Small Victories

I spend a lot of time in this blog railing against our country’s failure to do right by its children. I was going to lighten up for the holidays and simply write a list of small acts of kindness that anyone can do. After all, what benefits our children more than a caring community?

Of course, everything changed with the Sandy Hook shootings. It seemed ridiculously trivial now to write about offering your mail carrier a hot drink or putting a quarter in a parking meter for a stranger.

Nothing anyone can say or do is enough. The undertow of grief and confusion is particularly strong where I live, in Connecticut, where 20 children and seven adults lost their lives in a fury of violence that we struggle to understand, even as we know it is beyond understanding.

There is so much work to be done: sane gun laws that will protect our children from instruments of war and the construction of something we have never had — an adequate mental health system.

As I wrestled with these dark thoughts, it occurred to me that now might be exactly the right time to suggest some small acts of kindness. Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That’s exactly what we should do, keep going in the direction of kindness, of caring for each other — especially those who cannot care for themselves. It’s important to reach for some achievable small victories. These are not substitutes for the big battles we need to fight, but they may give us some extra strength to keep going.

So, here are some humble suggestions. I hope you’ll share your own ideas, too.

  1. Don’t avert your eyes from a homeless person. Even if you don’t want to give money, you can say hello. That’s what human beings do when they encounter each other.
  2. Hold the door for a mom with a stroller, an elderly person, or just anyone.
  3. Throw a shower for a mom-to-be who’s having trouble making ends meet. You might find such a person through your faith community. Or you can throw a shower to benefit a diaper bank.
  4. Approach your least favorite co-worker and ask how the family is doing. It will take you three minutes and might warm up the office considerably.
  5. Save small things, like hotel shampoos and sample toothpaste from your dentist, then donate them to a school or food bank. No government programs cover hygiene needs and people suffer terribly as a result.
  6. When you’re shoveling your own driveway think about the family around the corner with the sick kid or the man down the street with the bad back. Shovel them out as well. It’s good for your heart in a couple of ways.
  7. Buy socks. Wearing wet, dirty socks is a frequent cause of dangerous foot infections for homeless people. Pick up a package of tube socks. I keep some in my trunk. Your local homeless shelter would be delighted with a donation, too.
  8. Read to a child. Yours or someone else’s. Many schools — particularly understaffed urban ones — love to have volunteers come in and read.
  9. Buy doubles on school supplies. Your child’s teacher likely knows a kid whose family is struggling.
  10. Give up the daily latte or the afternoon candy bar. Take one week’s savings from something you’re better off without anyway and write a check to a worthwhile cause.
  11. Say thank you to the people who get ignored — the barista, the toll collector, the woman who empties the waste cans in your office.
  12. Give a tissue. Teachers frequently have to buy their own for the class. It’s tough during cold season. Show up with a case of tissues from the warehouse club and be a hero.

Follow Joanne Goldblum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jgoldblum

This article was first published in The Huffington Post on December 12, 2012

Summer of Kindness

NDBN was mentioned recently in the July 2012 issue of Good Housekeeping, in an article entitled “50 Simple Acts of Kindness.”  (We’re at #12, which recommends donating diapers.)   Just for grins, and because it was Monday morning in the summer after an on-again-off-again sort of week, we decided to see how many of these suggested simple acts of kindness we currently have incorporated into our regular routine.  Among the three of us (yes, all this magic happens as the result of three people), we found we already do 30 on a regular basis.

