Food drive! Beyond the can

First off, thanks for that can of cream of chicken. And the jar of pimentos always helps. Really!

But there are lots of other things in your pantry – or things you can throw in your cart at Costco! – that can help make the 2008 food drives a success. See this list of food drives and food-drive items below. You  might be surprised by what you can donate.

WHO: CARITAS find out more

WHERE: Take food to any Austin, Round Rock, or Cedar Park STARBUCKS

WHEN: January 1 – 20

WHAT: Peanut Butter, Cleaning Supplies, Tuna, Kitchen equipment (pots, pans), Mac and Cheese, Bathroom Supplies, Uncooked boxed pasta, Hygiene Kits, Ramen Noodles, Laundry Supplies, Toilet paper, Evaporated Milk, Bagged or canned beans, Bagged white rice, Baby Food, Hygiene items such as: large diapers, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, disposable razor

WHO: Capital Area Food Bank find out more

WHERE: Randalls stores, Run-Tex stores, or schedule a pick-up

WHEN: Anytime

WHAT: DRY FOODS:canned meats like tuna, stew and chili (pop-tops preferred); canned green beans, canned corn and other canned vegetables; pasta & pasta sauce; pinto beans; rice; healthy cereal; peanut butter; baby food & baby formula
TIME-SENSITIVE FOODS on pallets: Discontinued items; Damaged products; Slow-moving items; Misrotated product; Pack changes or reformulations; Obsolete/discontinued promotional or end-of-season items;
Product samples; Close-dated product; Customer turndowns;
Unlabeled or mislabeled items; Products with cosmetic or production errors; Perishable product beyond retail sales that will not affect safe consumption
IN-KIND DONATIONS: Refrigerators and freezers; Vehicles for food transportation; Office furniture and equipment, like fax machines, desks, and computers; Office supplies like large quantities of notebook covers, clip boards, pens, and pencils; Technical support of the Food Bank computer network; Media sponsorships; Food drive materials; Printing services for CAFB publications; Soup bowls and celebrity signatures for the Empty Bowl Project; Agency and staff training; high-volume paper shredder; Office chairs; Packing tape; Paper-folding machine

WHO: Mother’s Milk Bank of Austin find out more

WHERE: The Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin, 900 E. 30th Street, Suite 214,
Austin, Texas 78705. (512) 494-0800. Hours: M-TH 9:00-5:00, F 9:00-1:00

Seton Northwest Hospital, 3rd Floor-Mother/Baby Desk, 11113 Research Boulevard, Austin, TX 78759. (512) 324-6000 x67308. Hours: 9:00-3:00

WHEN: See hours above

WHAT: Breast milk from healthy moms, donor must qualify

Any other food drives in Austin or Central Texas? We love writing about this stuff. Send me a note:

What’s Spanish for “donor?”

At the El Buen Thanksgiving event last month, I spoke to one of the “super volunteers,” a woman who organizes others to form a volunteer team that performs good deeds all over Austin. For some reason, it came up that we don’t see many Hispanics volunteers in the community, and she wondered aloud about that.

Hispanics are clearly more often on the receiving end of charity in Austin than they are on the giving end… or are they?

Most of the volunteers I’ve seen around Austin are white women, no doubt. I think anyone with experience with local charities will tell you that, just as they would tell you that rich, white men tend to fill the chairs at bigger nonprofit board meetings. Nonprofit staffs certainly have their share of Hispanics, men and women, but it’s different when you choose charity as a career. So where are the Hispanic volunteers and donors?

Well, what’s in a name? Volunteers, donors, quesadillas… okay, quesadillas is a non sequitur to you all, but to me it falls right in line with what I knew growing up. (And it’s right about here when I get almost completely off-topic… Skip to “End of Quesadilla Story” below if you want to.)

When I was growing up, a tortilla with cheese was a lame snack, something my grandmother made us when she was tired of feeding us. Don’t get me wrong, they were good. But they were like PBJs – fine in a pinch, but nothing to get excited about.

