Category

Homelessness and Hunger

Category

Homelessness…where to start?

Regardless of where you live, you have witnessed homelessness. It seems to be an epidemic on the rise and a problem with so many layers, that many of us simply don’t even know where to begin? In communities across the country people are coming together, as Americans do, to roll up their sleeves to support those in need.

Last week a dear friend of mine, reached out to tell me about his amazing aunt, Norah Miller, and the work she is doing in her community to help the homeless. Norah lives in Pennsylvania where the economy has struggled, the opioid addition has skyrocketed and Veterans are unemployed and facing homelessness. It would be easy to turn a blind eye, but Norah simply couldn’t look away. Instead she decided to act.

In 2009, Norah and four friends came together to do something and founded Cornerstone, to support the homeless in their community and by 2016 these five received their official nonprofit status.

Here is what Norah had to say last week:

CM: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start your non-profit?    

Norah Miller:  It was a bitter cold morning in western Pennsylvania, January 2012, when a young man called me. He identified himself as a veteran who had lost his job and his home in Akron and was doing temp work at a steel mill. His take-home pay wasn’t able to cover the $40 a night charged by the motel. When he called me, he didn’t have enough money for gas to get his family to a relative’s home in Ohio. I met him in a parking lot and gave him $100 in gift cards for gas or food. The windows in his old car were steamed up and he looked toward his wife, three children and their dog. I told him I could help him with housing. He said, “It’s too late.” Then he thanked me profusely and said, “I wish I had met you sooner.” That’s when I knew.

CM: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Norah Miller:  Committed colleagues, support from the faith-based community and a lobby full of people including a 10 month old baby girl in an old stroller, extending her arms to me last week.

CM: When do you know you have made a difference?

Norah Miller: When someone – a recovering addict, a disabled veteran, a family with children – is handed the keys to their very own apartment.

 

CM: Tell us what success you have had? What has your impact been?

Norah Miller:Prior to its 501c3 designation, The Cornerstone was already recognized as the single point of entry to the county’s homeless and housing stabilization programs. $64,000 in private funding was raised in the first 9 months, $450,000 in government funding was allocated and more than 100 people a week receive assistance.

Norah and her team are working to make a difference. They spend every penny they raise on helping others, they do not have a web-site, a logo or a marketing budget. When I asked her what she needed she said, “Our vote.” The Cornerstone is one of three non-profits chosen to win a website. If you are so inclined to take three seconds to click this link, https://digitalboostvoting.isynergy.io to help an amazing woman who is helping others, then you too will be making a difference.

Every decision we make with our time is a choice. Thank you Norah for inspiring us all.

Charity Matters.

 

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When Clouds Embrace

One of our dear friends lives in Athens, Greece and recently introduced me to a very special lady, Maria Kostaki. As most of you know the Syrian refugee crisis has had an enormous impact on Greece. While we all watch the news here in America with horror, many in Greece watch in person while children are orphaned and abandoned.

So many in Greece can barely take care of themselves with the financial crisis and feel helpless, but not Maria, she decided to act.

She did so in the most beautiful of ways, Maria wrote a children’s book, called When Clouds Embrace. Her mission to use her gifts, as an author, to help those in need. I had the opportunity to speak to Maria recently and here is our inspiring conversation, from this remarkable woman, who can no longer sit by and watch, but rather, who is using her talent to inspire, educate, and help these abandoned children.

 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act?

Maria: The day that I woke up to the photograph that shocked the entire world. It was of the three-year-old Syrian boy washed ashore on a beach of Lesvos, an island that I visited many times for vacation. He was dead.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Maria:The feeling that one day, I will make a difference, and maybe inspire others to do the same. I know that selling books won’t save the world, but I’m a writer, that is what I do, that is what I have to offer. I hope that people around me will realize that any help and kindness we can spare, on any level, can have an impact on the lives of others.

Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?

Maria: I like to believe that I already have. I’ve raised awareness in my own circle, few people would have known that there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of kids, alone, without shelter, without access to food and clothes, without a grown up hand to hold, roaming a country, foreign to them. It’s terrifying, devastating, if you think about it.

Charity Matters:  Tell us what success you have had? What has your impact been?