The suggestions tend to fall into certain categories of daily living.  Many of these suggestions are what might be called common courtesy– letting the person behind you in line go first (#4) (I do this particularly if they only have a few items); holding the door open for someone (#7); and letting other cars merge onto the highway (#9).  Others are a form of recycling, recognizing that items you might have no need for may still be useful to others, such as donating professional clothes to organizations like Dress for Success (#18) or donating old cell phones to organizations that can use them, such as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (#25)  (there are also organizations that collect cell phones for the troops).  Donating old eye glasses to the Lions Club could also fall into this category, although the article does not mention it.  An extension of this category is the category of thoughtful giving–bringing combs, toothbrushes and toothpaste (and other hygiene items) to a homeless shelter (#8); loading extra money into a vending machine for the next person (#31); buying a book for a child (#38); and providing inexpensive coloring books and crayons to a pediatric ward (#5).   And still others fall into what my mother would call good manners–making others feel welcomed and thought of–relying an overheard comment (#37); rescuing a wallflower standing alone at a party (#48); and genuinely asking others how you can help (#50).   None of the suggestions are earth shattering, but each idea, if implemented, has the potential to make someone’s day a little brighter and easier, and to make the doer feel better about her place in the world.

We’ve decided that we are going to make it a point this summer to incorporate all of these suggestions into our regular routines.  With the hot weather, it’s easy for people’s nerves to be frayed, so it seems as if summer is a good time to exercise our kindness muscles.   It will allow all of us to exercise our baking skills (several suggestions involve giving neighbors and public servants like firefighters treats); make someone else’s day a little brighter; and do our part to improve life in our community and the world.

What other acts of kindness can you add to this list?  Consider starting your own summer of kindness, with a donation of diapers to your local diaper bank or social service agency, and a donation to the National Diaper Bank Network.

We’ll be charting our progress on this blog.  So for our first act (#39 on the list), here’s a video our Facebook friends pointed us to.   Enjoy. 

Governmental Belt-tightening–Who is Getting Squeezed and at What Cost?

As the economic hangover of the recession continues, states struggle to balance their budgets in the face of declining revenue and the perception (real or imagined) that taxpayers are reluctant to see an increase in their taxes.  Because  this economic stormy weather has long ago depleted the rainy day funds of many states, many states have resorted to cutting services to balance their budget.  Because state governments provide many services to those who do not have the means to satisfy their basic needs on their own, many of these cuts have disproportionately affected the neediest among us.  And after years of such cuts, the impact is quite severe.

In The Nation, Greg Kaufmann discusses the effect of continuous budget cuts to the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program.  Kaufmann notes that  Illinois provides TANF benefits—which is cash assistance—to just 13 of every 100 families with children in poverty, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Prior to welfare reform in 1996 the state helped nearly 87 of every 100 families with children in poverty. Further, the benefit level is only 28 percent of the federal poverty line, or roughly $4,800 annually for a family of three, similar to that in a majority of states.  So as the ranks of people living below the poverty line increase, the state is less able to help keep people above the poverty line.

The New York Times reports that years of budget tightening have caused Texas to cut funding to schools, resulting in cuts to all but the most essential aspects of school–no music classes, reduced bussing and janitorial services–and some of the most essential aspects of school, increasing class sizes as schools reduce the ranks of their teaching faculty.  In an economic future in which workers will need to rely ever more on their knowledge base and education, students will be at a disadvantage as their educational opportunities are stunted in overcrowded classrooms taught by teachers taking on second jobs to make ends meet themselves.

And in another report from The Nation, programs designed to help people secure that most basic of needs–shelter–are woefully underfunded, as county waitlists for Section 8 are flooded with thousands of applications for only a hundred openings.  The federal housing agency’s annual assessment finds that “worst-case housing needs” grew by 42 percent from 2001 to 2009, and nationwide there is a shortfall of nearly 3.5 million housing units for the poorest households.

What is most frustrating to those of us working to ensure that people’s basic needs are met is the growing evidence that governmental austerity is not the solution to the economic crisis, and may only serve to make matters worse.  As Eileen Appelbaum of the Center for Economic and Policy Research notes in US News and World Report, “Cutbacks in government spending at the federal as well as state and local levels are already hurting GDP growth. In the absence of federal revenue sharing with the states–the first time the federal government has not had such a program when unemployment is above 7 percent–state and local government expenditures have fallen for seven consecutive quarters.”

