• Moving for Hunger: How Local Food Banks are Making a Difference

    by Ryan Cox | Apr 27, 2015

    Whether you’re planning an upcoming move or not, there’s no denying that spring is in the air everywhere you look. From April showers and May flowers to nonstop allergies, there’s one more thing that everyone seems to be sharing in common –it’s high time for most of us to take on some much needed spring cleaning.

    The key to gaining an effective fresh start from your spring cleaning repertoire will be to cover every base of the house, from garages and guest rooms to your closets—this includes your food pantry!  

    So what exactly do you do with your unwanted foods, unneeded extras, or goods that you just plain will never have use for? Why, donate of course! Donating these foods would be an absolute no brainer, especially for those who are about to move out and leave a great deal of non-transferable and perishable foods behind. However, have you ever wondered what happens with your donation, such as how it was used or how it ultimately gives back to the community?

    This week, we asked a variety of professionals from food banks around the country for their thoughts on donating effectively—we were lucky enough to be able to speak to a number of regional food bank directors and managers, all who were more than happy to provide insight into the best practices and more when it comes to donating unused food.

    Our round of interviews on donating to food banks revolved around the following questions:

    1.       In your opinion, what is the best way to generate a high amount of donations?

    2.       With these donations, how does the local food bank give back to the community? Do they participate with other local or national programs?

    Those we were fortunate to be able to speak with on the topic include Nate Smith-Tyge, the Director of Michigan State University’s Student Food Bank—a highly noteworthy organization in that they were the first food bank in the nation to be independently founded (and maintained) by college students.

    “We have always found that working directly with community partners is the best way to generate donations to our food program,” Smith-Tyge said. “We work with campus-based and community-based departments and organizations to connect with their staff directly and share the Student Food Bank story.  When people have a direct connection to our mission and see the difference we make in the lives of our clients they become invested in helping our program.”

    Smith-Tyge also shared his thoughts on giving back, both through collaboration with local channels and on the national level. “We work with the Greater Lansing Food Bank (GLFB), which is our regional Feeding America and USDA supplier.  As a member of GLFB, we are able to purchase food far below wholesale costs, and this allows us to make effective use of our financial donations,” Smith-Tyge explained.

    “I always tell potential donors that if they gave us the dollar they would spend to buy one can of food to donate, we can buy 3 or 4 cans of food with that same dollar.”

    We were also able to speak with Susan Acker, Communications Manager for the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, who offered her expertise on what it takes for food drives to succeed. “[We] serve 280,500 clients each month through 690 partner agencies throughout Los Angeles County. We are able to serve that many people because of the donations we receive from growers, manufacturers, corporations and individuals,” she said.

    Acker added, “The most successful Food Drives have all been well organized. Food Drives play an important role in helping us collect donations, but also in raising awareness about the issue of hunger in our community.”

    On the unique challenges and realities faced by independent non-profit food banks, we spoke with Becca Seul, Coordinator of the Middle Tennessee State University Food Pantry, who provided insight on the use of social media and other crowdfunding opportunities to keep donations strong outside of the big league arena.

    “Since our pantry is a non-profit student resource, it is run solely on donations from our MTSU and surrounding communities. They use high-traffic events (like sporting events, concerts, benefits, etc.) to attract a crowd, then use food as the cost of admission. These same groups conduct stand-alone food drives throughout the semester. These typically consist of advertising on social media—Twitter, Facebook, even SnapChat –and collection points or boxes in high-traffic areas. These work great!” she said.

    “Our largest contributor, however, is our online site. We have a link on our website where anyone can donate online using a credit/debit card. It’s quick, easy, and, since we are a school, tax-deductible. ” Seul added. “We store what we can for our food pantry, but we are partnered with several local non-profits—Greenhouse Ministries, Way of Hope, our local Rutherford County food bank –to make sure nothing goes to waste.”

    We were also able to speak with Caitlin Sadler, a graduate assistant and Inventory Coordinator at MTSU’s Student Food Pantry that plays a large role in the pantry’s day to day operations, on the key factors in generating large-scale donations.

    “I think that the best way to generate a higher volume of donations is to advertise. The times when we have had the most donations coming in have been when we had a write up in the paper or a segment on the local news,” Sadler said. “These news stories sparked local high schools to help with food drives in which we received 8000 cans donated!”

