will only go so far. So the question is, how can we make more?

The answer is to make this a nation-wide service project. Now that I know what needs to be done and what works and what doesn’t, I have created the “Guide to Running Your Own Lunch Bag Brigade”. It will be sent to schools and parishes around the country as a service project for their students to run. With my help at every step, the project will be easy and productive. Not only will hundreds of lunches get made, but students everywhere will learn how easy it is to help someone in need.
Check out the Guide and look for updates on the responses to it.

The Lunch Bag Brigade operates optimally on a 7 week schedule. The original plan is designed to operate within the time-frame of the average school lunch period. The idea is for kids to take time after they have eaten, during their own lunch, to get up and make and bag a lunch. The Brigade operates as an assembly line. Provisions can be made for incentives for the students, such as the period to make the most lunches gets free ice cream, and the project can be easily adapted to run in smaller settings like a service club, small parish group or girl or boy scouts.

Materials:
— Local food pantry/community kitchen to supply with lunches.
— Lunch period, service club, or parish group to make the lunches
— Local grocery stores, delis, whole-sale stores
— Paper lunch sacks, plastic bags for sandwiches (and for snack if not individually prepackaged), sanitizer (if big group will be making the lunches; hand-washing stations acceptable if available)
— Bread, Peanut butter, Jelly, deli meat, cheese, fruit cup/applesauce cups, pretzel/goldfish/trail mix.
— Boxes for transport
— MUST REFRIDGERATE LUNCHES IF BEING STORED OVER NIGHT

Plan:
Week 1
— Contact local food pantry and check if they accept donations of pre-made bagged lunches.
— Send/drop off form letter to all local grocery stores/delis/whole-sale stores for in-kind donations or gift cards.

Week 2
— Work with administration of school/parish for location and time/date to run the Brigade.
— 12 motivated people can make 150 lunches in an hour and a half; keep in mind number of volunteers to judge number of lunches to make; when running the Brigade in a school lunch-room setting plan on each student making a lunch.
— Fruit is the most expensive piece of the lunch; applesauce cups are cheaper than fruit cups.
— PB&J is the cheapest sandwich to make; deli meat & cheese when bought in bulk is do-able especially if lunches are half PB&J, half deli style.

Week 3
— Follow up on form letters; if experiencing rejections consider fundraising.
— School situations can run bake sales, parishes can have collections, and scouts can run donation tables at grocery stores (those need approval weeks in advance though, make sure that is set up early).

Week 4
— Most stores ask for 4 weeks advance notice so by now you should be hearing back from most of your locations regarding in kind donations.
— Begin fundraising to fill in gaps from donations. $175 dollars should provide for 150 lunches (without in-kind donations) assuming you buy whole-sale (Costco, Sam’s, BJs)
— Finalize date for Brigade and estimate volunteers for the event.

Week 5
— Fundraising

Week 6
— Finalize volunteer situation. Run announcements regarding Brigade in school/parish.

Week 7
— Purchase supplies.
— Bag snacks individually if necessary.
— Run the Brigade! If running in a lunch-room, setting set up tables so the kids can make a sandwich and then add the rest of the lunch to the bag. Bag the lunches and then refrigerate them until transport to the kitchen.

Fundraising and getting supplies is the hardest part of the whole process. Second is arranging the facilities and volunteers to run the Brigade. One the volunteers are arranged it is easy to establish how many lunches it is possible to make. Then fundraise accordingly. The Lunch Bag Brigade is about pulling together the community to help feed the hungry, so use as many resources as you can!

Hooray for CKP!

April 19, 2010

The Campus Kitchens Project blog recently published an article about the Lunch Bag Brigade. Please check it out and read up on all of their other events! I’m flattered to have been featured in it, I don’t think I’ve ever been in an article before! It was some great publicity for the Brigade and I’m quite excited.

Oh the People I Have Met

April 18, 2010

If a community service project is to be successful it is going to require the efforts of a community. I have been blessed to be able to work with some truly incredible people. The people at DC Central Kitchen and their programs have made me realize that my dream of working in the nonprofit sector is entirely possible. They have become a great inspiration for my efforts. I appreciate everyone’s optimism with this project. From the day I walked into DCCK to propose my project to Mr. Mike Curtain I felt like the Brigade would be something that could actually make a difference. I have not had the opportunity to meet Mr. Robert Egger, but from what I have heard and read he has every qualification of a good role model. Since founding DCCK over 20 years ago and running a variety of other programs, he is still involved on a daily basis. He was headed into the kitchen on Thursday when we were headed out at 8:30am; it was like spotting a celebrity on the street. Mr. Egger has created such a great program and if I can be as successful as he has been in my endeavors in the non-profit world I will be entirely satisfied.

