Mar 10 2011

poverty: the stress of a downward spiral [day 287]

My rent payment is $286.  My utilities are $190 this month.  I don’t own a phone, I don’t have a job and I have a baby to take care of.  My name is Iris Isaacson… but only in this temporary make-believe world.  This world I’m speaking of is a poverty simulation, a game to teach people what it’s like to live in poverty.

I participated in this event last night.  At first, I thought it seemed like a lot of work and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there.  In the middle of it, I was thinking, “…what a chaotic game…”, but also realizing much of it was like real life.  At the end of it, I was worn out.  I couldn’t pay my bills, the ones I did pay were late, I had to pawn my jewelry, sold my camera, and after all the hardships and paying everything late, I got evicted anyway.  Here’s a description of the simulation.

The Poverty Simulation is a simulation experience developed by the Missouri Association for Community Action. During the simulation, participants pretend to be members of a low-income community attempting to survive four 15-minute weeks of poverty. The simulation relies on role playing techniques and extensive props to help participants understand the day to day challenges faced by families living in poverty.  Continue reading


Feb 19 2011

dust, downsizing, donations and discards [day 269]

The Boyscouts are collecting food items in my neighborhood today to donate to our local food pantry, Frisco Family Services.  I want to help, but I just cleaned out my pantry a couple of weeks ago and drastically changed my shopping habits to not have too much extra food in the house.  I realized that I actually accomplished this when I had a friends kids over and I had to cook for 5 people.  Most of the things I had to cook would not feed 5 people.  As I was going through my pantry this morning, pulling out some things to donate, it hit me.

A flood of memories absorbed my thoughts as I reflected back to a few specific times when I was taught a lesson, yet I didn’t fully learn it until this morning.  My first big flashback was Hurricane Andrew.  I worked in Miami, and although my home in Ft. Lauderdale wasn’t hit, I knew many people that were homeless after the storm.  (It gave me a new appreciation for my one-way 62 mile commute to work)  My workplace was demolished.  The large retail company I worked for placed me in charge of coordinating relief efforts for their employees, which was approximately 150 families.  Other stores from all over Florida donated stuff, the company had it all sent to us in a semi truck.  As we opened it in anticipation of receiving some things that were desperately needed, that excitement turned into sadness as we saw the contents of the neatly stacked boxes from inside the truck.  It was filled with clothing discards, boxes stuffed with unorganized clothing chaos that looked as though it had been loaded into the boxes with a dump truck.  There was very little food or toiletries, the things that were really needed.

Next, were my thoughts of working in the FFS food pantry.  I enjoyed this time, and I learned a lot.  Although many people gave some great food items, at least once or twice a day we received the bags of very expired “I-finally-cleaned-out-my-pantry” food.  I saw food cans that had so much dust on them, we had to wipe it off to see the date stamp.  I worked there in 2010 and I saw a bag of food where most had expired in 1994.  These donations fill absolutely no need at the food pantry.  They cannot give out expired food.  When it gets close, or is only right after the expiration, they give it away on the free shelf, that requires no voucher, and is not applied toward their allotted amount.  I was afraid to ask what happens to the really old food like that, as I’m sure they have to throw it in the trash, but I just didn’t want to hear that answer.  Some things are better left unsaid.

My last thought was how many times I might have donated expired food, feeling good that I’ve helped people in need, yet was basically making life difficult for the volunteers at the food pantry and never helping anyone.  I was helping with good intentions, as I think we all do, but I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons.  Helping people is not an opportunity to get rid of my expired, unwanted food or to get rid of clothing that’s hideously out of style.  Helping should be an opportunity to make a positive difference in someone’s life, filling a need they have at one of the lowest periods in their life, in many cases.  Yes, others can be blessed by us donating some things we don’t need or want any longer, however the thought process should be that of, “What if I was on the receiving end?  Would I like this or want this?  Would I need this?”  As my friend Amy just said, “Sometimes your trash can also be another person’s trash.”

I filled a bag this morning in a completely different way.  It has food that I like and bought for me and my family to eat.  It’s not expired, nor is it stuff I don’t like.  My minset is this, if I’ve been blessed enough that I can feed my family with no problem, I should pay it forward.  I can easily replace this food.  Every so often we have, and will do more often, shopped specifically for food and toiletries to donate.  I’ve done this in the past to teach my kids about helping people in need, and just how important it is to do it for the right reasons, so how did I miss all the lessons?  My bag of food for the Boyscouts is not a big one, but all of the items are current and mostly things I just shopped for last week.  Geez, how many other lessons have I chosen to ignore?  Maybe I should keep one, dusty, expired can of some sort of gross food so I don’t forget.


Feb 14 2011

I’m the ugly neighbor [day 263]

I know my neighbors must cringe when they drive by garage when the door is open.  I’m clearly the ugly neighbor.  Since I’ve been downsizing in the cold weather, everything was pitched out into the garage, in anticipation of some warm weather to get everything to the appropriate places.  Where are those places?  Anywhere but a landfill… the thrift store, the food pantry, craigslist, and last but not least, freecycle.

I needed to not only get the stuff out, but I needed to find one specific can of paint in the vast mountains of paint cans in my garage.  Well, after pulling all the paint out onto the driveway in preparation to give it away, I could not find the one can I needed for my kitchen ceiling.  Seriously?

I didn’t count, but I know there was well over 100 cans of paint.  I got rid of 99% of what I had.  I really wanted to do something fun and creative in the process of getting it out of my garage, but I found myself in gridlock, paralyzed by the sheer amont of stuff in my garage.  There’s just no time to creatively get rid of my stuff, so I started placing all of it on the driveway and listing it on freecycle as I cleaned it out.  About 80% of the stuff is gone already, in less than a day.

I collected coats, blankets, food and miscellaneous stuff from friends an neighbors to donate to the homeless and impoverished.  All of that is in my car and will be delivered to the appropriate destinations today.  It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  Less stuff feels good.  And just so I’m not tempted to collect more junk, I gave away the shelving unit that I cleared off yesterday.  No empty shelves to refill, just nice, clean empty s p  a     c         e.   Continue reading


Oct 3 2010

charitable marketing. yes or no? [day 129]

Is charitable marketing good?  I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, as it’s a huge and fast-growing trend.  It works, but is it ethical and trustworthy?

As David Frey wrote on frugalmarketing.com, “Many savvy small businesses are affiliating themselves with charities to market their businesses. Not only is it a primary means for developing a powerful network but also it helps others in the process. People like to associate themselves with businesses that support causes, which help disadvantaged people in a meaningful way.”  And he follows that with, “Don’t think that charities are oblivious to your motivations. Most charities today understand your secondary purpose for participating in charities and are experienced at helping you receive a return on your charitable investments.”

I decided to research just a bit, as I find this concept very interesting.  Here’s 3 case studies from radically different businesses. Continue reading