Moreover, the economic insecurity that accompanies governmental belt tightening trickles down to individuals’ belt-tightening, hitting charitable donations.   Researchers in the UK and the Netherlands determined that when people feel less secure about their economic resources, they give less.

This thesis appears to be borne out during the prolonged economic downturn.  In October 2010, the Journal of Philanthropy reported a sharp decline in charitable giving to America’s largest charities–indeed the largest decline since the journal began recording charitable giving.  The next year the picture was a bit brighter; however the slight rise in giving did not erase the devastating effects of the recession, the Journal of Philanthropy reported in October, 2011.

This belt tightening does not appear to improve the economy in the short term.  But it does seem likely to most directly and severely affect the lives of those with the greatest need.   Our national economic hangover will continue that much longer as we deal with the effects of a growing homeless population, whose children’s educational opportunities are stunted, most likely resulting in further extended dependence on public and private aid.  Thus, the need for individuals to step up and help fill the void is all the more important.  Consider making a donation to NDBN today.

Guardian Angels

Our Administrative Associate, Jane, has fielded many of the calls we get from individuals looking for diapers.  As a resource for diaper banks and those wanting to start diaper banks, our primary communications is generally with diaper banks rather than individuals, but since we first activated our website, we have received calls and emails from individuals from all over the country desperate for diapers.  The calls are often heartbreaking: from mothers who recently lost their jobs and are trying to figure out how they will care for a sick baby; grandmothers wanting to find a way to help fill a need for an unemployed son and his growing family; homeless shelters for women transitioning from substance abuse programs or incarceration–because the need is great everywhere, the list goes on and on.

But, more often than not, Jane has been able to connect these callers with a diaper bank or an agency that can provide at least some temporary help to these folks.  Jane credits “Guardian Angels” she has discovered in the process of working here.  And these guardian angels exist all over the country, willing to take action to make a difference in the lives of other people.  They may take different forms–a sympathetic administrator at a food bank, a director of a women’s shelter, or a generous mom with the time and willingness to create a mobile diaper bank–but they are all the people that make our goal of ensuring that all children have the clean diapers they need a realistic possibility instead of an impossible dream.

We want to thank the Guardian Angels we have met thus far, and those we have yet to meet (but we know are out there) for helping us create a network of committed individuals and organizations dedicated to closing the diaper gap.

Communication and Community

Communication is a critical aspect of any new social enterprise.  And communication, to be effective, has to be a two way street. We’ve reached out to you and you’ve reached out to us–we’re continually amazed at the number of committed, caring people we’ve met volunteering to step up and create diaper pantries and diaper banks to help people in their communities.  We hope that anyone interested in learning more about diaper need feels free to call or email or post to our Facebook account (comments here are good too) with any questions they might have.  We are here to help.

But we also want to make sure that you are talking among yourselves and sharing all the creative ideas you have.  One of our missions at NDBN is to create a community of diaper banks that will interact with other diaper banks, helping to foster and encourage new banks and to share best practices so  we can all share our  lessons learned. On Wednesday, we launched a Google group for diaper bank leaders to talk among themselves and share their best practices directly.  The group has been busy all day as diaper bank leaders swap ideas to maximize the effectiveness of diaper drives and stretch limited funds buy the most diapers.  It is great to see the network really forming among and between diaper banks–so many committed people tackling diaper need in so many creative ways.  If you’d like to join the conversation, send us an email at info@diaperbanknetwork.org.

But in addition to learning from each other, sometimes it’s good to learn from an expert.  Our next webinar, Grant Writing for Diaper Banks, will feature Jennifer Heath,the Executive Vice President of the United Way of Greater New Haven, who will provide her expertise on what makes a successful grant proposal.  Make plans to join us on Wednesday, April 11, at 3:00 Eastern.  For more information, send us an email at info@diaperbanknetwork.org.

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