A large part of the funds for the publication of “When Clouds Embrace” was actually crowdfunded. I had contributions from all over the world, from people I did not know, from friends who I know are in tight financial spot here in crisis-stricken Greece. It was a humbling experience. But it was just the beginning. Success will be success when I donate the all of the proceeds to Giving for Greece, an organization that is doing wonderful work for unaccompanied minors.

But the first sign of success was seeing the “temporarily out of stock” alert for “When Clouds Embrace” on Amazon. It was its publication day.

As Pablo Picasso said, ” The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” Thank you Maria for reminding us that there are so many ways we can help, support and inspire one another.

Charity Matters.

 

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The Empowerment Plan

This past week, you would have to be hiding under a rock to know there has been a lot of talk about empowerment, but today I would like to share with you an inspiring non-political, good old-fashioned kind of empowerment. It’s the story of a young woman named Veronika Scott, who in 2010 found herself in a college class with an assignment to create a product that would fill a need in her Detroit community. An assignment that would change her life and empower so many more.

Veronika  was the daughter of parents who had struggled with addiction and unemployment. So she found herself in a warming center for Detroit’s homeless with an idea to create a coat the could also become a sleeping bag. While she was working on her design, a homeless woman angrily confronted her and said, “We don’t need coats, we need jobs.” It was that moment that Veronika realized she could do both. She said, ” I wanted to create an opportunity, that I wish my parents had when I was a kid.”

In 2012, she created the Detroit based non-profit The Empowerment Plan, to elevate families from the generational cycle of homelessness. Veronika began hiring single parents from the local shelters, trained them as seamstresses to make the coats to meet the needs of the homeless community. More than that, she gave these women a purpose, a job, education, full-time employment and a chance to regain their independence.

Today, Veronika at age 27, has founded the non-profit The Empowerment Plan, employed 39 homeless women and made and distributed over 15,000 coats since 2011. As C.S. Lewis said, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” Veronika is a living example when she said, “No matter what you’ve gone through, you still can do a lot with what you have.”

Charity Matters.

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When two worlds collide

caylin_moore_spark

Don’t you love it when your worlds collide? As many of you know I have been a passionate supporter at an all boys school in Watts, called Verbum Dei, also referred to as “The Verb.” The Verb is a school where young men come from poverty, are given a white-collar job one day a week and attend school the remaining four days. One hundred percent of these amazing young men are accepted to four-year colleges.

Another school, that I am a passionate supporter of is Texas Christian University, also known as TCU. A school that has incredible connection culture and a spirit of kindness. The other day, it was brought to my attention that one of our Verb boys is at TCU playing football as a Quarter back, his name is Caylin Moore.

Caylin was raised in poverty by a loving single mother. He went to Verbum Dei High School, where he was a star student and athlete. This past week he was recognized for his community service work as the founder of SPARK, which stands for Strong Players Are Reaching Kids. A TCU Student organization whose mission is to, “Inspire the youth to rise above their circumstances, build bridges to success and ultimately spark a change in their communities.”

 

Caylin and his fellow TCU athletes are traveling around the Fort Worth community inspiring children to reach for their dreams, regardless of where they are starting. Caylin uses his own story to encourage others. As he said, “I’ve seen how important education is and how it can change a life.” 
One amazing young man and two incredible institutions collide to create a SPARK of goodness for so many.
Charity Matters.
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Cheering on the LA Regional Food Bank

cheering-on-the-la-food-bank

The last two weeks have been crazy ones, filled with meetings, deadlines for non-profit I work for and many fun non-profit events. One of the fun nights out was a wonderful event welcoming the Rams to LA.  In return the Rams brought their philanthropy partnership with regional food banks, a Taste of the NFL,  from St. Louis to LA, all to support those in need.

Many of you may remember a post from long ago, about the beginnings of the LA Regional Food Bank, which started with a man named Tony Collier. He was a cook who saw leftovers going to waste and decided to do something about it.

Sound simple enough? As a cook, for a Los Angeles based non-profit, Tony received more donations than he needed.  So, he decided he needed to share his leftovers with other charities that were trying to feed the hungry as well.  Tony had heard about a food bank in Phoenix that had done something similar and decided to bring that model to Los Angeles and founded Los Angeles Regional Food Bank in 1973.

