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Dignity, It’s What’s for Dinner

6 Jun Song Lyrics

 

When you think of a “soup kitchen” what comes to mind? A bunch of sad looking people carrying trays while making their way down a line while workers in net caps spoon ladles of food onto plastic plates? That’s exactly what Josie McCarthy disliked about them. Well, that and the name “soup kitchen.” “It’s their (the customers’) food too,” she says. “And they haven’t served soup since the 1940’s.”

On the last Drop Me Anywhere trip I had the honor of volunteering at The Dining Room, a restaurant serving those in a current state of poverty. Part of FOOD for Lane County’s Family Dinner Program, The Dining Room is a unique venue which serves the homeless population, or simply those having severe financial difficulty, in a respectful, restaurant-like atmosphere.

Josie McCarthy is the Program Manager of the Family Dinner Program and the catalyst for The Dining Room. FOOD for Lane County ran your typical soup kitchen out of a school in Eugene, Oregon until 2004 when they moved to their current location. While they had a new location, they were still struggling to serve the population they had hoped. In 2005, Josie was brought in to try to make it work. She fought for five years to turn the program from a soup kitchen to a restaurant model. The Dining Room began serving food in a restaurant atmosphere in 2010.

When guests arrive, they are given a reservation. When seats become available, they are invited in, five at a time, wherever they like and are immediately offered water, milk, juice or coffee. They are then offered a full meal with a main course and healthy side dishes. During their meal, a volunteer comes through with a dessert tray offering a variety of cakes and pies.

The Dining Room serves a variety of guests from families with young children to elderly people, including a 90 year-old woman with mental illness who lives on the streets and has been a customer for 9 years. The staff and volunteers really get to know their guests; Josie mentions that this woman has beautiful handwriting, but the woman has also expressed her embarrassment for where her life has ended up.

There are also quite a few success stories; guests love to come in and share their successes with the staff and volunteers, who love to hear them. Josie tells me of one woman, a widow in her late-fifties, who had lost her housing and was living in her car in the wintertime. She had a full-time job at a fast food restaurant but, as housing can be quite expensive in Eugene, she found herself homeless. She was working to save enough money for first and last month’s rent. She came to eat at The Dining Room and, when she returned to her car, she realized she had locked herself out. She returned to The Dining Room in distress as she couldn’t get into her “home.” The staff chipped in to hire a locksmith to gain access to her car. A few months later she came in and said, “Do you remember me?” Of course they did. She went on to tell them that she had found an apartment and wanted to let them how grateful she was for their help.

The food The Dining Room serves is provided through FOOD for Lane County. To improve the atmosphere, expired flowers are provided by Market of Choice and Trader Joe’s, and artwork painted by customers decorates the walls. As many of the homeless have dogs, The Dining Room provides crates outside and food for their guests’ canine companions.

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The Dining Room has 367 volunteers of which 25 per-day work to serve meals to those having financial challenges. Between them, they work 800 volunteer hours per month. The Dining Room is open Monday through Thursday from 1:00pm-4:00pm. During these hours they serve up to 300 people per day.

When asked what people can do if they want to help, Josie says that people should advocate for a restaurant model food site. No more soup kitchens. Her goal, she says, is “educating people that these people are their neighbors.” The only extra resources the restaurant model uses over the traditional soup kitchens is a few more volunteers. Oh, they could also use some silverware, paper towels, salt and pepper and hot sauce.

The first word that came to my mind during my day volunteering there was “dignity.” Often people feel that treating people less fortunate with less respect will encourage them to change their situation. Most of these people would like nothing more than to change their situation, but mental or physical health challenges, abusive home lives, loss of a job or simply bad decisions have landed them in an unfortunate situation. Besides the food, the respect provided by The Dining Room helps their guests in their fight to change their circumstances. As one customer put it, “The main ingredient in their food is kindness.”

To find out more about The Dining Room, go to their website at FOOD for Lane County Family Dinner Program. You can also find out more about FOOD For Lane County through this website.

Song Lyrics

 

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This Time I’m Asking for Your Help

31 Mar Book Logo

I hope you enjoyed reading about the Masonic Temple and the Spirit of Newfoundland’s effort to preserve the historic building. I’ve received great feedback about the stories on www.DropMeAnywhere.com as well as the profile on www.Rebel-With-A-Cause.org. The feedback has been so encouraging that I’ve decided there’s a book in this. And writing a book is exactly what I plan to do. But I’ll need your help.

