Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Who's Hungry?

I’ve recently had the opportunity to see a Food Bank of Waterloo Region emergency hamper up close and I’ve got to admit, I was pretty impressed. The hamper had a ton of fresh fruit and vegetables, almost too much for what many families would use. There was a pineapple, 2 heads cauliflower, lettuce, 10 lbs carrots, red onions, 5 lbs plums, 6 oranges, 6 pints grape tomatoes, apples, 18 kiwi, 3 lbs strawberries and 3 heads celery. The dry goods did not include any macaroni and cheese boxes, which I found surprising but did include packs of dry pasta, pasta sauce, cup of soup packets, cookies, cans of corn and tuna helper. The proteins in the hamper included chicken wieners, smoked sausages, hamburger, lamb shanks and sliced deli ham. Now the proteins, from a health perspective could use a bit of work but I was amazed at the amount of good offerings in the hamper, especially considering that the public often only hears requests for the basics like mac & cheese and peanut butter.

Our local food bank feeds 26,500 people in the region annually. 900,000 people across Canada use their own local Food Bank annually. That is a lot of hungry Canadians. It is thanks to companies doing food drives, families using food banks as a teaching tool, local store and farms donating excess produce and large volume suppliers that offer volume discounts to the Food Bank that these people were able to eat.

Can you imagine not being able to feed your family? How hard must it be for someone who has worked their entire life to admit that they have hit the bottom and are no longer able to provide for their own children or themselves. It is estimated that for every 1 person who goes to the Food Bank, another 3 people don't. This may be because it can be hard for some to access a food bank but in many cases, it can be because they are afraid to admit that they can’t provide those basic necessities for themselves ad their families. In a world where the almighty dollar is a status symbol, it can be a crushing bow to someone who is already knocked down to admit that they have none.

I’ve learned that there is nothing wrong with asking for help. In any situation, whether it be asking for business help from a mentor, help with an event from a friend, help with paying your bills through a credit agency, help with finding money to pay your rent or help with money to start your own business, there are always people out there who are more than willing to lend their support and expertise.

Since some people aren’t so great at asking for help when they need it, I’m going to ask for them. No matter where you live, there is a Food Bank. In small towns they may just be located within a local church and in a metropolis they may be huge distribution centres, but they are there and they need your help. If your family is able to in any way, find a way to donate to your local food bank. When you have small children, I find donating food is best because it is a visual lesson for your children. Remember, a $1 bag of dry pasta and a $1.50 jar of pre-made pasta sauce will feed a family of 4 for dinner and quite possibly lunch the next day. It doesn’t take a lot to help someone in need. If you’re able to, cash donations are even better. With bulk buying power and serious discounts from manufacturers and distributors, food banks can usually turn your $1 into anywhere between $3-$5. That takes your $1 package of dry pasta and turns it into 5! So if you donated $10 which your large food bank turned into $50... that could feed a family of 4 for an ENTIRE WEEK. For $10.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

50 Teens 4 Christmas Update!

It is absolutely mind-boggling what this community has done for the 50 Teens 4 Christmas event in less than a week!

The gift bags are being filled and we are meeting most of our goals. Here is an updated list of what we are looking for to finish filling them up:

- hand warmer packs
- flashlights (LED)
- deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo & conditioner
- hand sanitizer
- socks
- gift cards

Although this is not a complete list I've got to shout out to a couple of super sponsors who are helping make this event awesome... like Jenn Annis, Chris Arnold, Michelle L., Sobeys, Solo Gi, Martins Apples, Adult Essentials, Clippo, Entripy, Kevin A Magee, 570 News, Andrew Coppolino, Christine Reid Photography and more that I don't have all the details from yet.

This event is my baby but the people above, Jodi from 5 Dollar project and all of you are making it a reality! Huge, huge thanks from the bottom of my heart!

An Update of Awesome

Well. Where to begin?

The mystery benefactor is a real person, that I know, so I took up the challenge and today, through the power of social media have raised $1000 towards the $1500 goal. I still have a day and a half to go.

I am shocked and amazed and so appreciative. So many people giving up their own money to go towards my project. So many people who believe in what I do, it's incredible. Thank you.

50 Teens 4 Christmas is moving along at breakneck speed. My partner in awesome of this project, Jodi, is working her butt off, calling in favours, talking to every single person she knows. She's pretty much a machine.

The donations and sponsors we are getting on board is fabulous! So many great things coming our way, and again, it's all due to the powerful reach of social media. People are jumping on board, buying gift cards, forcing their teens to clean out their closets, asking their workplaces for donations. I don't have a problem admitting that I'm a little overwhelmed. This is a huge event for me and I just can't wait to get all this stuff to the shelter and give these kids a wonderful Christmas celebration!