From the very beginning the 200 square foot garage quickly filled up and soon had to move into a converted 2,600 square foot dry cleaning facility in Pasadena. By the early 1980’s Tony’s simple idea was distributing more than 3.5 million pounds of food to over 70 different agencies in LA.

Today, The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank distributes 65 million pounds of food or the equivalent of 42.4 million meals. The LA Food Bank served over 320,000 people per month with the help of 32,000 volunteers.

One man’s simple idea is no longer housed in a garage but now resides in a 96,000 square foot facility that distributes the food to over 653 different agencies throughout the LA area. One man, one idea and a legacy of compassion that continues to inspire.

Now that is something to cheer for!

Charity Matters.

 

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The Conditioned

Never should a man abandon himself.”

The Conditioned

the-conditioned

Every once in a while a story comes across my path that touches my soul and melts my heart. This story is exactly that. The story of a homeless man in Brazil, named Raimundo  Sobrinho, who dreamed of becoming a poet. Yet, for thirty-five years he was faceless, nameless and one of thousands of homeless, that was passed by everyday.

Yet, in 2011 a woman named Shalla Monteiro, befriended him and his life was forever changed.

A beautiful story and reminder to us all that everyone we pass belongs to someone, has a story, a dream and a purpose.

 

Charity Matters.

 

 

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The great one…

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

Muhammad Ali

the great one

This weekend we lost a great one. A man born into a family of pre-Civil War era American slaves, who experienced the segregated South first hand and was determined to use his life to help others, which is exactly what he did.

Muhammad Ali devoted his life to helping promote civil rights, cross cultural understanding, interfaith relations, hunger relief and world peace. He did this through a variety of actions and causes. According to the National Constitution Center, he has been responsible for providing over 232 million meals to serve the hungry in such countries as Indonesia, Mexico, Cuba, Morocco, and Cote d’Ivoire, to name a few.

In addition, to his work abroad as a Goodwill Ambassador he also used his fame and success to bring attention to causes such as Make A Wish Foundation, Special Olympics, Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s Center and the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

The Muhammad Ali Center’s mission sums up the legend’s life and legacy best, “To promote, respect, hope and understanding and to inspire adults and children everywhere to be as great as they can be.”

He was great and continues to inspire us all, to do the same.

Charity Matters.

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Beauty in the eye of the beholder

beauty in eye of beholder

I have had friends tell me over the years that I often see things that they do not. Perhaps, my filters are adjusted a certain way. Sometimes, I wonder am I the only one who is watching this? We all live in a busy world and so often, we are too busy to see the beauty right in front of us.

Last week, I was in a huge hurry trying to make a grant deadline and rushing to Kinkos to pick up my order. Traffic prevented me from turning into the Kinkos driveway, so I was parked just waiting and watching and what I saw brought me to tears.

Standing almost in front of me was an elderly homeless women, with no shoes, white hair and her face was literally black with grime and dirt. She was not begging but simply standing there. Her physical condition took my breath away. As I waited in traffic wondering what to do, I saw an elderly gentleman in his mid-seventies hop out of his car, leaving it running in the parking lot and ever so kindly, sweetly and thoughtfully approach the woman. He bowed his head, in respect of greeting her, and handed her what appeared to be everything he had in his wallet.

Tears began pouring from my eyes, at the most beautiful sight of her surprise and her smile. I looked at the elderly man as the tears streamed down my face and he gave a small nod and quickly got into his running car and drove off. The honking horns jarred me into reality of what I had just witnessed. The respect, compassion, grace, dignity and the sheer beauty of the moment, was one I will never forget.

The stress of the day gone, replaced with hope, compassion and belief that the world is full of goodness. We just simply have to look for it.

Charity Matters.

 

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Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning, svdp

We have begun our spring cleaning. No, not with mops and brooms but rather clearing out closets, drawers, garages of unwanted, unused and unnecessary possessions. Luckily for me, I was inspired by recent visit to the Los Angeles Chapter of The St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Time and again, I have cleared out my closets and driven to the Goodwill….and am embarrassed to say that I am not sure what it is exactly they do with my things? One of my earliest childhood memories was of the St. Vincent de Paul truck pulling up for our used donations.  Over the holidays, I met the Executive Director of the LA Chapter, and he invited me down to see what exactly it is that they do and trust me, it is so much more than a truck!

