GIVING OPPORTUNITY: STAMP OUT HUNGER

This Saturday, May 14th, is Stamp Out Hunger, a nationwide food drive...and simple giving opportunity! You may have received this postcard in your mailbox some time during the past few weeks.

Simply fill a bag with nonperishable food items and place it near your mailbox. Your mail carrier will pick it up and the food will be distributed locally to a food bank in your community.

I spoke to our mail carrier and he said that in NYC, the mail carrier who drives the truck early in the morning, picks up the bags. So if you live in NYC, let your mail carrier know you have a bag so that he can notify the truck carrier. Then place the bag near your mailbox late Friday night or early Saturday morning.

I have no affiliation with any of the organizations connected to this campaign, but am moved by this simple opportunity!

Tonight after dinner, we went through our cabinets and gathered a pretty good selection of food. The kids were thrilled that we let them put all of the food in the bag by themselves (we just doubled a couple of paper bags that we typically use for recycling). And we held our breaths as they not-so-gently "placed" the glass jars into the bag.

IMPORTANT NOTE: After the kids filled the bag, I re-read the information and GLASS JARS ARE NOT ACCEPTED! Oops. Makes sense!

So we removed the glass jars and will replace them.

We were planning to go to the store tomorrow anyway to pick up some other items for the bag. There is a sale on pasta and such. And now, we'll just add a few more canned goods to the list to replace the glass jars!

What a sweet, simple way to give to families in your community. And you still have time! Don't forget -- it's this Saturday!

And if you can't give food this weekend, you can always share the event information on Twitter (@stampouthunger) or on Facebook (Stamp Out Hunger).

Bonus Tip: Throughout the month of May, you can also donate fresh food online and "crowd-feed" through Amp Your Good. So cool!

Happy Giving!

Trash Tuesdays -- It's a Thing -- And You Can Do It Too

Last fall, I started holding "Trash Tuesdays" with my kids.

To give you a little background -- we live in a residential neighborhood in Manhattan; an active and engaged community. While there are garbage cans on most street corners, there are not nearly enough to contain the regularly overflowing garbage. Since we live so close to the river, the added wind makes certain pockets and blocks cyclones of swirling trash. Lovely, I know. We also live near a large park that is a popular birthday party and hang out spot. The grass and flowers are often littered with food wrappers and miscellaneous trash.

For weeks, Milo and I had been chatting about picking up the garbage with a toy grabber that he had recently gotten. 

I'm fairly certain the grabber cost around $5.99. But if you don't have one, you could use gloves, put bags over your hands, or (dare I say it) just wash your hands really, REALLY well after you're finished!

I'm fairly certain the grabber cost around $5.99. But if you don't have one, you could use gloves, put bags over your hands, or (dare I say it) just wash your hands really, REALLY well after you're finished!

One beautiful Tuesday, we packed up some snacks, a few plastic grocery bags, the grabber, some cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer. And off we went on a trash collecting adventure.

We picked up lots of trash, climbed trees, threw leaves, ate snacks, played with dogs and had a blast.

Over the past few months, we have had such fun on our trash collecting adventures. The kids (and I!) still love it every time we go.

Do we go every Tuesday? No. Do we only go on Tuesdays? Certainly not. Is it always a lengthy activity? Nope.

But now when we pass garbage on the sidewalk, Luna always points to it and says, "Uh oh!" Every.single.time. Sometimes I don't catch her in time and she throws out something gross on her own. Oh well. And if we see trash without the grabber in tow, Milo almost always tells me that he wants to come back with it so we can clean it up.

So I would say this giving activity is surely worthwhile.

Tips for Trash Tuesdays (or any day!):

  • If you're doing this activity with young kids, it will likely not be hours of uninterrupted trash collecting. But it is so much fun to roll with it. Be flexible and let the activity play out however it does -- engagement on any level is giving!
  • Make sure to explain to kids why you are giving in this way. It is never to early to help them understand what an impact they can make on their community.
  • It's fun to take turns having different jobs: Trash Spotter, Trash Grabber, Trash Collector.
  • Living in NYC, we have come across garbage that is not so appropriate for little ones. So you may want to think about what you might say if your kids come across condoms, condom wrappers, or drug paraphernalia. Yes, seriously.
  • On several occasions, my kids have almost squeezed baggies of exploding dog poop that have been left on the sidewalk. Gross. If you're in an area like us where they are everywhere, stay alert or you will have a mess!