We've got 2 amazing speakers lined up who I think will really motivate and empower the group, lots of prizes to hand out to donors who financially support the project and an apple sponsor! Because really, where other than Waterloo could you get an apple sponsor (and by apple, I mean the fruit, not the other kind)? And then there are the ladies knitting hats, the family whose children are giving up all birthday gifts in favour of gift cards to donate to the Christmas gift bags and the folks online who are putting a little bit of pressure on some radio folks to get Jodi and I on air to talk about our project.

I think I speak for Jodi and myself when I say that we are so lucky and honoured to have so many friends and supporters who have our backs and are working as hard as we are to make this event a success.

Lastly, I've been doing a drive this week for sweaters, coats and blankets for the homeless, because you know, I haven't asked my friends for enough.

Well once again, people are coming out in spades, dropping off bags at my house, sending me their addresses for pick up and giving me huge amounts of warm weather gear. Saturday I took my boys out and we handed out 10 jackets, 6 sweaters and 9 blankets. Tonight I was out again with my Tuesday night street ministry team and we handed out at least another 40 sweaters, 8 jackets, a blanket, some scarves, mitts and hats.

What's funny is, I never used to ask anybody for anything. Like I wouldn't ask my husband to pass the remote, I wouldn't admit if I didn't understand a problem and I certainly would never fess up to needing help at work. I was just frustratingly independent and stubborn. Probably my self esteem was low enough to think that no one would want to help me either. Well I've learned that all you have to do is ask! Sometimes people say no but oftentimes they say yes! Will I be asking my friends to clean out their closets/help me fundraise/give teens a Christmas every week? Oh no. This week is very special and very weird. I feel bad asking for so much but you know what? I also know that people are helping because they like me, they like the things I'm involved in and they are happy to help. I'm not going to take advantage of that.

So in all, a crazy busy and very odd week. And it only just turned into Wednesday an hour ago so there's still time for it to get stranger. I'm gonna hold on tight and enjoy the ride!

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Mystery Benefactor

So I have just received an email, or rather an email money transfer from a "Mr. Awesome". No jokes here, I promise!

So "Mr. Awesome" has sent me an email money transfer for $3000 but did not give me the password to accept the transfer. The condition is that I have to raise $1500 in 48 hours after accepting and he will give me $3000 to fund bigger and better FoodLove projects for the next year. He also sent me instructions for a very worthy charity and the type of event he'd like to see put on for them.

So the question is, do I do this? Do I trust him? And are there enough of you out there that love my FoodLove project enough to donate money to help me get to this next level?

50 Teens 4 Christmas

Last night I officially announced the next FoodLove event, 50 Teens 4 Christmas to be held for homeless and vulnerable teens at ROOF. Since then, I (and my amazing friend and chief smilemaker at 5 Dollar Project, Jodi) have been working non-stop.

What started as a regular FoodLove event with lots of homemade goodies, a mini concert and a few gift cards has turned into a MASSIVE event involving the same homemade goodies, motivational speakers, a fundraising raffle (of which proceeds will be split between 5 Dollar Project and 50 Teens 4 Christmas), gifts bags stuffed to the brim and more! I can't thank Jodi enough for her hard work and using the many, many contacts and friendships she has to make this project so awesome.

We are looking for donations specifically for the Christmas gift bags right now. We want to give these kids slightly used or new jackets, sweatshirts, toques, mittens, long distance phone cards, gift cards to go shopping, easily transportable and healthy food, personal hygiene products and REAL Christmas gifts like books, makeup and other things that all normal teens want.

We would love to see Waterloo Region rally around us and give these teens a Christmas to remember. You can do this by collecting items for the gift bags, asking your workplace for donations for our fundraising raffle, buying a raffle ticket (will be available soon!), spreading the word AND buying Christmas cards and getting them signed by as many people as you can!

Watch the #50teens4christmas hashtag and follow @FoodLoveKW and @5dollarproject on Twitter to keep up with all the latest details.

With all of our resources, we can make this a Christmas to remember!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

What I learned at SCCTO

So over the last 2 days I was at the She's Connected Conference in Toronto. It's a conference to connect bloggers and brands, to learn how to work with each other, what to do and not do and a whole lot of information for those bloggers or brands who haven't done this kind of promotional work together before.

Now I posted a while back about whether or not I would go because I was pretty sure that I didn't want to be writing sponsored posts for companies on my blog. I questioned whether it was a selling-out point and I believe even referred to it as "whoring" myself out. A lot of intelligent discussion convinced me to go and give it a try. So what did I learn?

1. I still DON'T want to accept free stuff or money for myself or family from companies to shill their product. It's not that there's anything wrong with it for those that do it, but I'm already busy trying to promote my OWN brand and business (need a cake, buy it here!) and I don't have the energy to give myself to another company when I'm barely making enough money from my own to survive. Just not for me.

