A couple of students have contacted me recently, asking for interviews for class projects. I'm so glad high schools are including awareness of charitable organizations in their curricula! Here are the most recent questions and answers.
How long has this organization been around?
We started August 1, 2015, as Benefit Brownies. I was a pastry chef and then an office manager and small business consultant. I became disabled in early 2015, and had the first of several surgeries in July that year. Sitting around recovering gave me time to think about what I wanted to do next with my life, now that my physical capacity was diminished, but I had a modest disability income so a salary wasn't mandatory. I've always loved to feed people, and am especially passionate about providing for people whom society has passed over. So I started Benefit Brownies to raise funds to fight hunger. I would use the funds to develop a network of volunteers to "rescue" edible leftover food and get it to people in need. I hoped to commission an app, similar to Uber, that would be open source. Then I could document the whole process and offer it to other communities to start their own programs with no costs.
What motivates you to give your time to this cause?
Once you've provided something as essential as food to someone who doesn't have enough, you can't ever turn your back on this problem. I'm glad that my humanity and sense of decency make me uncomfortable with our failures as a society, and that they push me to do something about it. I feel very fortunate to be able to choose where, when, and how to serve, and I'm very aware that I have a level of privilege that 90% of the world will never have access to. Most people are struggling so hard just to survive that they can't rise above their own needs to serve any other purpose, let alone choose a satisfying way to do that. And, selfishly, I have to admit that I need something productive to do with my days, a certain amount of structure, a certain accountability to others, that keeps me from becoming isolated and depressed. The more we care about other people, the richer our lives are. I have a very rich life!
How does helping so many people make you feel?
I used to think I would feel a lot of satisfaction in providing food to poor people, but it's not anything like that. It's humbling. It makes me feel apologetic, that I'm part of a community that allows people to go hungry and homeless, and that all I'm able to do about it is offer some food. In all the years I catered gourmet food to the wealthy, I never met anyone so grateful, kind, generous, and open. The people I meet on the street are amazing, and it's a privilege to be allowed into their lives, to learn their needs and fears and joys. They're all so vulnerable, but they don't let that rule them -- they find pleasure in simple things like a hot meal. They're eager to share with their neighbors, a quality so much richer because they have so little. You can't come home from them and take for granted your access to heat and a comfortable bed and running water.
Where is the organization now compared to when it started?
It didn't take us long, as Benefit Brownies, to learn that our little fundraising efforts weren't having a big impact. We also learned that the need isn't so much for money as it is for a volunteer force, for community energy, in getting already-available food to where it's needed. By January, 2016, we were focusing on Waste Not Food Taxi. When I suffered another health setback in August that year, we gave up the brownie baking completely, as I was no longer able to do the physical work. I started spending my time, instead, using mostly social media to invite people to volunteer. I phoned all the pantries, shelters, and free meal programs I could find and asked what kinds of food they needed most and when, and then went to area stores and restaurants to invite them to donate leftovers instead of throwing them away. In September, we enlisted 1 grocery store, a bakery, a bagel shop, and a coffee house. By the end of 2016, we were picking up about a ton of food a week, a lot of it from cafeterias in the Beaverton School District. We started partnering with other agencies to share resources, pick up from one another, and do our best to put edible leftovers to the most effective use. Now in the middle of March, 2017, we only pick up less than two tons of food each week when we can't line up big enough vehicles to move it all. We're launching a Saturday free food pantry this Saturday, because Saturdays seem under-served in Washington County. And we're actively seeking funds to add a vehicle to our operation, allowing us to deliver hot meals to people where they are. Whether it's a full-fledged food truck or a small pick up with pots of soup in the back will be determined by the amount we can raise. We hope to be offering mobile free meals by the end of this summer.
What interesting things have happened while trying to start this organization?
I had a small retirement account when I started this, and had to spend most of it to get off the ground. Just the licenses, permits, and other fees were about $1,000, and I had to rent commercial kitchen time to bake. I was surprised how little money I was able to raise. I expected to need to work hard to make any difference, but have since realized that hard work isn't what I have to offer, and it isn't what is most needed. As I continue to try to bend and adapt as I learn, I find that community organizing and "selling" this idea to volunteers and donating businesses are both my strengths and society's needs. Populating spreadsheets and sharing technology with other agencies is a much bigger part of this work than I expected. I'm glad, since my physical ability is so limited. But I never want to lose my direct connection with people living without shelter. They are my constant reminder of the simple basic needs of mankind and how easy it is to provide and care for one another. I believe that being out of touch with that simplicity is our culture's greatest loss.