Happy Giving!

    How You Can Use 'Elf on the Shelf' to Give Year Round

    Taking homemade cookies to our local police precinct. They were so grateful and then gave the kids a tour of the police station and police cars/van!

    Taking homemade cookies to our local police precinct. They were so grateful and then gave the kids a tour of the police station and police cars/van!

    Donating $1 to Grammy in the schools through a very cool light installation at the Winter Garden. And we got to see a rehearsal of the Nutcracker being performed!

    Donating $1 to Grammy in the schools through a very cool light installation at the Winter Garden. And we got to see a rehearsal of the Nutcracker being performed!

    Giving money to the Salvation Army bell ringer near the 5th Ave holiday window displays.

    Giving money to the Salvation Army bell ringer near the 5th Ave holiday window displays.

    Taking used toys and books to a local medical office waiting room.

    Taking used toys and books to a local medical office waiting room.

    Taking homemade cookies to a local collection for distribution at our neighborhood food pantry. The kids helped me bake AND deliver the cookies!

    Taking homemade cookies to a local collection for distribution at our neighborhood food pantry. The kids helped me bake AND deliver the cookies!

    Creating a  Giving Jar  to collect money to donate.

    Creating a Giving Jar to collect money to donate.

    Folding origami cranes to donate to an organization who strings them up for patients with cancer. Yes, I ended up folding most of the cranes!

    Folding origami cranes to donate to an organization who strings them up for patients with cancer. Yes, I ended up folding most of the cranes!

    Cooking dinner to deliver to a neighborhood family who had recently suffered a tragic loss.

    Cooking dinner to deliver to a neighborhood family who had recently suffered a tragic loss.

    Actually...move over, Elf on the Shelf...the Giving Elves are in town!

    Every December, my Facebook feed is overwhelmed by clever 'Elf on the Shelf' photos -- hanging from the chandelier, making a mess with cereal, and even being found in compromising situations with Barbie dolls.

    For our holiday season, we decided to add a little something.

    Since December brings endless giving opportunities, we decided to invite the Giving Elves into our home as our countdown to New Year's Eve. An extended "advent" of sorts. I ordered these little customizable dolls from Windflower Toys on Etsy (adorable, right?!) and got to work. But you could absolutely use your 'Elf on the Shelf' or whatever you want! And I will admit, this project took planning and research, but it was SO worth it.

    After scouring the internet for inspiration, I made a preliminary calendar of ideas (I wish I had saved it to share AND for future visits from the Giving Elves - ugh!). Beginning on the eve of November 30th, I wrote a note on a small piece of paper adorned with a few stickers, explaining who the Giving Elves were and what this was all about.

    My kids were 1 and 3 at the time, so my handwriting was not recognizable to them and I could write whatever I wanted (since they didn't know what it says anyway). I imagine I will type up their notes as they get older and a bit more savvy/suspicious! I ended the note with a task for the day and placed it on our kitchen table with the Giving Elves, to be discovered the next morning. And later in the day, we would complete the task (well, almost every day!).

    The first morning, I asked Milo to name them and he chose "Jingle & Bell." From that point on, Jingle and Bell visited daily! Some days I put them in funny positions (in a paper boat or hiding behind a candle). Some days I left the kids a little treat. Some days I forgot to do it and told them that the Giving Elves were sleeping in and that maybe they would visit later in the day (and then snuck them on to the table when they weren't looking).

    Check out the photos for many of the highlights!

    Some of the other activities included:

    • Delivering homemade cookies to the cashiers at the local grocery store on Christmas morning

    • Creating and sending handmade cards to loved ones

    • Picking up trash in the neighborhood

    • Delivering small gifts to Milo's teachers at school

    • Making and delivering dinner/dessert to friends who just had a baby

    • Inviting friends over to make gingerbread houses

    • Drawing pictures to give to people

    The list goes on and on. Sure, there were a few days that we missed here and there and the last couple days of the month are a bit fuzzy...