    Media Relations Manager Blain Johnson was kind enough to speak to us on the strategies incorporated by SF-Marin Food Bank, stressing the importance of networking with food banks across the nation from the ground up.

    “It’s easy to support your local food bank,” Johnson said. “We have many ways community members can engage with us, from hosting a food and fund drive to coming down to the warehouse and volunteering. For every $1 donated, we can distribute $6 worth of food. So every donation makes a big impact.”

    The SF-Marin Food Bank is a member of Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks across the country. Feeding America makes it easy to find your local food bank with the Food Bank Locator Tool. Simply input your zip code and state to find a local food bank where you can get involved.

    “If you’re moving to a new area, volunteering with your local food bank is a great way to connect with your new community – and maybe even make some new friends,” Johnson added.

    Ann McManus, Director of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania, explained that raising awareness is one of the most important factors when it comes to strengthening donation quantities.

    “Raising awareness of the plight of our hungry neighbors often spurs the public to action. Second Harvest participates in a number of regional and national food related campaigns, which make it possible for us to distribute nearly 7 million pounds of food each year through a network of 200 member agencies,” McManus said.

    In addition, we spoke to Angie Clawson, Public Relations Manager for Atlanta Community Food Bank, who offered tips on donating at your own convenience.

    “Many outside groups host food drives for us such as one coming up May 9th, called Stamp Out Hunger. These types of events provide some of the largest nonperishable food donations that the Food Bank receives throughout the year, and is an easy way for anyone to donate if they want. For every $1 donated, the Food Bank can turn that into more than $9 worth of product to help those in need,” Clawson said.

    Jenny Moore, the Development Manager of Public Relations and Marketing for Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, emphasized the importance of close correspondence with local community outlets and businesses to maintain a strong network of donation opportunities.

    “To fulfill our shared goal of helping to ensure that no one goes hungry, Second Harvest Food Bank of NWNC and our partner programs rely on strong, year-round support from concerned and compassionate business, civic and faith-based organizations, as well as individuals,” Moore said.

    “We believe hunger is solvable problem. The resources exist to solve it. We need more people to become part of the solution. Everyone in the community can get involved by telling at least one other person that hunger exists right here and that there’s something they can do about it.”

    Stephanie Melnick, Food Drive Manager for Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, explained the significance of food drives for pushing long-term growth of donation quantities.

    “The best way to generate a high amounts of donations is through a food drive. A food drive can take many forms and we encourage creativity.  We have everything from school groups who try to collect enough cans to fill their principal’s office to businesses that collect donations and build can creations out of the food collected. Last year, Gleaners distributed more than 34 million pounds of emergency food to over 510 partner schools, soup kitchens, shelters and pantries.”

    So what are the best overall ways to donate? Some of the most effective ways include:

    ->Local community partners for regional food banks, which maintain a presence in most cities that serves to accept donated foods and preserves at your convenience.

    ->Independently-run student food banks founded across prominent college campuses, many of which maintain a strong track record for successfully donating the majority of their proceeds.

    ->Take advantage of any nearby corporate initiatives that accept intermediary donations for regional food banks—these can include everything from moving charities to realtors and paper supply companies –make sure to keep an eye out around local businesses in your community.

    ->“Virtual Food Drives” have increased substantially in popularity as an alternative to food donation in recent years, allowing users to simply donate cash in lieu of non-perishables through a web portal.

    At North American Van Lines, we make the effort to maintain a strong partnership with Move for Hunger programs across the country to accept non-perishable foods from any and all moving families that don’t need them—this means that our movers take the time to pack up your spare food and deliver it to the local food bank ourselves.

    We don’t just feel that giving back to the local community makes for a nice gesture—we believe it’s a key factor for our long term success as a whole. Joining the effort to curb hunger nationwide is one of the first steps of many needed to ensure that the future will be bright with opportunity for everyone. Collaboration with the dedicated efforts of food banks across the nation means that ending hunger continues to move closer towards becoming a reality.

    Be sure to follow our blog for more, as well as keeping up with us on Facebook and Twitter to catch the latest moving news, tips and more as soon as they happen!

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  • 9 Ways to Improve Home Safety for Seniors

    by Patrick Redmond | Apr 27, 2015

    Family SafetyYour home is meant to be a safe space for your entire family, a place where you can relax knowing that everyone is taken care of and away from danger. When you live with an elderly parent or relative, creating this safe space might take a little more work than you’re used to. From safety features that prevent dangerous falls to enhanced security, there are a number of home safety tips to consider when living with seniors.