On my visit I learned the history of this amazing organization, which was founded in Paris in 1833 by a compassionate college student named Frederic Ozanam. He was challenged by the poverty he saw on the streets and organized a “Conference of Charity” to help the poor of all religions. Frederic wanted to create an avenue that assisted people to express their faith and grow spiritually through acts of charity. My kind of guy.

For over 100 years, SVDP has been serving the needy throughout the United States. The Society, as its called, is able to help provide the needy to become self sufficient by providing emotional and financial support, food, clothing, furniture and housing because of donations both financial and household. Many of the household items are passed on directly to someone in need.

Today, the Society, is an international volunteer organization with over 1,000,000 members in 142 countries and continues its founder’s mission to “seek and find the forgotten, the suffering or the deprived.”

So, as you start your spring cleaning, remember how much good your unneeded items are for another.

Charity Matters.

 

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Gotta Have Sole

photo via: makeadifferenceday.com
photo via: makeadifferenceday.com

I have the privilege of working with amazing high school students all the time. The story I am about to share with you really hit a chord with me. This summer at the leadership camp I organize, a young girl arrived with shoes that were literally falling apart. We could tell she was embarrassed by her shoes but the reality was she couldn’t run and play games with the sole flapping around. So we used a little shoe goo, some fun colorful duct tape and made her smile and love her overhauled shoes. We saw first hand how much she wanted to fit in and the power of a simple pair of shoes.

An amazing young man, named Nicholas Lowinger, had the same realization as a very young boy visiting a homeless shelter. Nicolas saw first hand children who missed school because they shared shoes with their siblings and it wasn’t their day to wear them, so they couldn’t go to school.  So Nicholas began donating shoes and clothing to the shelter but he knew these children needed new shoes that fit correctly.

A few years later, in 2010, when Nicholas had his Bar Mitzvah he used the opportunity to begin the Gotta Have Sole Foundation  to donate new footwear to homeless children. Nicholas said, “My goal is to reach as many children living in homeless shelters in the US as I can. It has always been my hope that the children will feel more confident about themselves because they have new shoes to call their own and that they will have the same opportunities afforded to them as their peers.”

Today, four years later Nicholas  has donated new footwear to over 10,000 children in homeless shelters in 35 states throughout the United States.  Rather than rest on his achievements Nicholas keeps expanding his program. He recently established SOLEdiers to assist disabled and needy veterans and their families, in honor of his WWII Veteran grandfather. This program provides veterans with gift cards to footwear stores so they can select the shoes they need, for their children.

Nicholas Lowinger is truly inspirational. While his peers are out running around in their new sneakers, he continues to expand his mission of providing new shoes to as many homeless children as possible. This inspiring young man elevates the meaning of Gotta Have Sole.

Charity Matters.

 

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Back on My Feet

2012 © Steve Boyle

I like to run. A few days a week, I throw on my tired sneakers and just go. It clears my mind, takes away the stress and centers me in a way that few things do. There are millions of other people who feel the exact same way about their runs, however, very few have the running story that Anne Mahlum has.

In May 2007, Anne was on her regular early morning run through the streets of Philadelphia and became friends with some of the men from the local Rescue Mission. She had an ephifany, what if running could help these men deal with their own challenges, the way it had helped her deal with her own?

By July 4th, a few shorts months later, Anne had nine men beginning their own version of Independence Day. It began by signing a Dedication Contract that committed them to arrive on time at 5:30am, have a great attitude and commit to running 3 days a week with her. That first run was the beginning of Back on My Feet. Six months later Charlie Gibson featured Anne as ABC’s person of the week and the donations, interest and program began to gain traction. By January 2008 Back on My Feet had its non-profit status and was up and running….literally.

Today, Back on My Feet has a $6.5 million dollar budget, 45 employees and has expanded to more than 10 cities from coast to coast. Since its inception in 2008, 743 of their members have obtained employment and 519 have housing. What began as a morning run has turned into a game changer one step at a time.

Charity Matters.

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The Big Easy

Big Easy

As you all know I recently returned from my first Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Since today is Ash Wednesday and the celebration is winding down on Bourbon Street I thought it only fitting to share a little about a New Orleans non-profit today. The organization is called HandsOn New Orleans.