A lot of people think it's extreme to compare the Donald to Hitler, but I don't. All the warning signs are in place -- the undermining of public media, the spread of false information to create chaos and mistrust, the chronyism in Washington. The biggest threat to our democracy, though is all the money that's backing selfish agendas that no longer serve the common citizen.
All my hopes for getting money out of politics were dashed when #45 was elected. The 1% used their assets to shout louder than the voices of the majority, and enough people believed their spiel to give them a stronghold in national politics. After they got their Trump-pet into office, the rest has been a cake walk. In this age of information, whoever can make the loudest case wins, no matter the merits or dangers of that case.
I attended a fundraiser years ago, where I was first introduced to the concept of voting with our dollars. The speaker asked us to take out our check books and our calendars. We looked at them, and were reminded that the things we're spending our money and our time on are the things we want, the things we support in this society. These are our votes. Capitalism will always adapt to where the dollars are going.
Do you buy Nestle products, even though they're trying to privatize natural resources and they care more about profit than whether child slaves are used to produce their chocolate ingredients? Do you shop at Walmart even though their profits are based on paying low enough wages that employees rely on public assistance, and the cost to taxpayers is more than double what Walmart earns in profits? Do you drive when you could walk or bike? Do you choose gas over electricity because it's cheaper? Do you think about the impact your time and money choices are making on the world? These are important things to consider.
It's a struggle for those of us with minimal discretionary income to make our votes heard, but we can do it. We can recommend the businesses that, besides being effective and useful, are owned and managed by minorities, that give back to the community, that participate in earth-friendly practices, that support education or healthcare or any number of causes that make our lives better. We can organize, so that our voices are amplified. Those messy protests that may be inconvenient and may seem ineffective are an important part of the democratic process. They help stave off the fascism of a money-centered government. Each angry, frustrated citizen hardly causes a ripple, but together, we can be a tsunami.
Those of us without the money to buy media attention and bribe politicians have to vote with what we've got -- our time, our voices, our determination. The 1% would love to have complete control over our government. Fascism serves them. Our only defense against continuing down that road is to get really loud, really committed, really organized, and hyper-aware of what our dollars and hours are voting for.
We've talked before about our society's sick pressure on women to be young, thin, tall, and picture-perfect. It causes untold anxiety in teenage girls especially and has driven many to eating disorders and even some to suicide. It's painful. It's lonely. It's so wrong. I've been embarrassed of my body since I was in grade school. I've been bullied, shamed, encouraged to lose weight, told I "would be so pretty if..." An early interest in health and maybe becoming a dietitian morphed into being a pastry chef -- a fat person has more credibility in that role. I don't go to movies or fly or sit in booths, mostly to avoid still more shame for being too large.
But let's get outside of ourselves for a minute. What if you're bald? Maybe you had chemo or a skin disease or maybe you just hated your hair. Can women be comfortable with that, even when society judges you? Perhaps you have a disability or deformity -- even those words judge you as wrong, less, the opposite of normal. How about people of color? Did you like Halle Barry's hair at the Oscars? Or was it too "African" for you, or too informal, or just too different? Seriously, one of the most beautiful women in the world, and people criticize her appearance.
What if you're of a darker ethnic background and suffering poverty? You don't have stylish clothes or miracle makeup or fancy hair products -- does that make you somehow less of a person? It does in a lot of eyes, so many eyes, in fact, that society in general tends to label you as less -- less attractive, less worthwhile, less intelligent, even less entitled to necessities like shelter, food, and toilet facilities. Your self image pales in comparison to society's image of you.
What if, because you were ostracized, you became mentally unstable? What if you lost your job, couldn't afford your meds, and ended up living in a tent behind some shrubs near the freeway? What does society think of you now?
Society is a harsh judge, and any time we accept a social norm on face value, we're more likely than not hurting somebody. We need to become drastically more aware of what denotes value, how we determine who has and who has not, who is worthy of necessities and who is deserving of grace. Until all of us feel acceptance, value, beauty, society serves none of us.
