Monday, December 31, 2018

What are you doing AFTER New Year's Eve?

Maybe it's much too early in the game

Oh, but I thought I'd ask you just the same

What are you doing New Year's?

New Year's eve?

I think I'm drawn to the song "What are you doing New Year's Eve?" because it captures a mood that is both melancholy and hopeful at the same time. I think that's a pretty human condition. To be hesitant, a little pessimistic, but still optimistic enough to know there could be a better outcome for us...and to actually take the leap and ask the question that might change things! The song is about romance, but I think those emotions apply to how a lot of people look at the world in general, too.

We want to better ourselves and have more in our lives. We see suffering and injustice and that makes us want the world to be better for others. We want the Earth itself to be healthier. But too often we listen to messages telling us we're too small to take on big problems. My 2019 wish for everyone is for all of us to put aside those misgivings and fan flames from those little sparks of hope that lead us to take leaps, ask questions, and jump into action. 

This week, I ran into a 22-year old recent grad who asked me about a hat for a charity that I was wearing. I told him the story about my involvement with the Every Ride Challenge to benefit Give Kids the World Village. He loved the story and expressed to me that he wished that he could do something to give back. He said he admired me because he just didn't know what to do or how to start. He's not alone. Not by a long shot. My advice to him wasn't very could probably be summed up with the Nike slogan "Just Do It." But I did offer him a tip to get started: Join up with a organization working to address the problem you want to fix.

It's pretty hard to take on the big problems in life like poverty or climate change by yourself, but the great news is that you don't have to. Thousands of organizations exist that you can join right now. Like, today! Plugging in with one of them automatically connects you to like-minded people who care about the same cause that you do. 

Sam Daley-Harris, founder of RESULTS, wrote some encouraging words in an Orlando-Sentinel op-ed called "A New Year's resolution worth keeping: Join and organization, make a difference." He said:

"So here’s a radical idea. Embrace a huge goal that lights you up, perhaps a goal like this one: I’m going to join a group focused on enacting climate change solutions or a group that works to (you can fill in the blanks here) and I’m going to stay with it for a year, no matter what, but only with an organization that will take me seriously and help me experience some serious success. Then see what your life is like as a result. If you select something you truly care about and join an organization that really empowers its members (warning, those groups are hard to find, but I’ll list a few below), you’ll be surprised by your new sense of power."

Far too often we make New Year's resolutions that we don't keep. Joining other people wanting to make the change that you also want to see in the world will greatly improve your chances of sticking with it. Which of reminds me of a great African proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

In short, I encourage everyone to team up this year to make the world a better, more caring place. Whatever cause you want to take on, shed the excuses and jump in!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

3 Questions to Make Holiday Gifting More Meaningful

I thought this year I might do something different than my usual Anti-Poverty Mom Gift Picks to more broadly address how we can break the cycle of scrolling around or flipping through catalogs looking for the perfect "thing" to bring happiness to our friends and family members. I offer three questions can help up-end the way we think about holiday giving and make a stand against the rampant consumerist attitude that overcomes even the best of us around December. Can we make decisions that don't break the bank for the giver and also help other people NOT be in poverty? Consider these questions that may lead giving in ways you can hardly go wrong. 

Question #1: What does my friend/loved one value and how can I help support those values with a donation to a great charity?
I admit I used to go about this question a little backwards by asking myself, "What are my favorite charities that can I support by giving donations as gifts to my friends and loved ones?" There's nothing hugely wrong with that as it does help spread awareness about worthy causes, but I think it can leave people feeling like I was just foisting my own desires onto them. It's true that kind of gift does not show the recipient how much you've been thinking about them as an individual person. By turning it around, we can start by thinking about what shared values the giver and the recipient have in common to make that bond even stronger. Do you have a friend who is heartbroken over families being mistreated and separated at the U.S./Mexico border? Pick one of 7 activist groups at this link to help ensure the US follows it's own laws for humane treatment. A life event...good or bad...could also help guide the donation. Do you know someone who just had a baby? A donation to Clean Birth to help other moms in Laos have safe births can express your shared gratefulness that her baby is healthy. Does someone on your gift list live in California? 100% of donations to the Las Virgenes Family Fire Fund go directly to fire victims, many of whom are now homeless.

April Emerick's crocheted pieces can be found in Manhattan Antique Mall
at 10341 St Charles Rock Road in St Louis
Question #2: How can I support an artist putting beautiful things into the world by buying art and getting it in the hands of someone who truly appreciates it?
Sure, by the word "art" we could be talking about a painting or sculpture from an art gallery. But we could also be talking about useful pottery, crocheted scarves, quilted blankets, or crafted jewelry. I know individuals in my life who make beautiful specimens of these items out of the sheer joy and passion for it. None of the amateur or professional artists I know work for corporations providing their health care and travel expenses. I appreciate that they dedicate their time and talents to the process of creating beauty...sometimes at the expense of a comfortable, stable life. Snarky people often look at folks in poverty and say, "Why don't you get a job or make something to make money?" Well, these folks are making some amazing things and I would like to enable them to keep making money with dignity using their unique skills instead of packing it all in to work at desks or Walmarts or other places that wouldn't fuel the creative sparks in their souls. Seasonal crafting and studio shows are a great place to find these local artists!