    > Entrances and Exits: Access to your home should be easy, including clear walkways, sturdy handrails, and a minimal amount of steps. Even if your senior isn’t in a wheelchair or doesn’t use a walker, it’s a good idea to look into ramps, as these tend to be easier to navigate. (In the winter months, regular de-icing is a must.)

    > Stairs: Going up or down stairs can be difficult for seniors, especially if your home has especially steep or narrow steps. If possible, put your loved one’s bedroom on the main floor to avoid the need to navigate the stairs. You can also install better handrails or look into a lift.

    > Better Lights: More lighting is always better in a home with elderly residents—especially when it comes to nighttime. Improve your fixtures, install motion-sensor lighting, and keep a flashlight on the nightstand.

    > Reduced Clutter: Clutter—especially the kind that sits on the ground—is not only hazardous, but it tends to make our homes feel less clean. Now is a good time to change the way you store your everyday items. Keep all walkways clear, put toys and other debris away after each use, and reconsider furniture that might not be necessary.

    > Clear Walkways: Cords, rugs that aren’t securely laid down, pet paraphernalia, and spills can all contribute to falls. Non-slips strips should be used whenever possible, and carpets should always be secured to the floor.

    > Upgraded Bathrooms: Bathrooms are particularly tricky, especially if your relative has limited mobility. Grab bars and specialty tubs/showers with chairs can go a long way in making daily care easy.

    > Hot Water Controls: You may want to consider turning down your water heater to 120 degrees or lower. This will prevent accidental scalds and also reduce your overall heating bill, which can be a big bonus during the winter months. You should also cover any exposed hot water pipes that can be too hot to touch.

    > Fire Safety: Fire safety is always important, but now is a good time to step up your precautionary measures. Check the batteries in smoke alarms regularly, and make sure they’re present on every floor. Carbon monoxide detectors are also a good investment. You might also want to put in additional fire extinguishers.

    > Install a Monitor System: An intercom or monitor system can help when your home is large or a senior is bedridden for much of the day. Communication is made easier, whether it’s for daily needs or emergency situations.

    Many of these changes cost less than a few hundred dollars, and can significantly improve the safety of your home. More expensive features can also be well worth the investment, especially when compared to the costs of assisted living facilities or full-time live in help.

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  • 5 Things to Know About Starting a Garden

    by Patrick Redmond | Apr 24, 2015
    Friday-Favorites-Starting A GardenOne of the first things many new homeowners do (especially if they move during the spring or early summer months) is start planning a garden. There’s just something about a new home and the promise of what’s to come that has all rolling up our sleeves and planning the great bounty of fall.

    Before you start digging up your new lawn and starting planting seeds, however, here are five things you’ll want to remember to make your first garden a success.

    > Plan the Layout of Your Garden in Advance: Some plants require almost no space in a garden box, instead crawling up a trellis to take up vertical space. Others need bright sun and plenty of room to put down their roots. Know ahead of time how much space your garden will have and what kinds of plants you’ll be able to put there. A small, well-planned garden can be more productive than a large, poorly-thought-out one.

    > Start Small: You might be tempted to turn your entire yard into a booming produce market, but it’s usually best to start small and expand your garden a little each year. This way, you can learn what thrives in your soil and area, and what might need more work than you’re willing to put in. You’ll also learn more about the plants as you go.

    > Go for Function over Beauty: When first starting a garden, it’s tempting to buy beautiful accents and expensive equipment to set the tone, but these things are rarely necessary. As soon as the plants start blooming and filling your yard with color, the decorations will take care of themselves. Spend your money instead on quality seedlings and gardening tools that will stand up to regular use.

    > Local Plant Supply Stores are Your Friend: No one knows what grows best in your area than plant supply stores and gardeners who live in your neighborhood. Take some time to talk to other garden enthusiasts or even consider joining a local club. Gardening is one of those lessons that’s often best learned from those who have hands-on experience.

    > Prepare for Pests: Just as soil and weather conditions are unique to your area, so too are insects, animals, and other kinds of garden pests. Know ahead of time what kind of conditions you can expect so you can put up fences or use the right kind of insecticides. This is another reason why local gardeners can help—if it’s common in your area, chances are they’ve already battled it themselves.