    BUT Jingle and Bell returned just in time to leave one final note for the kids.

    What does this have to do with you now, you ask?

    Is it April right now? Yes.

    Is this still applicable to you now? Yes.

    You don't have to do this at the holidays or for an entire month. You don't have to do this every day. You could do this once a week in the summer during vacation or once a month on a Saturday morning throughout the year. You could do a version of this with your co-workers to build community for a week! You could use a stuffed animal, or a doll, or an action figure, or a stick figure drawing. Figure out what works for you and go for it! Giving doesn't have to look "perfect" to make an impact.

    Tips for the Giving Elves:

    • Be flexible. Sometimes your plan will be impacted by weather or moods or illness. Change it up. Do it another day. Don't let it stress you out too much or it will not be fun or sustainable!
    • Plan ahead. Try to do some research about what's going on in your community or what kinds of activities you could do. This plan may change, but at least you have something to work with!
    • Keep it interesting. Having a range of activities will help you keep everyone engaged. Some days might be more popular than others. That's ok!
    • HAVE FUN!

    Happy Giving!

    Donating used clothes.

    Donating used clothes.

    Donating a toy to Milo's school Holiday Toy Drive for the local Head Start program.

    Donating a toy to Milo's school Holiday Toy Drive for the local Head Start program.

    Giver Spotlight - Tricia (and Lily!) Anderson

    The deep emotional impact that occurs with hair loss from medical issues and/or treatments can be profound. Hair donations from sweet, giving people help organizations build wigs and hair systems to lessen some of the emotional devastation and effects.

    Every once in a while, I'll see a post on social media about someone in my network cutting off a LOT of their own hair to donate. Occasionally, it will be the child of someone I know.

    A year or two ago, I vividly recall seeing a set of pictures of my friend, Tricia, with her daughter, Lily, at a hair salon. They are such strong images for me because I remember that the pictures beautifully captured mother and daughter giving TOGETHER. What an incredible gesture of giving! Aren't they adorable?

    Before

    Before

    After

    After

    Tricia (and her husband Matt) and I all went to college together. They are a super sweet couple and have a beautiful family with 3 gorgeous kiddos -- Lily, 6, Noah, 3, and Caroline, 7 months. I knew that I HAD to get the story behind this beautiful act of giving that made such an impact on me. And I am so happy that I did.

    Tricia and her family are a beautiful example of how you can incorporate giving into your individual and family life! I am so grateful Tricia took the time to chat with me for today's post (despite her fever, strep throat, 3 children, 2 cats and 1 dog)!

    Tell me about the experience of donating your hair with Lily.

    Last winter, I had the wonderful experience of donating with my then 4 year old daughter. I started talking about growing my hair out "to give to kids who don't have hair" the previous summer, and offered for her to do it with me. I maintained the whole time that if she didn't feel like she wanted to do it she could always change her mind.

    Right before Christmas, when we were really in the giving spirit, we went to the salon and each had 10 inches of hair chopped off! It was fun to get our hair cut together, so knowing it was for a good cause was icing on the cake. We sent our donations to Locks of Love, but there are many wonderful organizations who accept hair donations.

    Afterwards, many people commented on Lily's hair cut, and she beamed with pride when she told them she "gave her hair to kids who don't have hair!." I think making it a fun experience helped nurture her spirit of giving, and I hope that we can donate together again in a couple years!

    Tricia's first time donating 13 inches during her senior year of college!

    Tricia's first time donating 13 inches during her senior year of college!

    Lily's first time donating 10-inch ponytails!

    Lily's first time donating 10-inch ponytails!

    What are your earliest memories of giving?

    My earliest memories of giving are probably from Brownies (Girl Scouts), running bake sales and collecting canned goods. Influenced significantly by my family's commitment to community service, my first conscious memory of giving was becoming a hospital volunteer the summer before high school. I enjoyed that summer position so much that I went on to volunteer Saturday overnights at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center (PS-After that experience my kids are never allowed to ride lawn mowers or jet ski's!).