I saw a recipe the other day for a fresh apple upside-down cake. It looked delicious. It made me wonder why we eat so many foods right-side-up. All the garnishes, the flavor, the crunchy bits or melted cheese or icing, those are all on the top. We should eat them upside-down to get the most flavor. We even serve upside-down cake right-side-up. Seems like a weird obsession to me.
On further contemplation, I'm realizing how much of our world has turned upside-down, inside-out. A few hundred years ago, poor people were actually the healthiest -- they got more exercise, grew their own food, lived simple lives and had longer life expectancy than their wealthy counterparts, who were idle and ate too much rich food. Now it's expensive to eat fresh, especially organic, food. Exercise often means joining a gym. The majority of Americans work sedentary jobs and can only afford less-expensive processed, mass-produced food. Poor people get outside less, and rich folks can indulge in all kinds of physical luxuries and top-of-the-line health care.
A hundred years ago, America was a farming country. A family farm could support everyone on it, including hired help, and provide a little income as well. But as corporate economy grew, family farms couldn't compete. Poor people started moving to the cities, where they could find paid employment. The cities eventually encompassed ghettos, gangs, poverty in all its iterations, and suburbs started to grow as a place for "better" (read richer) living. And now, city rents are so high and other costs of living so demanding, that people of limited income can't afford to live there anymore. But with rural land now all fenced off, private property and few legal places to just settle down and live without purchasing land, we've eliminated options for the poor.
We wonder why there are so many homeless, so many struggling, so many poor. Simple -- we created them. We took away the country, then took away the cities, and thousands of people have no place to go. What would you do if you couldn't pay and lost your home? Living with relatives is great, if you have relatives. Roommates crowding together works, sometimes, for a while. Couch-hopping is likely the next best option. Then you're pretty much down to living on the street or choosing a nomadic life where you hope to meet your needs through a combination of odd jobs and the kindness of strangers.
In early America, the wealthy rural landowners had more influence politically. Now that a majority of our population is urban or suburban, we have an altered set of values that reflect our modern societal needs. But our government still favors the rural in many ways, such as providing a minimum of three congressional representatives per state, no matter how small the population (and, correspondingly, electoral college votes). So even though the needs of the majority of our people are far more socialist and cooperative, we're now governed by those who value isolation rather than a global community, less government as opposed to more and better services, a "if you want more, work more" attitude that doesn't translate to city dwellers whose rent is 80% of their income.
Mostly, in the upside-down nature of our current society, we seem to have stopped trying to understand one another, to care about people who are different from us, to welcome the stranger. We become more and more insulated in our homes and behind our computers, and we forget that there might be a neighbor going hungry. Where we used to give food to any stranger who asked for it, we now avoid "those" people, assuming they're dangerous or criminal or lazy. We even travel the world only to stay in American hotels or walled-off all-inclusive resorts, where we don't have to experience what the native populations really live like. And if any of them dare beg for help, they're reported, reprimanded, removed, because that behavior can affect tourism dollars the rich depend on.
I consider myself a humanitarian and an activist, but there are many days I don't go outside. I don't know my neighbors. I don't engage strangers in conversation. I care about feeding the hungry, but I mostly don't even do that anymore -- I just gather food and find someone else who's providing it to and interacting with the homeless camps. My world is protected, insulated, a safe distance from reality. What a shame that we feel the need to distance ourselves from one another.
Our world has turned upside-down. Humankind has lost its humanity.
I've been expressing political and human rights opinions the last few posts, and intend to keep doing that, but I do need to talk about Waste Not Food Taxi's work sometimes, too!
WNFT continues to gain popularity and, more importantly, awareness in Washington County and the greater Portland area. Just yesterday, I had a terrific phone call with the director of Urban Gleaners in Portland, in which we discussed our mutual goals and collaboration opportunities. It's good to know we're not the only ones working on the massive global problem of food waste. Also yesterday, one of our volunteers dropped by with $75 in cash and several bags of food that her garden club contributed! Group efforts like this help us tremendously.
Still, there's a huge amount of food waste. We've barely scratched the surface. The next major effort is working with the Oregon Food Bank. Yes, they do a lot to get food to families facing poverty. But they also waste a tremendous amount of edible food. They DO compost it, and I credit them for that environmental effort. But their food distribution system is based on independent pantries that offer food boxes and other free groceries to families in need. The pantries buy their food from OFB (at a deep discount), so must be independently funded. And that distribution model takes time -- at least several days.