I’m announcing my Kickstarter campaign to assist with the funding of this book. You’ll note that I said “assist with the funding” as I’ve already spent money on the project and will continue to spend more. But just as the website is a partnership between me and the readers, the book will also be a partnership.

On each Drop Me Anywhere trip I find a local project or organization to spend a day, or part of a day volunteering with. I then profile them on Rebel-With-A-Cause.org and let you know more about what they do, who they help and how you can get involved. They’ll also have their stories in the book.

As you may know, Rebel-With-A Cause began with my wish to help others who were struggling. My hope was to not only give them money, but to give them a voice. I connected Rebel and Drop Me Anywhere with that same hope of giving those people and organizations a voice.

The writing of this book is different than so many others. I can’t go to a day job and come home at night to research and write. I believe in this book, but cannot finance it on my own. While I do some writing on the side for some corporate clients and news media, the pay is not enough to finance this book. I’ve worked really hard these last few years and saved money. Still, this will cost more than my savings will allow.

I’m passionate about donating my time and money to worthy causes. It’s difficult for me to ask for it but, this time, I’m asking you to consider my cause. It will not only help me to complete the book and get it published, but it will help me continue to help others.

If you’ve not already done so, you can read more about the project on the Drop Me Anywhere announcement post here on Rebel-With-A-Cause and on the Drop Me Anywhere About page. You can also read the posts from the first Drop Me Anywhere trip beginning with Oh Canada. And, of course, make sure you vote on my next trip.

I hope you’ll consider pledging to the Drop Me Anywhere Kickstarter campaign. I’m offering some great rewards. While I had hoped for some of the rewards to include volunteering for your chosen charity, Kickstarter doesn’t allow this. All I can say is that Drop Me Anywhere will continue to have a philanthropic element with me volunteering on each trip and profiling the projects and organizations.

Please share the Kickstarter campaign with others. It ends on May 1 and, if I don’t reach the goal by then, I receive none of the funding. This time, you get to make a difference.

 

 

Preserving History in St. John’s

24 Feb

Masonic Temple

As I mentioned in the previously, the latest project on Rebel-With-A-Cause is a partnership with Drop Me Anywhere. While Drop Me Anywhere is dedicated to readers participating in choosing where I travel without a plan, it also includes a philanthropic element in which I spend a day, or part of a day, volunteering with a local organization, person or effort and then profile them here. So here’s the first:

Photo from the 1894 laying of the cornerstone

Photo from the 1894 laying of the cornerstone

I’d like to introduce you to Kathie Hicks and Peter Halley, the owners of the Masonic Temple in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The cornerstone of the building was laid on August 23, 1894 with many dignitaries present for the big event. For over 100 years the building housed the secret society of the Free Masons. The Masonic Temple was designated a Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador in April 1995. Peter and Kathie bought the building on February 14, 2008 with the intent to preserve this preserve it and house the Spirit of Newfoundland Productions which would provide food, entertainment and a general event venue to downtown St. John’s. So far, they’ve succeeded in most of their plan. The Spirit of Newfound Productions hosts wonderful events and dinner-shows for the local community of St. John’s and surrounding communities.

Spirit of Newfoundland Productions

Spirit of Newfoundland Productions

The one thing they’re still working on is the preservation of the building. Peter and Kathie have worked hard on the inside rooms (and there are many of them). Spirit of Newfoundland Productions performs avariety of musical and comedy dinner shows in the downstairs showroom but, once they bring the upstairs up to code, they have plans to move the show upstairs. This part of the renovation will be fully funded by Peter and Kathie and their business.

The outside of the building is another story. While the plan was for the business to pay for all renovations, inside and out, it became clear that the cost of preserving the outside would be prohibitive. At nearly $500,000, they’re hoping for some support. They are currently in the process of developing fundraisers to finance this effort. Planned fundraising opportunities include a series of concerts and the sale of some specially designed memorabilia (possibly key-chains and/or memento boxes).