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  • Ways to Commemorate a New Home

    by Ryan Cox | Apr 23, 2015

    From popping bottles of sparkling champagne to busting open a piñata in the shape of your old home, the methods of madness utilized by many to commemorate a successful move in can range from hilariously awesome to just plain bonkers.

    However, there’s no doubt that getting settled in at a new place and kicking off the next chapter in your life will be something to majorly celebrate. When narrowing down the best possible options for celebrating this milestone to the fullest, try and remember that there’s only truly one way to do things incorrectly—by not celebrating at all!

     

    Classic Housewarming

    The most go to solution when it comes to new home commemorating tends to be the most overplayed no brainer—regardless of how you choose to celebrate, odds are you’ll be inviting company over to check out the newest of digs.

    When planning the inevitable housewarming party, make the effort to personalize (or simply stylize) your affair as much as you can. Your guests will be expecting a partially moved in apartment and a six pack of beer—do whatever you can to exceed those expectations and then some, whether it be with a wine and cheese social or a crazy masquerade party. The most important thing to remember about this new home is that it is your own, so make sure your get together expresses that to the fullest.

     

    An Arboreal Approach

    A slightly lesser known way of commemorating a new property is somewhat interesting—many people will opt to plant a tree in their new home, whether it be in their front yard, back yard, or even in a little ceramic pot somewhere in their living room (for those settling into an apartment that lacks in the grassy outdoor department).

    While it has an environmental appeal, a more fun aspect of the practice is that it tends to be a great way for you and your friends or family to mark exactly how long you’ve been living at your destination. Watching a tree slowly grow up as you live out the new chapter in your life can take moments that you normally might skim over and truly put them into a better perspective.

     

    Refresh your Retail Game

    Once you’re moved into your new place, you’ll be out of the woods in many financial ways as well—it’s good to remind yourself that you’ve gotten through the hard part, and settle in by buying yourself some much needed household upgrades. Does your toaster have a tricky lever? Or does your vacuum suck in all the wrong ways?

    Whatever it may be, take the initiative and drop the dough on some new appliances or equipment to go with your new home—it’s a new time in your life, so start treating it like one.

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  • 5 Tips For Cleaning and Maintaining Rain Gutters

    by Patrick Redmond | Apr 22, 2015

    Rain GutterRain gutters are one of those things you rarely think about until they’re not working correctly. Spring is a great time to perform annual maintenance and checkups on your gutters, since this is the time of year when they’re most in use, protecting you from the drops of rain rolling off the roof as well as other water runoff issues that might otherwise damage the structural integrity of your home.

    The most important rain gutter tip is to keep them clear from debris, leaves, nests, and other buildup. If possible, check your gutters seasonally to scoop out the worst offenders. Most of the time, heading up to the gutter with a pair of gloves and a bucket is all that’s necessary to get the task done. From there, rain gutter maintenance can take on a variety of forms.

    > Do Deep Clean Once a Year: At least once a year, do a deeper clean of your gutters than merely scooping out the debris. After you clear the visible obstructions away, you should carry a hose up the ladder and run water through the entire length of the gutter. Check for blockages and other slow flow issues, as these may indicate a need for more in-depth cleaning or even a gutter replacement. In some cases, you may need to run a length of wire up the gutter from the bottom in order to clear out blockages there.

    > Caulk the Seams: Few gutters are a compete length of pipe unbroken by seams. In order to maintain the right angles and move along your house, it’s most likely composed of several smaller pieces caulked together at the seams. These seams may need to be regularly reinforced and touched up, especially if you’re seeing leaks or drips.

    > Check the Angles: Because the constant flow of water is such a powerful thing (just think of how it carves out canyons and gulches), it can move the angle of your gutters over time. In order to maintain proper flow, gutters should descend at a quarter of an inch along every ten feet of pipe. Check the angles and descent and, if necessary, adjust the gutters so water can escape easily.

    > Look at the Drainage Area: All that water from the roof has to go somewhere…make sure you know where yours lead and what happens to the water where it collects. In areas of high rainfall, you may need to install a drain or dig a dry well to avoid dangerous collections of water that can seep into your home’s foundation.

    > Consider Ornamentation: If you’re updating your gutters to sell a home, or if you recently moved in and are trying to make the new house feel more like a home, you might want to consider buying a decorative gutter. These pieces of artwork allow the water to flow from the roof to the ground just like a regular gutter, and also provide a lovely outdoor feature that can improve the value of your home.

     

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