Maureen Roche has been a saint for working with me and the Brigade. As head of the Campus Kitchens Project she is incredibly busy with planning the opening of several new kitchens across the country and maintaining the existing kitchens. She met with me several times and made sure I had the contacts I needed to proceed with the project. She was enthusiastic from the start about the idea of making bagged lunches and that enthusiasm fueled my own when things were moving slowly.

Duane Drake has been an inspiration to me because of his dedication to the boys at Washington Jesuit Academy and to providing them with the best they can get. Being in charge of the kitchen there is far from simple. Duane and his small staff provide three meals a day for the boys plus meals for the neighboring daycare. His work load in running the kitchen is worth several tons but he does his job with a smile and encouragement for anyone who walks into his kitchen. His attitude toward the project was as ambitious as mine and I know that if I can run the project again he would gladly jump on board.

The last people I met were First Helping’s outreach specialists Jeff Rustin and Chris Reams and volunteers Mina and Joe. Mina and Joe come almost every morning to help distribute breakfast to the homeless of DC. They postpone work on a regular basis to help those who need it the most and their efforts are commendable and their dedication to the people they help is something that I wish more people could follow. Maybe this project will inspire a few more people to give some of their time. Jeff and Chris are two great guys who decided to make a difference for a living. In my time with them I realized just how much reaching out to people means and just how much of you it requires. These men give all of their time and effort to their job and they do it with the best attitudes. I watched them work with people who desperately wanted their help and people who need their help, but won’t admit it. That kind of work requires a finesse that I only hope to develop. First Helping and the people who work with it are a success story that I will not soon forget.

Of everyone that I have worked with, I think the most powerful impact came from the boys who helped make the sandwiches and the men and women who we encountered on our deliveries. The boys a WJA were enthusiastic and heartwarming. They couldn’t wait to get started making lunches and dove into it with far more interest than I expected. They wanted to know how long I had been helping the homeless, where the food was going, why are they homeless, can we go with you to drop them off? In just over an hour they put together 150 lunches for people they did not even know. That kind of giving is the exact spirit I was looking for and I could not be more thankful for their help. Going out Thursday morning was equally moving. The people living on the streets of DC are there because of a variety of circumstances. Some are polite and gracious, some are silent, some are demanding. Regardless, all are grateful for some food and hot coffee. Many were surprised and pleased to have a lunch to take away with them. It did exactly what I had hoped; it gave them some security for the rest of their day. The people I met were able to walk away from us knowing where their next meal for the day was coming from, something I do not think they have the luxury of knowing on a regular basis. Knowing that every little bit helps and that I had been a part of it is more rewarding than any other prize could possibly be.

…Just keep truckin’.

The Lunch Bag Brigade started out as an idea in high school that, unfortunately, never came to fruition. The original idea stems from when I worked on a program called “Bright Nights” in middle school. My parish made midnight clothing runs around our town; in the process they also handed out sandwiches and hot coffee. My father also volunteers at a kitchen in the downtown area at home and it struck me that it would be wonderful to be able to give people something to take away with them.

Running the Brigade through this competition has provided the opportunity to spread the word much faster due to the help of a media outlet. Support for a group or project builds rapidly when a reputable, popular source follows it; support is what we needed. Unfortunately getting paired with a radio station is extremely difficult; the people who run stations are extraordinarily busy (understandably so) and with only 6 weeks to organize our schedule could not spare their resources to work with us. Fortunately, fighting to make our project grow on my own transformed the setback into a positive experience.

The productivity of sheer determination is astounding. Within the first two weeks the Brigade’s Facebook page had over 100 fans. The blog was getting daily hits, the videos on YouTube had been viewed several times, and there were even a few followers on Twitter. Realizing just how much can be accomplished by a few clicks is quite an epiphany. Social media has come such a long way in the last few years that a little project like the Brigade turns into a something much larger than our small area and intimate friends; through the internet, we are not only gaining fans and supporters, we are raising awareness to the hunger and homelessness problems that are so prevalent here in the capital of our nation. Hopefully, we are inspiring others to pick up a lunch bag and help another human being, even if it is by doing something as simple as buying that person lunch.

In ten days the Brigade raised $140 toward our goal. Now, that doesn’t seem like much but when the cost of supplies was added up, $140 buys enough supplies for over 150 lunches. 150 full meals. Now just imagine a few more weeks or the added support from a PSA. Seems pretty huge, doesn’t it?

Our lunches are being donated to First Helping, the street outreach program sponsored by DC Central Kitchen. This is a FANTASTIC video they produced.

Duane is my contact at Washington Jesuit Academy. He helped me get the space and kids I need for the project and agreed to share some of his story with us.

Second Video Post

April 4, 2010