It was only when I went to college that I realized that the lowly tortilla with cheese was actually … a quesadilla. A quesadilla! Who knew? People loved them, apparently. They even went as far as to – lord! – order them at restaurants. Who orders a PBJ at a restaurant? And pays for it? The first time I went out with friends to a Mexican restaurant, one of them pleaded with me to “just try” a quesadilla. When it came, I didn’t know whether to laugh, walk out, berate them, send it back… I mean, I was completely baffled by the whole thing. I guess I thought it was a joke.

I still get mad when I have to order a quesadilla and pay for it, but my three-year-old son loves them. He requests them often. But, man, can you imagine my horror when he screamed at me once for heating up the tortilla on a comal?

“Mommy, what are you doing?! Not like that, Mommy! In the microwave!”

This was no half-Mexican child of mine. I couldn’t do it. I actually got mad at him (P.S. I’m not the world’s best mom) for wanting me to microwave a tortilla. Apparently my mother-in-law made them this way – she took care of him a few times a week – and even my own husband had made a quesadilla for him this way before. Betrayed! I had to walk out of the kitchen.


So how are Hispanic volunteers and donors like quesadillas? Because, well, we don’t call them “volunteers” and “donors.” We call them “uncles” and “sisters” and “aunts” and “compadres.” My parents, for example. I can’t call them a “donors” exactly (though they do donate blood every six weeks and have donated many gallons on the past 10 years.) But in terms of money, I don’t know of any instance of their writing a check and sending it to charity.

But they have given thousands of dollars in their lifetime to their brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, compadres, co-workers, neighbors… you name it. If someone came in to hard times and needed a few hundred to tie them over, they gave it. I remember them discussing it – usually in Spanish – and deciding how much to give and what we’d have to do without so they could give it.

Sometimes they’d get paid back, but usually not all of it. I doubt they ever asked. If pay-back was offered my father would wave it away.

Lots of families are like this, I think, and they come in every nationality. And I think – might be wrong here – but I think poorer families are more prone to this kind of charity than wealthy ones. Maybe it’s because the family giving the money knows what hard times are like and how a couple hundred dollars can really help. Maybe it’s because the family giving doesn’t mind doing without – because they have for so long anyway – and has a different idea about being economically comfortable means.  

Are there studies out there about where poor people donate their money? I don’t know. But I think the spirit of giving, donating, sharing… I think it’s with everyone, no matter what their income. And no matter what you call it.

Two sides to United Way story

I’ve been trying to get my head around the United Way Capital Area story. The gist is that the local United Way will change the way it supports local nonprofit agencies in 2008. Accoring to Andrea Ball, the new focus will be “less on basic needs and more on education, financial stability and health programs,” which means that as many as 21 local charities will no longer be able to rely on UWCA for funding. United Way will also require that the grants “must be used for programs, not administrative costs or operating expenses.” So who’s going to pay for all that work to be done?

I’ve found two opinion pieces that outline the basic arguments from both sides, and I invite you to check them out. The first is an opinion piece by the Statesman’s editor, Rich Oppel, “United Way’s new strategy carries a risk in a new culture.” The second is a response to that by the United Way itself, on their blog, “More on United Way Capital Area’s new funding.”

From what I understand, the UWCA approach makes sense: To support those programs that attack our community’s problems of poverty and illness at the root. But this means not supporting those programs that directly affect poverty and illness. A couple of long-standing ideas are at play here.

The first is that we have to change the way we think about charity and philanthropy. That it can’t just be about catching people as they fall, but rather addressing the core problems people face before they fall. The second long-standing idea – of really, fact of life – is that the UWCA simply does not have enough funding to support agencies that attack both ends – before the fall and after. And therefore, it’s time for the rest of the community to pitch in. But this at a time when Austin was recognized as ranking 48th out of the 50 largest U.S. cities for charitable, local giving….

How’s this going to play out? I think everyone believes it’s a worthwhile experiment – this  idea of funding to those agencies that address societal problems at the source idea – but it’s hard medicine to take when it means less for other agencies.