Masonic Eye in the ceiling

Masonic Eye in the ceiling

In addition, in one of the many hidden rooms they have discovered hidden treasures. Approximately 2,000 original bricks were found in the basement. One of the planned fundraisers is to sell some of these historic bricks. Each weighs nearly five pounds and is over 100 years old. They’ll be mounted and sold individually in person and online. Bricks will be mailed or delivered by courier. There will only be about 1,000 rectangular bricks for sale as the odd-shaped and angular bricks will be used on the building itself.

Entrance to the dungeon

Entrance to the dungeon

Kathie and Peter are passionate about this building and feel it’s important to preserve it and not have it turned into another condominium complex. After touring the inside, I agree. They’re also passionate about Newfoundland as you can see in the song lyrics below. A song they wrote which closes each show at the Masonic Temple.

You can find out more about this historic building here. To find out how you can buy bricks and other fundraising items, or get tickets to concerts and events contact Spirit of Newfoundland.

The Spirit of Newfoundland                                                                                                                                                                              (Written by Peter Halley & Kathie Hicks)

It doesn’t matter where you come from                                                                                                                                                                      It doesn’t matter where you’ve been.                                                                                                                                                                         It’s our spirit and our culture that keeps us all within                                                                                                                                        One big family together that is powered form above,                                                                                                                                            We are rich no matter what we owe                                                                                                                                                                               We have each other’s love                                                                                                                                                                                              We have our rocky shores and mighty seas                                                                                                                                                               Our rolling fog and salt sea breeze                                                                                                                                                                                We are a people proud and strong                                                                                                                                                                          From Newfoundland and Labrador.

Grace

30 Nov

I haven‘t been lucky enough to have a child. Always wanted one. Heck, always wanted about a dozen. Just, well, just never happened. Still, I always thought if I had a girl I would name her Grace. Not Gracie, but Grace. I’ve always loved that word. Remember the show, “The Actor’s Studio?” James Lipton would ask people what their favorite word was. Mine is Grace. It’s peaceful, yet inspiring. It’s a word that can never be taken badly. It’s secular yet, when used, gives a sense of a higher power.

The other day, a stranger told me that the Rebel Project was the definition of Grace. He must have thought I didn’t hear him when, for a moment, I couldn’t speak, not even to express a polite thank you. At that moment, I realized that this project had become my child. I had been given my Grace.

So now I share the joy of my child with you. She’s not easy – no child is. She’s harder work than you can imagine, but she has brought such joy to myself and others. She is demanding of your time and attention, and can be quite exhausting. But she will open up your world because, you see, Grace is the goodness you share.

This project was about many things – paying it forward, keeping promises, giving thanks, and not keeping score. It was not just a journey across the country, but a personal journey to find out if one person can truly make a difference. While I might not have stopped hunger around the world, or saved the planet from global warming, or saved animals from euthanasia, perhaps I helped a homeless, single mom get on her feet, or kept her kids believing in Santa Claus for one more year. Maybe I helped an inspiring hurricane survivor to continue to help others. Or perhaps someone read the stories and realized that they too can make a difference. Maybe they can offer a job or other assistance to those profiled, or simply to someone they meet on the street. Or maybe, like me, they will look deep inside and consider how they might use their talent to help someone else simply because they can.

Thank you for joining me on this journey and I wish you Grace.

And The Winner Is . . .

30 Nov

Today I have the privilege of announcing the person you voted for to win my $1,000 donation.  First, a bit of an explanation as to why this has taken so long.

I had planned to have this project completed in September just after I joined the ship I work on.  Well, when you consider that I was driving 2100 miles, meeting people going through rough times and writing their stories well, that turns out to be pretty time-consuming.  And then I joined the ship.  I still had some follow-up interviews as well as some stories to write when I boarded.  This meant ship to shore phone calls and writing while working an 80 hour per week job.  Add to that, satellite internet on the ship, filming for the Phoenix NBC station (see video here) and technical difficulties on the website during the voting process and I’m very happy to be able to actually announce a winner.

The winner, with 22.9% of the vote, was Jose.  But just as in life, this project is unpredictable.  You see, another reason for the delay in announcing is that Jose is homeless.  If you recall, he was living in a shelter when I met him at a job fair.  I contacted the shelter and they informed me that he was no longer living there and had gotten a job.  They gave me the name of the café he was working at and I called to see if he was in.  They informed me that he had quit the previous week and they had no idea where he was.  I tried contacting him on a cell phone number that I had for him and left multiple messages on the voicemail.  I do not know why he quit and it’s not up to me to judge.  Still, I have found it impossible to get in touch with him.  This left me with a dilemma.  What to do with the money.