    Additionally, for a several summers I volunteered as a camp counselor at the Bennett Institute, a super fun summer camp for physically challenged kids. This was an extraordinarily eye-opening experience, because they had the volunteer counselors spend the day in wheelchairs right along side our kids. It was incredibly hard work, both physically and mentally, and I had the blisters to prove it! Since then, I have volunteered whenever I get the chance.

    Tricia's Brownie troop in 1988. (Her mom is in the center with the perm!)

    Tricia's Brownie troop in 1988. (Her mom is in the center with the perm!)

    The Bennett Blazers circa 1999/2000. Founders Gerry and Gwena Herman are in the upper left hand corner.

    The Bennett Blazers circa 1999/2000. Founders Gerry and Gwena Herman are in the upper left hand corner.

    My sorority in college organized several events to contribute to the local community, and I have continued to participate in alumna philanthropy events with the Baltimore chapter-most notably, making meals at the Ronald McDonald House for families of patients being treated for long-term illnesses at Johns Hopkins.

    Taking a break from meal prep with Alpha Chi alums at Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore.

    Taking a break from meal prep with Alpha Chi alums at Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore.

    Last summer I volunteered at a reading and literacy camp for underprivileged kids in Baltimore. I expected to use tools I had gleaned from my teacher friends to encourage and develop higher literacy, but in reality, what those kids really needed was to sit in someone's lap and have book after book read to them.

    A few times, Matt and I have provided Christmas gifts for children in crisis, and now the kids can participate in picking an ornament off of one of the many local "angel trees" and shopping for special gifts for an unknown friend. This past Christmas, my relatives donated what money they would have spent on gifts for me to sponsor an entire family on the verge of homelessness in Baltimore. They had six kids, including a baby Caroline's age, so it was very special to provide them with a full stash under the tree, where there otherwise would have been nothing.

    Who/what played a role in your spirit of giving and how?

    My parents are definitely the foundation of my spirit of giving. My mother was a social worker in Baltimore City for many years, and then worked for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, and currently serves as a housing counselor with the Southeast Community Development Center, advising potential homeowners on how to avoid predatory loans and helping current homeowners at risk of foreclosure, among other things. My father served with the Peace Corps in Ghana, Africa for two years, and then after getting his graduate degree, worked in environmental science until retirement. And by "retirement" I actually mean "helping me all the time with my kids and my yard".

    Growing up, I always remember them donating to various non profit organizations, taking in stray animals (hello four cats and a dog and even a snake), and volunteering their time in any way that they were able. And let's not forget the ultimate way my parents gave-adopting myself and my brother from Korea, an expensive and time consuming and often heartbreaking process that can only be endured by the most extraordinary hearts.

    Tricia's parents with Lily and Noah!

    Tricia's parents with Lily and Noah!

    Tell me about what giving looks like for you.

    A relatively unique way to give is to give not money, time, or possessions, but to give your body (stick with me here, it's not what you think). I have been a long time blood donor, and through donating blood I've been able to get on the national bone marrow registry. I donated my hair for the first time in college, and have since donated again several times. Finally, and most recently, I have become a breast milk donor.

    After I had Lily I definitely had an overabundance of milk, but I wasn't familiar with pumping and storing and I had certainly never heard of donating breast milk before, so the extra milk I did manage to freeze just sat until I threw it away (frown face). When I was pregnant with Noah, I was determined not to waste the extra milk, and started looking into donating to local NICU's. While donating directly to the NICU was unfeasible, through my searches I found an organization that gives $1 to Make-A-Wish Foundation for every ounce of milk sent to their milk bank.

    While in the process of qualifying as a donor, I received a Facebook message from a friend of a friend who had just adopted a sweet baby girl. Unfortunately, she was born addicted to drugs, and her painful withdrawal symptoms were exacerbated by formula. Her adoptive mother was trying without success to induce her own lactation, so she reached out after a friend mentioned I might have extra milk. I ended up sending a few hundred ounces to the milk bank I had already applied to, but I was able to give over 1000 ounces to sweet baby E over the course of a year. Through the support and incredible generosity of many milk donors and the tireless work of her mother, she never drank formula again! (This is not a breastmilk vs. formula debate, just a shout out to those mommies who would do anything for another baby because "There's No Such Thing As Other People's Children" -Momastery).

