Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Holiday gifts that build a future

Millions of us spend December shopping for gifts. Malls and online stores offer great deals, coupon and member discounts, and a host of other enticements to get our dollars. Those dollars go into the pockets large corporations whose execs make big bucks and whose employees work their tails off and barely squeak by.

I recently found a number of websites which promote gift-giving with a social conscience. Forbes created a list of companies which donate 10% or more of their profits or match purchased items one-for-one. Some companies provide education, others clean water. Worth checking out.

American Express has promoted Small Business Saturday for years now, and they provide an online guide to help shoppers find local businesses with unique goods year round. This type of shopping allows jobs and dollars to stay local. Small businesses with their personalized service and unique goods provide a diverse, interesting landscape to our towns and cities. Without them, America would be one boring big box store.

Our Better World website provides links to unique goods made mostly overseas. Proceeds from the sales of these handmade items create a living wage for families below the poverty line.

Don't want to buy 'stuff?' Consider giving a gift certificate from a non-profit.

A personal favorite, Heifer International , takes your monetary gift and turns it into a flock of chickens or a goat. Those animals provide eggs or milk which can then be eaten or sold, creating both food and business opportunities for an impoverished family.

Kiva gives donors a chance to invest in a small business enterprise anywhere in the world. They coordinate micro-loans which can be used to purchase the goods needed to start a business. When the loan is repaid, the donor can choose a new business to support, so the same money is recycled over and over.

Interested in helping fellow Americans? Check out Society of St. Andrew's Potato and Produce Project. They organize teams who glean fields after the harvest. The produce gathered is then donated to food banks and shelters to feed the hungry fresh nutritious food.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Music to face down hate

About a month ago, the Juilliard School in NYC was notified that the Westboro Baptist Church planned to picket outside their school. This most un-Christian 'church' is well-known for its hate speech and is not affiliated with the American Baptist Church. They denounced Juilliard as a hub of pride and vanity.

Police were called and kept the picketers and the students about 50 feet apart.

The Juilliard students responded to the group's hate speech, not by shouting back, but by using their gifts. They brought their instruments right out onto the sidewalk and played selections of patriotic, sacred, and popular music. Vocal students from the nearby LaGuardia School for Performing Arts joined them.

Kudos to these young people for their classy response to hate.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

These coats for the homeless turn into sleeping bags ... and jobs

When Veronika Scott was a student at the College for Creative Studies in her hometown of Detroit, one of her classes presented a challenge: create a product to fill a community need. Veronika decided to help Detroit's homeless population. She designed a coat which converts to a sleeping bag for nighttime warmth. She brought her early designs to homeless shelters and tweaked the details based on feedback she got from those who used it.

One day, a homeless woman confronted her. She was angry, and told Veronika that she didn't need a coat - she needed a job. Veronika decided she was right. The coat and the sleeping bag were good ideas, but they were a band-aid. Secure employment was the real solution

So Veronika founded the non-profit The Empowerment Plan. Seamstresses are hired from Detroit's homeless shelters - 39 people who were once homeless have been given jobs. Over 15,000 coats which turn into sleeping bags have been produced and distributed, not just in Detroit but in 40 states and 7 Canadian provinces. Each coat take over an hour to sew and costs $100. Donations to sponsor a coat are taken on their website. Sponsors now include American Express and Madonna. 

You know the old adage: Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime. Veronika and her team have put their own twist on it. Give a man a coat and he'll be warm for a day. Give him a job and he'll create a new life. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The little known Sharp's War

I've read a lot of Nazi-era history in the last 10 years, both fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes I think I've heard it all before. Then I stumble across a story of people who did right in the face of that evil, a tale of personal sacrifice and courage which seems to be forgotten by history. The story of an American couple, Waitstill and Martha Sharp, falls into that group.

In 1938, Waistill Sharp was a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts. He and his wife Martha, a social worker, had a full, busy life caring for their congregation and their community, as well as their own two young children. One night, Waistill received a call from Robert Dexter, the director the Department of Social Relations of the American Unitarian Association. The newly signed Munich Accord gave Hitler control of the Sudetenland. This piece of Czechoslovakia had strong ties to the Unitarian Church, and as Dexter recalled later, “I knew there would be untold suffering in the Nazi-occupied territories, and I was equally convinced that something should be done about it by those of us who felt we had an obligation to aid our friends who had been so betrayed.”

Seventeen people had already turned down Dexter's request for someone on the ground in Europe. Waistill and Martha talked about it and agreed. They'd go to Europe and do what they could.

So in February 1939, the Sharps traveled to occupied Czechoslovakia and later to occupied France. They stayed one step ahead of the Nazis to rescue dozens of at-risk Czechs and get them abroad. Later, they returned to Europe and shepherded people out of occupied France to safety and transport via Lisbon. The number of people saved by their efforts is unknown, in part because they destroyed all records of their travels and those involved. The estimate is in the hundreds. Because their efforts included Jews, the Sharps were posthumously awarded The Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. 

A new PBS documentary by Ken Burns starring the voices of Tom Hanks and Marina Goldman now shares the Sharp's story with the world. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

An article and two events

This week, one of my articles was published in Advance for Physical Therapy - this month's cover article no less! I'm delighted with the response it has received. 
Tomorrow November 26th, I'll join Mrs. Claus as B.R. Books in Lancaster for a Small Business Saturday event from 12-2. I'll have kid-friendly activity sheets and my books ready to sign, so stop by if you're out and about. I'm told there will be cookies 😊

On Tuesday November 29th, I'll be reading Mikey and the Swamp Monster to the Pre-K and Kindergarten classes at Robert Morris Elementary in Scranton. I can't wait to hear their giggles! This event was arranged by my dear friend Joanne. 

My school and library visits, readings, and presentations are still free of charge. I schedule events weeks or months in advance, so please contact me by email if you're interested at authorjeannemoran (at symbol) gmail or use the scheduling form on my website