Lots of people working to feed the hungry are not approved partners of OFB, often due to lack of funding. Those are the groups WNFT is supporting. Everything we collect and give away is entirely free, and our only requirement is that meals be prepared in spaces that meet state standards for cleanliness and food safety. A big advantage these free-meal programs have is quick turn-around. They can take expired dairy products & meat and limp produce and get it out to homeless camps within 24 hours. So that milk that was dated yesterday can be served perfectly safely. Thousands of gallons and hundreds of tons are being composted due to slow distribution options and lack of manpower.
I feel strongly that we can eliminate hunger in urban Oregon this year, if we can partner with the Oregon Food Bank. It'll take a little longer to reach rural communities, because we'd have to acquire funding for our volunteers to travel the state and potentially spend a night on the road. But we can do this. Thank you for your support!
I have a lot of conservative friends, and I know some of them are rolling their eyes when they see how fired up I am about the government mess we're in right now. They know I tend to get fired up about all the things that matter to me, that I can be called extremist, but politics? Why politics?
I'm passionate about reducing food waste, because 25% of our landfills are food waste, and that's creating a tremendous amount of dangerous methane in our air. Pair that problem with the number of people who are struggling to get enough to eat, and I have to be fired up. I couldn't live with myself if I didn't address these problems that could so easily solve each other.
I'm passionate about homelessness, and helping people realize that homelessness is the problem, not homeless people. I know there are solutions that would cost taxpayers less than we're paying now for the repercussions of the problem, but we have to think outside the box and be willing to take chances on radical ideas.
I'm passionate about marginalized populations and have a big problem with people thinking it's OK to treat specific groups as less valuable, less important, less human. Or thinking that we get to tell other people whether their circumstances and choices are good or bad, ethical or immoral.
But most of all, I'm passionate about 21st century America, the freedoms and privileges it offers and the potential for greatness in each of us. I'm very uncomfortable with a president who believes his ratings are more important than legal non-citizens' rights to come home to their families. Who believes shock value works in government the same way it works in reality TV. I'm worried about a bunch of billionaires with no public service experience all of a sudden running our government.
I don't believe our country is safe with this leadership team. Oh, I'm safe. I'm white, a citizen, educated, with supportive family and friends. No, I'm talking about the other HALF of our population. People who weren't born in the U.S., people who can't read, people who are decent and hard-working but unable to rise out of poverty. People of color, a wide range of ethnic groups who enrich and deepen the quality of our country. Veterans left to live on the streets. Young women trapped in prostitution. People not on either end of the gender spectrum but falling somewhere in between, falling where we don't even have an appropriate pronoun, falling through the cracks of our male-or-female, black-or-white, right-or-wrong artificial sense of order. People who made mistakes and got dragged down to a dark underworld of addiction and can no longer see any light.
Half of our country is under attack. Civil rights violations are running rampant, because this administration is allowing white supremacists to believe that they have permission to act out, to hurt innocent people, to judge and condemn and ostracize decent, kind people just because of some made-up difference that they think matters. We don't have the right to do this to anybody, ever, but especially not to the people who have already suffered at our hands for generations. People of African descent have put up with crap from us white people forever. They've fought hard and paid a high price for their rights and their freedoms. You think they're going to just sit back and let that all fade away? Not on your life. Native Americans have sacrificed everything to try to get along with us white folks. We've stabbed them in the back every time. You think they're going to let go of the little land and scrap of dignity they still cling to? Don't hold your breath.
Just because all the garbage going on in Washington right now doesn't hurt us doesn't make it OK. It's not OK. It's absolutely 100% NOT OK, and we owe it to our country to fight for freedom, for fairness, for choice, for rights. We owe it to those who cannot stand on their own to stand up for them. How can we live with ourselves if we don't?
I've learned a lot about respectful conversation in the last month, thanks primarily to the Women's March leadership team, and the wonderful Margaret Jacobsen. The first (and likely most important) step in community organizing is talking and listening. I knew that. What I didn't know was that we white folks are doing it wrong.