2. I DO want to work with brands when it comes to my volunteer work. As some of the events I'm working on get bigger and bigger I'm starting to recruit sponsors and some companies would mesh really well with them. If Ford wants to lend me a truck to cart around the bags upon bags of goodies for a FoodLove event, I would be ecstatic! To me that's working for the greater good. The brand is getting promoted, I'm getting promoted, my charity is getting promoted and MOST IMPORTANTLY, local people, people in my very own backyard are reaping the benefits and kindness. This is a win-win.

3. I DO want to look at my own options, as a brand, of working with bloggers and influential women to promote my business. Let's face it, women talk. Women buy what other women buy. I make affordable, unique custom cakes and need business from women. No brainer.

Also, because this was my first ever big conference, I learned a few other things that weren't on the agenda:
  • band-aids should be carried at all times
  • it doesn't matter if you can fit everything in a duffel bag, bring a suitcase on wheels
  • it's a lot of fun to tweet with someone sitting 4 ft away from you
  • you will be hugged a lot, be prepared
  • pay the damn money and stay in a hotel, the subway at midnight is not fun
  • even friendships you already had will become more concrete by the time it's done

Thank you for having me join the conference, She's Connected team. I'm not sure if my experience had the outcome you were hoping for but I had fun, I met some fabulous women AND I got a night away, which is no easy feat for a mom!

Also, thanks to Toshiba Canada, I won a laptop at the event! I'm super excited and was really looking forward to receiving it but this morning I decided that there was someone else who needed it more.

Volunteer Builders is an Oakville, ON organization that designs and builds "one project every spring to benefit a worthy individual or organization". All of their builds since 2001 have involved summer camps and all the buildings are beautiful. A few days ago a tweet came to my attention that Volunteer Builders needs a laptop for the organization. They were asking for a used laptop or donations towards buying a new one. So I decided to donate the laptop from Toshiba to them. It's a worthy organization made even better that friends of mine are involved in the project.

The love I've received from Twitter today has been amazing. It's undeserved, I think. I'm not putting myself out by donating this laptop, I'm not giving up anything I needed. I'm just passing along the niceness of Toshiba along to someone who wants (and needs) that laptop even more than I do. So thank you, Toshiba, for giving me the opportunity to help Volunteer Builders. Volunteer Builders, thank you for the awesome work you do. I'll be contacting you about volunteering for your next build. And thank you Twitter, for sending me so much love today in regards to the laptop donation and then again, when I asked you all to donate blankets and sweaters for me to hand out to the homeless. The amount that you have already donated and have promised to donate over the next few weeks will soon have me traveling to find people in need in other cities. The love from my online community today has lifted me higher and reminded me that I'm not changing the world alone... I have thousands of people cheering me on, supporting me and kicking my butt into gear!


A Theme and A Purpose

All my life I have been an activist, a volunteer, a community supporter. Throughout elementary school I was a tutor, a reading buddy, a dog walker at the Humane Society and a letter writer for Amnesty International. In high school I was on school council, I organized coffee houses, I organized volunteers to "green" our school and build a rock garden and each year I was a driving force behind the 30-hour famine. As I've grown into adulthood I've been a church volunteer, a "listener" at a battered women's shelter, an advocate for special needs children, part of a team that feeds the homeless in our area and the girl who gives out cookies in exchange for smiles.

I'm not telling you this because I'm looking for attention or accolades. I'm telling you this because I've finally realized what my life (and subsequently, this blog) is all about.

My life's purpose is to bless and serve other people.

When I started this blog, I had a few things I wanted to write down but I had no idea if my blog would have a theme or if it would just be insane ramblings of me. It's natural that people would think I would write a food blog but I'm not organized enough for that. I forget to take pictures of some of the most incredible cakes I've ever made, I'll never remember to take pics during the cooking process. So where does that leave a girl who wants to blog but who often proclaims that the only thing she knows is food?

She searches herself and gains enough confidence to realize that she knows MUCH MUCH more than food. She knows people, she's got a soft heart that cries whenever she reads the news and she has a determination to make her world a better place.

So from this moment on, although I'm sure there will be the odd random post, this blog will become my way to help others, help others. You will read stories about amazing people doing amazing things. You will read stories about folks who need a hand up and most importantly, I will help you find a way to make your own contribution to causes that are important to you. If you have money to give, I'll help you get it there. If you have spare blankets I'll collect them and personally hand them out to the homeless on the street. If you always happen to bake 2 dozen cookies too many, I will help you hand them out to people who really need a smile in their day.

So if you know an amazing community builder, if you know a story that needs a voice, if you know a person that needs help finding their smile again, let me know. I am here to serve.