Friday, December 30, 2016

The men behind the Miracle on 22nd Street

The first Christmas Jim Glaub and Dylan Parker lived in their Manhattan apartment, they received almost 400 letters addressed to Santa delivered right to their mailbox. They had no idea why kids' letters came their way - maybe a previous tenant had donated gifts or maybe the address mistakenly appeared on some website or school information. Regardless of why, they decided to do the right thing. With the help of friends, they answered the kids' wishes as Santa would. 

That was in 2010. Now six years later, the letters keep coming. The couple spreads the word along their social networks and arrange for the kids to get clothes, shoes, and sometimes even a Christmas turkey. And get this - they're in talks with Tina Fey to create a movie based on their experiences. It's called, what else, Miracle on 22nd Street. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

3500 pounds of steak donated for Christmas dinners

An anonymous donor made sure folks who eat at Union Gospel Mission's kitchen had a great Christmas dinner. The downtown Seattle mission serves about 1000 meals a day, and executive chef Jordan Fisher was 'in shock' when he was told of the donation: 3500 pounds of rib eye steaks. No doubt those who eat at the kitchen were delighted with the treat.

What a wonderful, generous Secret Santa gift.  

Monday, December 26, 2016

This English pub fed the homeless on Christmas Day

I've often heard of churches, social service agencies, and non-profits hosting holiday meals for the homeless. But I've not heard of a business doing that, especially a business that depends on food and drink purchases for its livelihood.

That's exactly what happened yesterday in Manchester, England. A pub leased by Sean Brett opened its doors to over 300 homeless people on Christmas Day. They enjoyed food and drink, and received donated haircuts and gifts. Helped by two staff volunteers, Brett reports that donated items kept rolling in all day while his patrons socialized and chatted in the friendly pub setting.

Brett was inspired to act when he happened upon a homeless woman on the sidewalk on his way to work one morning. He's realistic; he knows he's only giving folks one meal on one day. He hopes that the publicity his dinner has received will inspire other people to reach out and do something to help this vulnerable population.

Friday, December 23, 2016

This kid followed his heart and found FROGS

In 2010 when Will Lourcey of Forth Worth Texas was 7-years-old, he saw a man holding a sign that read, "Need a meal." He asked his parents Julie and Bill, a teacher and a financial adviser respectively, what he could do to help. Their answer and Will's passion to help led to the creation of the non-profit organization Friends Reaching Our Goals or FROGS.

Will encourages his friends to get involved to in the organization, with their mission being to "end hunger, raise money and awareness for the hungry, inspire youth to make positive change, and have fun while helping others."

Will's example has inspired many. His efforts have been lauded across the country. His story has been shared on Nickelodeon and CNN, in print and online, and even at the White House.

Since 2010, FROGS has helped provide more than half-a-million meals for those in need. 500,000 plus meals served, all because one kid wanted to help and his parents showed him how.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Berlin resident turns propaganda into expressions of love

Berlin resident Irmela Schramm is a septugenerian on a mission. Armed with a scraper, nail polish remover, and a can of red spray paint in her 'Anti-Nazi' bag, Schramm has turned hate-filled propaganda into words of love and support for more than 30 years. 

It all started for her one morning decades ago. A poster supporting convicted Nazi war criminal Rudolph Hess was plastered to a wall at her neighborhood bus stop. When it was still there on her return trip that evening, she was moved to act. She scraped it off with her house keys. She reports feeling fantastic afterward, knowing that she removed the 'mind pollution.' 

Since then she has single-handedly removed over 130,000 expressions of hate. She uses spray paint to turn swastikas into hearts. She changes the wording of posters and graffiti to include expressions of support and kindness. 

Her efforts has met with mixed support. She has been hugged by strangers and received threats from neo-Nazi groups. Police have at times been bemused and have at other times threatened charges for defacement of property. Some community members have decried her activities as destruction of free speech. 

Schramm doesn't see it that way. She told CNN, "Freedom of speech has limits. It ends where hatred and contempt for humanity begins."

Monday, December 19, 2016

Love thy neighbor - and become their landlord

Angie Tyma has lived in the same Hudson, Florida home for 35 years. Last month, she was served an eviction notice. Her overseas landlord had defaulted on the mortgage. The property went to auction and was purchased by an investment company.
Angie, an 89-year-old widow, had no choice. She was forced out onto the street. Her furniture and most of her belongings were literally out on the lawn.

Angie's neighbors were outraged. She'd been a fixture in that neighborhood for as long as anyone could remember, energetically walking her two small dogs and chatting with folks along the way. The whole situation seemed so unfair.

They sprang into action. A number of neighbors gathered up Angie's discarded possessions and stored them for her. One arranged for her to stay at the local Days Inn where he worked. One neighbor, Danielle Calder, had a bigger idea. Her husband agreed. The Calders bought Angie's old home from the investment company. They are now her landlords, and are charging her a rent she can afford.

Before Angie moved back in, the neighbors even spruced up the home with a fresh coat of paint.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Support for the minority Iraqi Christians during Christmas season

At his own expense, a Muslim businessman has erected an 85-foot tall artificial Christmas tree in an amusement park in Baghdad. Yassir Saad hopes the huge tree will show his solidarity with the Christian minority in his country during this Christmas season. The spirit behind his gift is, "joining our Christian brothers in their holiday celebrations and helping Iraqis forget their anguish, especially the war in Mosul," Saad says. What a gracious gesture in the midst of that country's violence and intolerance.

Over the last decade, the Christian community in Iraq has dwindled steadily from an estimated 1.5 million to only 200,000. Often targets of Islamic extremists, many have left the country for better religious freedoms and economic opportunities,

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What Best Buy employees noticed - and what they did about it

In the midst of the busy holiday season, employees at a Best Buy on Long Island noticed a pattern. One particular teenager stopped in the store every day to play the display model of the Nintendo Wii U.

Out of their own pockets, the staff got together the $300 needed to buy the game system for the young man. They presented the gift to him as an early Christmas gift, and captured the moment in this video. They also gave him a Super Smash Brothers game to go with it. The young man was stunned and practically speechless.

One of the employees then drove the teen home, where he shared the news with his delighted family. The following day, his parents brought him back to the store to again thank the employees for their kindness.

This Instagram post gives a bit more info about the story.

Monday, December 12, 2016

This school bus driver delivered the kids, and some hats and gloves

It is an astounding truth - right here in America, this land of wealth and bounty, some people face winter without a hat and gloves. John Lunceford, a school bus driver for the Kennewick School District in Washington state, noticed a child crying at a bus stop. His ears and hands were red from the bitter cold, so when he boarded Lunceford's bus, Lunceford removed his own gloves and put them on the child's hands. 

As soon as his route was finished, Lunceford stopped at the local dollar store. There he bought 10 knit hats and 10 pairs of gloves. He brought them to the school, and with the help of an administrator, delivered the child his own brand-new hat and gloves. The other items will be given free of charge to elementary school children who need them. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

This $8 kindness reaped a $10,000 harvest

The man in front of Tracy Warshal at Aldi's had forgotten his wallet. He had a small order, just some fruit, so Tracy paid for it and wished him a Merry Christmas. It was a small gesture of kindness for Tracy, and she promptly forgot about it.

A couple weeks later, Tracy was contacted by administrators at her place of employment, Piedmont Cancer Network. An anonymous donor had gifted the foundation $10,000 in her name. Apparently, the beneficiary of Tracy's small kindness noticed her company T-shirt with her first name printed near the logo.

Now, those receiving cancer care at Piedmont will reap the benefits of Tracy's small seed of generosity. 

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.