You've probably seen the fiery conversations on social media. A white privileged person makes a statement. A marginalized person challenges it. But they don't say, "Uh, excuse me, friend, I think you're mistaken in your assumptions here. Let's talk about this more deeply." They say, "Shut up, Bitch, you've got no idea what your talking about" (likely with more slang and a pissed-off tone).
White clueless bubble-living woman says, "Wow, that's inappropriate. I believe in conversation, but if you could avoid the name calling, we could work this out."
"Name calling, Becky? You think THAT's name-calling? You white cis women sit in your ivory towers, you've got no idea what oppression is. Don't you dare tell me how to talk."
At this point, we uninformed folk tend to wash our hands of that person. We block them or unfriend them or just choose not to look in that group anymore. They just don't get it. If they could learn to speak proper English and show proper respect ...
Bullshit. After oppressing the black community for our entire history, and continuing to allow oppression right before our eyes, after being apathetic to their plight because it doesn't touch us, we want THEM to learn? We think we can tell gay and trans people how they should talk to us, after the insults we've lobbed at them? Proper English and respectful conversation are fine for those of us who have had the luxury of communicating only that way. But we have to open our minds and allow emotionally-charged words and painful labels to be part of this conversation, or we can't possibly hear the pain, anger, resentment, indignation, and frustration that whole groups of our population are living with.
Sure, we want to know what it feels like to be different, to be oppressed, to suffer constant injustice. Just say it my way, just come into my orderly little white hetero mainstream world and behave like me -- then I can hear you.
It's time to toughen up, white friends, and be willing to hear what oppression feels like. These people have endured so much more than a few offensive names. Let's get over ourselves and really listen.
Margaret Jacobsen, my new hero, has started a real conversation group called "Let's Talk." If you'd like information about February's meeting, please send me a message. As Margaret says, "Let's get uncomfortable together."
The women's march was awesome. It was a safe, organized place for those of us who don't usually protest to get our feet wet. But it wasn't civil disobedience.
I follow Rogan's List and Robert Reich and a few others. They offer suggestions for letter writing, phone calling, boycotting certain businesses. These are all good actions to fight the inappropriate administration, but they're not civil disobedience.
Civil disobedience requires sacrifice. It involves breaking laws (peacefully), rejecting norms, opting out of legally required actions. It's risky and powerful and something we middle-aged, suburban white women don't want to do. We like to express our opinions, but only as long as it's safe, legal, "right," and comfortable.
We aren't living in a comfortable time. More human rights violations against more people than ever are at stake. However we sugar-coated previous human rights fights, however we kept our distance and pretended they weren't really that big a deal, we are being forced, now, to face up to some seriously inappropriate government actions that threaten to (dare I say it?) touch OUR lives!
It's OK if you want to play it safe and only speak up about the actions that impact you or your loved ones. It's OK to defend your own reproductive choices and health with letters and phone calls. But don't pretend that you're protesting. And be aware, the people of color who pass you on the street KNOW that you're not fighting for them. They've learned not to expect it anymore. The prostitutes KNOW you aren't aware that they're trapped, malnourished, abused. The refugees crowding into Greece and Germany, waiting, hoping for a chance to settle somewhere peaceful where they can become part of a community again KNOW that you haven't really noticed that they're living in tents without water or electricity.
For half a century, we've gotten away with ignoring human rights violations in our own neighborhoods, let alone across the world. We can't afford to get away with it anymore. Our whole civic structure is at stake, and the time for true civil disobedience is at hand.
It's not enough to march with a permit and nice policemen wearing pink hats. We have to also march in front of offending businesses, protest at city hall when unfair legislation is proposed, block traffic, picket private property, take chances, be willing to be arrested. We have to stand with Standing Rock and be prepared for attacks from "authorities." We have to withhold our tax returns until the president reveals his conflicts of interest.
Not all of us are in a position to exercise true civil disobedience, but it's important that we recognize what it is, what it requires, and how powerful it can be. Maybe all you can do is boycott companies that do business with Trump. Or donate to a charity that cares for marginalized people. Maybe you can quit shopping at a store that costs taxpayers $6 billion in government assistance for their employees every year, or the fast food chains that are nearly as big a drain on public funds. Maybe you can sit down with your financial advisor and pull out of funds that support slavery and child labor (especially African coffee and cocoa sources), and instead invest in businesses that are working to improve living conditions for the people that source their products.
