Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Unite for Hunger and Hope

Today is Bloggers Unite for Hunger and Hope Day. Along with thousands of other bloggers, today's post is about world hunger.

When I woke this morning, I could hear a loon calling to its mate, birds chirping outside my window...and my stomach growling - a signal that I shouldn't even think about lounging in bed another minute.

As I sat at the table with a bowl of granola, I read an online letter to the editor of a local paper about the need to reduce bus fares for the intellectually disabled. As the author of the letter said, "As a society, we fully know that some people are unable to work at high paying jobs and pay a high cost of living. When the cost of living has gone up, the income for these intellectually disabled people does not rise like other employees. In poor economic times, they have less to spend than the rest of us."

I couldn't help but wonder that if, as the author noted, some people "have less to spend than the rest of us", what other essentials are they missing in their lives?

And just how many people are therefore living with long-term hunger? It struck me that hunger is not something I need to worry about. We've all gone hungry, from time to time, but I have never experienced long-term hunger. The kind of hunger that, according to the Freedom From Hunger website, "negatively affects people’s health, productivity, sense of hope and overall well-being. A lack of food can stunt growth, slow thinking, sap energy, hinder fetal development and contribute to [intellectual disability]."

Let's face it, I've lived a pretty cushy life, my body untouched by the ravages of hunger. Elsewhere in the world, "This year (as every year) 11 million children younger than 5 will die needlessly, more than half from hunger-related causes.

815 million people in the developing world are undernourished. They consume less than the minimum amount of calories essential for sound health and growth."

Closer to home, over 700,000 Canadians are assisted by a food bank every month, and The Daily Bread Food Bank notes that "47% of clients accessing a food bank have a disability or serious illness."

So...What can one person do to help millions of starving people all over the world? When you put it that way, it sounds overwhelming. But maybe one person can reach out to help one family.

Food Banks Canada urges us to work together, for "individuals and organizations do make a difference. By lobbying, working for change and raising awareness of the hunger problem, progress has been made towards both short and long-term solutions to hunger in Canada."

The Cleveland Food Bank came up with a list of creative special events - ideas that would be easy to implement, either in a business, nonprofit, or as an individual.

BAKE SALE: Have employees donate baked goods and sell them to others in the company or to neighboring companies. Inform neighboring companies of the sale and invite them to participate.

DRESS DOWN DAY: This event is perfect for companies with formal dress codes. Participants pay $5, for example, to dress down for a day. Pass out buttons or put up signs that display the reason for dressing down.

RAFFLE: This is perhaps the easiest way to raise money. You sell tickets for a chance to win money or a prize. When all tickets are sold, select a winning ticket at random. The most effective way to raise money is through a raffle of donated prizes. Ask your vendors or clients to contribute!

AUCTION: Have employees donate anything from a home-baked pie to a weekend at their vacation cottage. You can also solicit donations of gift certificates and other items from area merchants.

LUNCH : Sell pizza and pop for lunch one day. A local restaurant might donate the pizza or sell it to you at a reduced cost for your cause. Ask for donations in writing and follow-up with a phone call.

CONTESTS: Promote competition between departments by holding different contests. Whichever department collects the most food wins a lunch or ice cream social. One company holds a "Food Collection Display Decorating Contest".

COOKBOOK: Produce a cookbook featuring employees' favorite recipes. Sell them to employees, customers, vendors and friends.

COIN WARS: Plan a penny war at your organization. Each department collects change in a container. Employees throw bills into the container of another department in order to "cancel out" that department's change. In other words, change in the container equals positive points, bills equal negative points. The team with the most positive points at the end of the war wins.

If none of those ideas appeal to you, then consider making a secure, online donation to your local foodbank.

What have you done in the fight against hunger? I've given a few suggestions, but I'd love to hear from you.

I'd like to end this post with an excerpt from The Perfect Pantry, which says it all:


An inspirational and achievable goal. Recipe adapted from Share Our Strength. Serves 12 million children.

Volunteers with soul
Event participants with interest
Chefs and restaurants with heart
Corporations with a conscience
Local organizations and partners with vision

Combine a huge desire to help end childhood hunger with a dash of inspiration. Blend with volunteers, chefs, corporate partners and event participants. Generously add perseverance. Taste and adjust ingredients as necessary.

Serve with a bold, innovative and unique national hunger strategy to surround every child with nutritious food where they live, learn, and play.

Include state and local governments, organizations and nonprofits who can help families help themselves by increasing access to the public and private programs that can provide food to those who need it.

[This bold yet achievable recipe is best served with hope. With your help, we will end childhood hunger in [North] America. To learn more, visit http://www.strength.org/.]


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Get Swept Away

Yesterday, I sat by the kitchen window and looked out at the wind. Not the wind, itself, of course, but the tall trees bowing low, the clothesline shuddering against an unseen force.

The world seemed out of control, the normal balance upset – a mirror of how we sometimes feel when our lives are torn apart, or we're just feeling 'out of sorts'.