But I don’t want to grow up

Editor’s Note: Sometimes it sucks to be an adult. We’re all busy this time of year, but this time it kicked my ass. A big, family Christmas, work, my father’s hospitalization, my son’s pneumonia, my pregnancy… my productivity was shot. GoodCause – and lots of other things like eating and bathing, for example – was put on the back burner.

Not that nothing has happened. I had assigned a couple of stories for the first issue to a tremendous writer, and she got both those in. I think you’ll enjoy reading them. I got the copy and photos for what we hope to be one of our most inspiring features, and I can’t wait for Torquil to start laying that out. And we made some money toward the printing costs…. The work toward the first issue continues, right along side all the charity and nonprofit events that will fill our calendars in early 2008.

(It’s good to be busy, and I shouldn’t complain. But what happened to the Christmases where all I had to worry about was toys? And I don’t mean buying them or storing them of trying to wrestle them from their over-protective boxes… I mean, just playing with toys. I guess I’ll live vicariously through my three-year-old. The Transformer helmet is pretty cool.)

… and in keeping with this post’s theme of “But I don’t want to grow up,” I leave you with the really great news from the world of philanthropy, courtesy the New York Times:

December 27, 2007

Paris Hilton’s Grandfather to Donate a Majority of His Fortune By REUTERS

Paris Hilton’s potential inheritance sharply diminished after her grandfather Barron Hilton announced plans to donate 97 percent of his $2.3 billion fortune to charity. That wealth includes $1.2 billion Mr. Hilton stands to earn from the recent sale of the Hilton Hotels Corporation and the pending sale of the world’s biggest casino company, Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. That money will be placed in a charitable trust that will eventually benefit the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, raising its total value to about $4.5 billion, the foundation said. Paris Hilton was not immediately available for comment.

 Paris Hilton crying

Turns out data-entry volunteers are cool after all

Last week I blogged about a volunteer opportunity with Special Olympics Texas that I thought … well, that I thought would be hard to find volunteers for. To prepare for the Winter Games in San Antonio next month, Special Olympics Texas is enlisting volunteers to perform … yawn … data entry.

Erika Corbell, the director of volunteer services for Special Olympics Texas, wrote me back and let me know that, ahem!, actually lots of people like to turn up and enter data. See our little Q&A below:

1. Okay, so you DO get people who volunteer to do data entry. Is is hard to enlist them?

We do a data entry project three times a year – prior to each of our three state-wide competitions. The summer and fall  data entry opportunities are not as hard to recruit for as the winter one, since it begins right after the holidays.

2. What kind of people are they? Corporate teams? Retired? First-timers?

Yes, all of the above – Dell teams, retired, college students, high school students.  We have a crew from Whole Foods that volunteers for at least two of the evening shifts for all three data entry projects each year.

3. Do you think they feel the same satisfaction as they would in other volunteer opportunities? What do they get out of it?

Absolutely – it is definitely not an “edge-of-your-seat” opportunity, but volunteers quickly see that they are contributing to an important and necessary part of the process.  Overall, we usually get varied reactions – lots of amazement about seeing behind-the-scenes at what it takes to put on one of our events.

So there you go!

This makes me think I’m going to have to get a hold of these volunteer coordinators at these Austin corporations to find out how they choose where to invest their employees’ time. What a rewarding job! Is there any downside to coordinating tons of man power and applying it toward a good cause? I’ll find out,

Know any millionaires?

So here’s the way I think sometimes. Any of you who know a millionaire might have come across this.

The reality of a millionaire’s life is so different from everyone else’s. To him, $300 is nothing. It’s the walking-around money in his wallet, which he’ll replenish the next day at the ATM. It’s so little, that he doesn’t really think about it and wouldn’t really miss it.