We can't all go to jail. We can't all get pepper-sprayed. But we can all refuse to participate in SOME WAY, to send the message that we DON'T support current political actions and we DO care about people less insulated than ourselves. If we aren't willing or able to do the work, we can at least take care of the people who ARE doing it, and be grateful to them.
I had the deep privilege of meeting and working with Margaret Jacobsen, the organizer of the Portland march, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns. They work tirelessly for racial justice, in addition to gender equality, women's issues, and the vast, inclusive array of building awareness and speaking up for the marginalized among us. Margaret is my new hero, not afraid of confrontation, encouraging conversation, even heated, in the interest of learning from one another, and staying focused on the justice issues that really matter.
In the conversations about white privilege and intersectional feminism, I'm reminded of a truth that struck me when I was a young teenager. Being that I'm white, blonde, blue-eyed, Christian, smiling, and an active volunteer, people have always just assumed that I'm trustworthy. Without ever having to prove myself, I get handed keys, entrusted with funds, called upon for security. Why me? I did nothing to earn that trust. I realized, at about 14 years old, that I could get away with anything!
That was a troubling realization. I did get away with a few things I'll refrain from mentioning here <snicker>, but luckily for everyone who made assumptions about my character, I am, basically, trustworthy. But so are a lot of people who don't smile. Who aren't white. Who didn't grow up in the suburbs. Margaret is a great example of that, and there are hundreds across the country.
Why have we not grown to trust facts, evidence, science, instead of making emotion-based judgments? Why are we still scared of black men at night? And potentially worse, why do we trust people who "feel" trustworthy? No wonder con artists are so successful!
I work for food justice and waste management, that's the little thing I can do. But I also have to work for awareness. We all do. We have to question information, look into our hearts, know whether our decisions about people are based on fact or emotion. We can't elect presidents because they're entertaining or famous. We can't run from people who happen to speak a different language or look different or have fewer resources. Equally, we can't blindly trust the white guy, or the accountant, or me.
Blindness got us into this mess. Only vision will get us out.
The new buzz phrase since the women's marches is intersectional feminism. To quote Inigo Montoya, "I do not think it means what you think it means." White feminists seem to want to claim the phrase as a way we can connect with feminists from minority groups, or intersect with them on the issue of feminism. That's not it at all, and it's important that we stop acting like we know what oppression feels like.
We, white feminists in 21st century America, even under Tr*mp, are not oppressed. We have more freedom, luxury, opportunity, education, and choices than any society of women ever. EVER. Fighting for our rights to healthcare and equality is important, but it's NOTHING compared to fighting true oppression.
We need to take a step back from our own arrogant perception of reality. Intersectional feminism isn't whatever we decide we want it to be. It's the definition of women (and men) who bear not only the burden of fighting for the rights of all women, but also fighting for the rights of their literal identity. Black, Middle Eastern, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Latina, lesbian, transgender, and all the other groups that our society treats unfairly and apathetically, these people are not only standing up for feminism. They are fighting for their lives intersectionally. A white women has NO IDEA what life is like for a transgender black Muslim. One oppression intersects with another and another and there is ALWAYS a fight for the right to exist.
White feminists getting politically active is important. Let's do it. But let's recognize that it's a stroll down a country lane compared to the multi-high-speed-highway-junction of intersectionalism that so many people are trying to live with and survive under, let alone fight.
Our grandmother feminists fought for the vote, and that was hard and important and necessary. Our mothers fought for the right to make our own decisions about what happens to our bodies, and for our reproductive rights. That was also hard and important and necessary. Now that a new generation has tasted inequality, now that all our hard-won rights are threatened, we have a much greater fight ahead. With the access to information, the ability to network and build virtual communities out of thin air, we need to learn to fight for the rights of ALL women, of ALL people -- especially those whose rights are threatened on more levels than we can ever really understand.
Intersectional feminism is a burden that minority women have carried since the concept of women's rights was first expressed. We as a society have ignored it. Our new feminism, our enlightened, modern, informed feminism, requires that we humble ourselves, we recognize our privilege, and we walk alongside the women who have fought alone for so long.
This generation's feminism will be all-inclusive and compassionate. It will lift up those who live with multiple intersections of oppression, for the sake of all of us. This is the only road to true freedom.