The windstorm gave me an excuse to revisit my favourite place in the house. I like to sit at the table, sipping my morning coffee, my to-do list on the back burner, at least for a while. I haven’t been doing enough of this lately. And by ‘this’, I mean taking the time to merely observe. Listen, watch, and bask in the moment. Deer, chipmunks and raccoons have been visiting us, enticed by the carrots and corn strewn over the ground. But the animals have wisely stayed home – the wind’s sound and fury sending them scurrying for cover.

The white noise of the wind buffeting the house was oddly comforting, and it lulled me into a peaceful state of mind. I closed my eyes.

I wanted to think about a long stretch of beach. Toes buried deep in powder white sand and cloud streamers scrolling across a cobalt blue sky.

Instead, my ‘shoulds’ reared its collective ugly head:

Stop wasting your time...You should be writing! You have a blog post to work on, and it’s not going to write itself…

Lately, whenever I pick up my pen, it feels like the words have a weight of their own, unwieldy and cumbersome, they fill up the page but like the wind are all “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Or, at least that's how it seems.

I went back to the beach, in my mind, and thought about Susan Boyle. The woman who was not afraid to stand on a stage – in front of an unsympathetic audience and less-than-thrilled judges on the TV show 'Britain's Got Talent' – and belt out her song. She belted out her truth, her dream, and her vision. If there were any doubts, shoulds, or what ifs, they were left in the wings.

Why are we drawn to this kind of story? Never mind that we loved seeing various shades of shock and awe on the faces of those who had just derided her, or were entranced by her undeniably beautiful singing voice.

Is it because we like to live vicariously through people like Susan Boyle? She embodies everything we'd love to be, and her message to the world is powerful and life-altering: never mind what people think about you; ignore your own inner demons; and, most importantly, never give up on your dream.

That’s especially good to know on those days when you feel swept away by events in your life. When the storms hit and you need a sanctuary, a place to go where nothing else matters but the high of living out your dream.

What about you? Where do you go when you feel overwhelmed, swept away, and not exactly in control of things? Do you paint? Sing, dance, write poetry?

(P.S. If you write poetry, take the plunge and submit your work to Ideal-Way. The IDEAL Poetry Contest opened on April 1st and ends June 30th. Any persons with an intellectual disability living in Canada at the time of entry are eligible for the contest. There, you’ve just taken your first step towards shaking off your doubts and fears!)

Here's another inspirational story:

Photo credit: FotoRita [Allstar maniac]


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

It's All About the Art

Neil MacDonald, on the left, one of the finalists in the 2009 Ideal-Way Art Show, with his photograph of a canoeist on a lake.

When was the last time you had a gasp-of-awe moment? Maybe you were in a canoe, first thing in the morning. You were deep in thought… or possibly in a meditative state, all thoughts safely shelved for now. You turned a corner, and there it was: the dawn’s early light spilling its colours upon the water. And you gasped in awe. A transcendental moment you will never forget.

The word ‘transcendental’ is described as “being beyond ordinary or common experience, thought, or belief.”

There’s something about a transcendental moment: when you are immersed in it, everything falls away.

As I stepped into the Varley Gallery’s Eckhardt McKay House in Unionville, over the weekend, a wave of something akin to the early-morning canoeist’s discovery washed through me.

I already knew that the best 70, of more than 500 entries, in Ideal-Way.ca’s First Ever Art Contest for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities would be on display. It was the energy in the room that I wasn’t prepared for – the creative energy that drew over 1,000 visitors, and busloads of winning artists with their families, friends, and caregivers, from all across Ontario, to the hallowed halls of the Group of Seven artist, Frederick Varley's historic 1840s home/studio.

As Don Yeo, the CEO of Ideal-Way said, “we welcomed eyes which were wide with amazement and mouths agape in awe."

Mark Fitz-Gerald, our winning Artist VIP volunteer from Ottawa, told us, "I came to see my art at the Show and I left with a new family."

But something was missing. John Vicic, one of the artists, made his way to the over-sized canvas that was set up specifically for the intellectually disabled artists visiting the show. Paint whatever you want, we told them. John had stepped away from the crowd, and as he took up the brush, he entered into another place.

And that’s when the penny dropped. When an artist is in the creative moment, everything else falls away, but the Inner Editor never leaves his or her side. Its voice shadows the artist, and whispers, “Is that the best you can do?… Your last piece was much better…let’s face it, you’re losing it…”

The missing piece from this Art Exhibition was a lack of creative angst. The 'ego' was nowhere to be found. Each of these artists showed up in the creative moment, and asked no questions. As one artist said, “My art is all about freedom. I’m free when I paint.”

It was a life lesson for every person in the room. The artists were not interested in external validation. They did, however, offer encouraging words to the other artists.

Imagine, it was all about the art. Period.

I’d love it if you would share your experiences — your stories, family photos, or home videos.

What happened when you dared to let the paint fly, or you picked up the camera and captured a moment?

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