Now, I know that millionaires don’t become millionaires – or stay millionaires for that matter – by throwing away $300 at every opportunity. But I also think that the way they spend that $300 can be a little lavish compared to the rest of us. Valet parking and an expensive lunch, just because the restaurant is right there. A few $5 magazines for the plane. A new cellphone, even though he just got one and will have to pay the fine to cancel the previous service. The $300 buys him comfort and ease more than anything else.

But I know what I could do with $300. I could get my son a really sweet, memory-making Christmas gift like one of those battery-operated ride-on Jeeps. I could buy my mother a new oven with a knob that works. I could get tile and material for the new floors in my two bathrooms. At the very least, I could put a dent in a credit card bill.

I don’t mean to, but I can’t help but think, “What a waste! Why doesn’t the millionaire give me the lousy $300 so I could do something useful with it?”

Ah, perspective. I may be an economic rung (or two or three) below him but I always try to remember… there’s someone an economic rung below me who’s looking at me buying that coffee at Starbucks and thinking, “What a waste.”

Think your $5 wouldn’t put a dent in someone’s day? Some people consider that enough money for groceries for a decent breakfast for the whole family. It’s also a pair of shoes at the thrift store or a couple of Walgreen’s toys for a little girl’s birthday. And look at you (me), wasting it on a lousy Eggnog Latte.

Preachy, sorry.

On Jan 19: Got a project? Mando’s got your volunteers

King for a Day logo

Mando Rayo, at Hands On Central Texas, sent word about the MLK Day of Service, “King for a Day,” coming up on January 19, 2008. That’s a Saturday, so there’s no excuse not to participate.

MLK Day of Service is an annual event during which nonprofits and community groups offer projects for volunteer groups and individuals to tackle in one day. Less than one day, actually (It’s 9 am to 3 pm). That means everyone walks away with an immediate sense of accomplishment. It’s a great quick-hit good cause.

As important and valuable as it is to get some work done, it’s just as important that everyone is gathered under the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. The project aims to re-inspire and continue his legacy by offering projects that fulfill specific “legacy areas.” So you knock out some work, bond with new people, and get yet another nudge to keep you on that healthy, sharing, one-world path of life.

Mando told me a little more about it in an email, see quotes below. Right now they’re looking for projects and the slots fill up fast (nudge-nudge out there!). To submit your project or learn more, contact René Carlin at or 512-225-0388. 

Q. What’s the basic idea behind United Way’s MLK Day of Service?

A. It’s part of the national event through the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Hands On Network. The basic idea is to bring people together to live Dr. King’s philosphy on service (A quote: “Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”) I love that quote! 

So this is when we bring people from all walks of life together in service – from youth to college kids to the faith community to older folks to corporate folks. It’s about diversity and coming together to help our community.  
 Q. At this point you are looking for projects from nonprofits. What kinds of projects, for example? What kind of work might they ask volunteers to do?

A. Yes, we’re looking for projects from civic and neighborhood groups like the Rotary, service fraternities, and neighborhood asociations. We ask them to provide service projects for anyone in the community and meet at least one “legacy area” or area of focus:
Diversity, Human Justice, Discrimination & Nonviolence
Community Revitalization
Poverty, Hunger and Homelessness

They must also supply at least water and snacks.

Types of projects include … park and neighborhood clean-ups, sorting food at the food bank, binding books for Africa, art projects like murals or peace benches (we’re doing this one in-house), landscaping, school beautifications, etc.
Q. When a group submits a project, what kind of information do they need to have ready? 

A. Project details like name of the project, description of duties and requirements for volunteers, how long the project will last, number of volunteers needed, if they will provide food for volunteers, etc.

Q. At the end of the day, what do you think each nonprofit gets out of it? Not just a project completed but… maybe more people learn about its mission? More future volunteers for other projects?

A. Exactly. We want to introduce volunteers to the different nonprofits in town and really give them a chance to connect with the volunteers (for future projects, donors, etc.) and this is an opportunity for them to hook them in. What we want for the volunteers is not to just volunteer for volunteering’s sake. It’s about learning about the issues, living MLK’s dream, connecting to nonprofits and their missions and creating a better community.