    Now that I'm in a routine with pumping a freezing (and we have a huge deep freezer too), I have quite a stash built up, and am currently in the process to donate again to Milk For Wishes. I have given single amounts here and there to several local babies, but I haven't found another long term recipient yet. For the record, it is a dangerous practice to sell or purchase human milk, so for the babies who need it, donations are the only source of their liquid gold.

    What do you enjoy most about giving?

    I have to admit, what I enjoy most about giving is totally selfish. When I stop to think about how much I have, how much I've been given, and how much I have available to me, it's absolutely mind boggling how fortunate I am. Seriously. Like if I want almost anything I can just get on my laptop or phone (because I have THAT choice) and order it PrimeNow and it's delivered to the door of my safe, climate controlled house where I'm feeding my three children from a fridge full of fresh food with safe running water and electricity. For so many people, near and far, that scenario that I take for granted every day is completely unfathomable. So, in order to keep myself from imploding with the weight of so much privilege, I find ways to give to those less fortunate. Poor me, right? (eye roll) Also, now that I have kids, I want to show them that it's possible to make the world a better place a little bit at a time, whether it's helping a friend, or giving a gift, or being kind to a stranger.

    What are the challenges you have faced with giving (at present or in the past)?

    I can't think of any ways giving has been actually challenging, but I will tell a funny story from this past Christmas:

    So right after Thanksgiving I let my mom and grandmother and aunt know that instead of gifts this year, I would prefer to adopt a local family who needed help with providing Christmas. Coming from a family of givers, they were instantly on board, and I crossed that task off my list and continued with my crazy Christmas season.

    A few days before Christmas my mom forwarded me an email saying a social worker friend of hers had found a family with six kids who were at risk of being evicted.

    "Great!" I said, and closed the email.

    The next day (the day before the gifts were to be delivered to the family) I got a call from my mom.

    "Do you have the gifts ready yet?"

    The family's gifts, ready to be delivered!

    The family's gifts, ready to be delivered!

    "Um, what?"

    "For the family I sent you, do you have the gifts ready?"

    "I thought you and Aunt Cindy were doing that."

    "I thought you wanted to do it!"

    Le sigh.

    So, with less than 24 hours before they needed to be delivered, I bought and wrapped almost every gift on their wish list. It was a late night for sure, but obviously worth it.

    My mom picked up all the gifts on her way to work the next morning, and according to the note I later received from their social worker, the family had a wonderful Christmas.

    Also, for Lily's birthday this year, we talked about having a jewelry making party with a few of her friends, to make bracelets that they could then either take home or send to Craft Hope's most recent project with Partners With Ethiopia to provide bracelets to each child visited by the organization's volunteers as a token of friendship and kindness.

    In the end, *I* ended up making most of the bracelets, but the girls had fun and it was a great way to open up a discussion about how some kids didn't have as many toys or books or games or bracelets as they did, and wouldn't it be nice to make some bracelets to send to friends who didn't have any bracelets? I am new to the Craft Hope site, but I hope to participate in many more projects in the future!

    I neglected to take any pictures (I was too busy making bracelets) but these are the kind of fabric bracelets we made.

    What is one piece of advice/wisdom you would like to share about giving?

    Giving is not all or nothing. The little things you do definitely add up, and if you feel like you're overextending yourself by forcing something, you'll be less likely to give in the future. Don't have money to donate? Give your time. Don't have that either (hello all you moms out there)? Give by bringing dinner to a friend who had a new baby, or cut some daffodils for your mail carrier, or bring the trash cans back up the driveway for your elderly neighbor. Giving is really just being kind to others without expecting anything in return.

    What nonprofit organizations are meaningful to you?

    Thank you, Tricia, for your giving spirit and for sharing that with your family! Your story is a beautiful illustration of how we sometimes fall into giving because of what is relevant in our lives at that moment, sometimes we actively choose giving that is meaningful to us, and sometimes giving doesn't look the way we envisioned it and we end up tirelessly making bracelets on behalf of our daughter. But all of it is important. And all of it makes a difference. <3