I have chosen to go with the spirit of the original plan – to let the readers decide.  As the 2nd and 3rd place winners were separated by one vote, I decided to split the money between them.  They are Stella and Shanika.

Stella, if you recall, was the hurricane Katrina survivor who, after living in a church for two weeks, invited 30 family members to live in her house which she felt blessed to find still standing.  When I phoned Stella to let her know of the outcome of the Rebel Project, she was grateful.  Unfortunately, the good news was tempered with the bad news that Stella has recently been diagnosed with cancer.  Stella has provided so much strength to others that I have no doubt that she will be in many people’s prayers.

Shanika and her four children were living at a shelter run by the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.  When I contacted the shelter Shanika was still there.  But, true to form, she was working to become independent.  Shanika has obtained a job cleaning houses.  While she hopes for a job which better suits her experience, she is grateful for the work.  Besides some money, the job has provided something more.  A home.  You see, The Coalition for the Homeless runs a program called Housing Now.  The Housing Now program provides assistance to those with moderate barriers to independence.  Participants must be drug free and have a job. It provides rental assistance, case management and supportive services.

When told of the financial donation I was providing Shanika told me, “This could not have come at a better time.”  Her case manager will work with her on budgeting and the best way to use this money.  Shanika continues to do her best to be a good example for her children.  “Manners and respect carry you far,” she says of her philosophy on raising her kids.

This project was very personal and I thank you for sharing it with me.  I am not only grateful for the opportunity and resources to have taken on this project, but for all of your support.  In the spirit of the Rebel-With-A-Cause project, I will ask you to do one more thing – help because you can.

Voting is Up and Running Again

19 Oct

Well here we are again.  Announcing that voting is open.  I know what you’re thinking – in the great words of Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again.”  Well, yes.  But I thank you for your patience.  We’ve worked out the kinks (I hope) and any votes previously cast are included.

You may vote multiple times although it may take a minute to reload.  Voting will close at 11:59 Eastern time on October 30.  Then, as they say, the proverbial check will be in the mail.  But more importantly, what will the “Rebel” in you do to help simply because you can?  Whose life will you impact for good?  Start thinking about it and please feel free to share it in the comments.

In the meantime – VOTE HERE!

Voting Is Open

2 Oct

Thank you for joining me on this journey.  It’s not only been a geographical one across the country, but a spiritual one across economic gaps.

We’ve now come to the end – or perhaps this is just the beginning.  One goal of this project was to use my talent to help others.  We all have some talent.  I ask that you look inside yourself and figure out where your talents lie.  Is there a way to use that talent to make a positive change in this world?  We can all contribute, and it does not need to be cash.

Perhaps it’s time we stopped keeping score.  We can do good without thinking about what that person has done for us in the past or how they might help us in the future.  We can do good simply because we can. What I have discovered through this project is that when you begin to good simply for goodness sake, you are rewarded in ways you cannot imagine.  People share their story, which is the ultimate form of trust, and friends send endless supplies of kind words.  Finally, strangers find you and share similar goals.  You are also able to see the kindnesses that people begin to share with others through your inspiration.  There is no greater gift.

You’ve heard their stories, formed your opinion and now it’s time for you to vote Just click “Vote” at the bottom.  DIY Travel Deal has been kind enough to supply the poll and results.  You may vote for more than one person if you choose.  Just click again. Each must be done separately.  Voting closes at 11:59pm Eastern Time on October 15th.

Please remember that this vote is simply for whom I give $1,000 to.  If someone’s story has touched you and there is anyway you can help, please do so.  This does not mean contribute money to them; perhaps you can help them with a job, or a doctor or fulfill some other need.  Or perhaps it involves none of these people at all. Perhaps this has encouraged you to help someone else in need.

Please choose to vote.  And share the stories you have read.  Should you like to get in touch with any of those profiled you may feel free to E-mail me at crosen7646@yahoo.com.  Thank you for sharing this journey.  Please continue to share the goodness.

VOTE                                    

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