Photo by Penzey's Spices
Question #3: How can I support my community to be vibrant and thriving by buying meaningful local gifts?
Now, in order to be very socially responsible, you would ideally know something about the owners in the store. Sometimes you know it by the very nature of a fair trade store like Plowsharing Crafts in St. Louis. Some owners make it really easy, like Penzey's spice store in Chesterfield, by being involved in local affairs and speaking out about issues they care about. Others, maybe not so much. But either way, when you buy locally, you're helping small, independent business owners keep their doors open and helping your town have a unique character. Life wouldn't be very fun if every town only had the same national chain stores that you can find in any mall!

Did these questions inspire any ideas for you? Please share them in the comments!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Why Haven't Food Stamps Ended Hunger in the U.S.?

I recently had an email conversation with a neighbor who surprised me with a question when I asked her if she would consider making a donation to RESULTS to help us continue to advocate for anti-hunger programs:

"Can you explain to me why, with the food stamp program, WIC and the school lunch program, there is still hunger in the U.S.? I am asking this as a naive person who donates to food pantries and food charities...."

I suppose I was surprised because, like many Americans, I spend increasingly more time inside my own "bubble" automatically crafted by the social media platforms I use (so handy to the user...and still seems weird and sneaky, doesn't it?) and naturally curated by the non-profit organizations I work with. But her question is a legitimate one that I feel not enough Americans - and certainly not enough members of Congress - are asking with the good intention of learning. 

Given the good-natured tone of her email, I think that she really is seeking to understand, so I sent her an answer...and me being wordy ol' me, I might have been more than she was looking for. We'll see how that goes! In the meantime, I thought I might post it here since readers of my blog might be either wondering the same thing or wondering how to respond to someone who asks them something similar. Here's an edited version...a little shorter in some areas and a little longer where I thought some clarification was needed. Please let me know in the comments if you have something to add or a different answer completely!

Thank you for your question…it’s one that more members of Congress should be asking! The food stamp program (now known as SNAP- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), WIC (Women, Infants, and Children Food & Nutrition Service), and school lunches are great programs that create a safety net, but not a complete answer…and they are constantly under threat. Taking a look at SNAP specifically, it was meant to be an emergency-type assistance program…not meant to keep people fed forever. Here’s a quick statement taken from the Center on Budget and Policiy Priorities statistics ( ): 
"On average, SNAP households received about $253 a month in fiscal year 2018. The average SNAP benefit per person was about $126 per month, which works out to about $1.40 per person per meal." 
As many people who do the “food stamp challenge” (eating on only $1.40 per meal for a week or two) quickly find out for themselves, it’s extremely hard to eat a healthy, balanced diet on $1.40 per meal. When you break it down like that, it's no wonder people are still hungry! Even if you are adding this small amount to WIC (not available to everyone), a breakfast or program for kids (also not available to everyone), a minimum wage income, and assistance from a food pantry (where you don’t always get to pick the kind of food you need), the kind of diet you can afford is going to be filled with the cheapest, processed food made from corn and wheat instead of fresh vegetables. That skewed pricing is a result of our outdated Farm Bill that artificially subsidizes those corn and other crops and makes that kind of food super cheap. As you can guess, that diet leads to all kinds of health issues like malnutrition, diabetes, and poor immune systems just to name a few. 
The reasons for persistent hunger in the US are complex (involving low wages, farm subsidies, under-funded nutrition assistance, job availability, racial oppression, etc). I’m not even an expert on it because I’m an advocate who focuses on global hunger issues, but I learn quite a lot from my colleagues in RESULTS who work on the U.S. poverty. My favorite advocates to learn from our our “Experts on Poverty,” activists currently living in poverty who receive training to speak openly about their daily challenges. If you want to know more, I bet you can find some good information at our website or I’d be happy to put you in touch with our U.S. poverty group here in St. Louis. 
If you’re interested in a really great documentary about this issue, "A Place at the Table” does an excellent job of bringing a lot of these problematic policies while highlighting the stories of people affected by them…a school girl, a veteran, a teacher, a doctor. Here’s a trailer for it: but you can see clips of it on youtube.
Maybe that’s more than you wanted to know! :)  But that’s the kind of thorough information that RESULTS teaches advocates so that we can knowledgeably talk to our members of Congress about solutions. We’d be happy to have your participation if you'd like to join us at or your support of our organization at