In the after math of Hurricane Katrina this incredible organization was formed to bring everyone together for the singular purpose of ” engaging, empowering, and transforming the community through volunteer service by connecting every passion with its purpose.” How great is that?

HandsOn New Orleans is a huge master calendar for the city bringing together all of the incredible opportunities and needs in one singular place. What I love is that this unique city and non-profit, hosts visitors from around the world, as well  long time residents in the New Orleans community. Since the hospitality in New Orleans is unlike any place I have ever been, HandsOn New Orleans doesn’t care if you are a party of one or a corporate team, a local or a tourist. Either way they promise to provide you with worthwhile  volunteer options.

While the hurricane has long past, the commitment to rebuild and reshape this amazing city has not gone away. Like most cities that have experienced a tragedy or natural disaster, that bond only makes them stronger. New Orleans is no different.

 

Since March of 2006, HandsOn New Orleans and their 35,000 volunteers have; completed 600,000 hours of service,organized 110 customized corporate projects with twenty Fortune 500 companies,impacted 19,500 underserved youth and trained 230 volunteer leaders that saved the community $13 million through volunteer time.

As many of us begin the season of Lent and the countdown to Easter, perhaps it is fitting to think of New Orleans. A city that shows us in good times and in bad that coming together is really what matters.

Charity Matters.

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FEED

FEEDI promise I am not really the jealous type. That being said, every once in a while I come across a person that really seems to have it all going on and perhaps I get a small pang. Its human right? From the outside their life looks perfect. The person I’m talking about was a super model, the president’s granddaughter and niece and is now married to Ralph Lauren’s son and her name is Lauren Bush. Doesn’t sound too bad does it?

When you look a little closer, you realize that with all of that, it would be easy to simply be beautiful. However, that is exactly what makes Lauren Bush Lauren so striking. Her beauty comes from what she has done for others.

In 2004, Lauren started her work as an Honorary spokesperson for the World Food Program, when she helped to launch their Universities Fighting Hunger initiative. Inspired by her travels all over the globe she began to learn about the realities of hunger and poverty firsthand. In 2005, she created the first FEED 1 bag, which feeds one child in school for one year through the World Food Program. The following year she graduated from Princeton and then in 2007, she started FEED Projects. By 2008, Lauren co-founded the FEED Foundation to increase FEED’s impact in the fight against hunger.

To date, FEED has partnered with companies like Whole Foods Market, Barnes & Noble, the Gap, Lord & Taylor, Pottery Barn, Harrods, and many more. Since its beginnings, FEED has donated over $6 million dollars to the World Food Program through the sale of their FEED bags and with their FEED Foundation. That donation works out to be over 60 million meals to school children.

Now that is something to be jealous of….just a little.

Charity Matters.

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The opposite of full

feeding the hungry at Thanksgiving-2011

The week of Thanksgiving seems to be a week about food and eating. What is the opposite of eating? Not eating or hunger. So it seems only natural that Thanksgiving and feeding the hungry always go hand in hand. The fact is that 1 in 6 people in this country are suffering from hunger.

I have to confess, I have fed the homeless, on more than a few occasions, but never on Thanksgiving. I applaud those that do. I can only imagine how much more grateful you are, for what you are lucky enough to have, after you have witnessed someone without.

I think the most beautiful part of the tradition that many families have, is showing children compassion and gratitude. Any time you give of yourself for another, it is a gift. When you teach and show compassion and kindness it is much, much more.

As you begin to plan for this Thursday’s meal, the arrival of relatives, hustling to the market, think about ways your family can impact another. Here are a few simple ways to get started and make sure to include your kids in the process:

1. Go to Great Non-Profits website, type in your zip code, “feeding the homeless” and find local organizations in your community that you can help.

2. Consider donating a few dollars to a local food bank, ours here in LA, can make $1.00 buy 4 Thanksgiving meals. Here is the web for LA Regional Food Bank.

3. Think big and get involved in a big or little way with Feed America.Org, an organization designed to support the network of food banks across the country.

One last tip, Thanksgiving is more than a day but rather a spirit, that lasts much longer. Consider putting some of these thoughts into action, the day after Thanksgiving on Black Friday, to show your family that giving is more than seasonal. Showing your children the reality that being full is just not just about our stomachs is a Thanksgiving legacy.

Charity Matters.

Copyright © 2013 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.