Lasagna Lady: cooking 1,200 pans for strangers in need

Soon after getting laid off during the pandemic, Michelle Brenner first turned to comfort food—using her grandmother’s special recipe, she made a huge pan of lasagna. Then, she offered to go grocery shopping for some friends and was dismayed that they had all added frozen lasagnas to their lists. Her culinary mind screamed, “This just won’t do at all!”

Picture from Good News Network

The Italian-American posted on Facebook, letting her friends and neighbors know that she could whip up some homemade goodness for them—all they had to do was ask, and come by to pick it up. She received her $1,200 government stimulus check, and used all of it to buy ingredients for her cooking. She has made over 1,200 pans of lasagna—no questions asked—for anybody who wants one. She then began dropping them off for essential workers at the local police and fire departments, the hospital, and even the prison.

In order to scale up her operation, she set up a fundraiser on Facebook to support her work. Before long, it had raised more than $22,000, mostly from strangers on Facebook from all corners of the world. She says this will enable her to continue cooking for several months. “The world as we know it is falling apart, but my two little hands are capable of making a difference,” Brenner told the Washington Post. “I can’t change the world, but I can make lasagna.” To support Brenner’s initiative, click here!

Story shared by Brandon Miller, United States of America

More info here or at bmiller2@bsu.edu

The Write Time Pen Pal Project

A pen pal project between older adults in long-term care facilities and other older adults in churches was implemented in order to help them feel more connected, especially now with COVID-19. Older adults can have difficulties with feeling socially isolated. Two churches and two long-term care facilities in the Huntsville, Alabama area participated.

I do not completely know the outcome because the project was not fully implemented due to COVID-19. The older adults from the churches sent letters to those in the long-term care facilities, but they did not receive any letters back. I plan to continue this project.

One surprise was that no replies at all were received by the participants in the churches from the long-term care facility residents. I expected there to be at least a few responses back. A lesson learned is sometimes things take more time than it is thought it will take.

Story shared by Kelsey Walker, United States of America

More info at kelsey0711@gmail.com

Interviewing Neighbors During COVID Brought Her Light “When Things Seemed So Dark.”

Just like everywhere else, COVID-19 came to the small town of Leverett, Massachusetts. And when the town went into lockdown, Jinny Savolainen wanted to do something meaningful. Quarantine was especially isolating for her. In 2019, Jinny lost her daughter. And when the pandemic hit, she lost her job. So, she sent an email to the town listserv asking if anyone wanted to record remote StoryCorps interviews about their life during COVID. StoryCorps is an organization whose mission is to record, preserve, and share the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs. These Leverett stories were then broadcast on NationalPubicRadio.

Portia Weiskel, a beloved town fixture for more than 50 years spoke with Jinny about a quirky quarantine tradition of a weekly howl at the Leverett Pond that started in lockdown and can be heard throughout the town. Mary Hankinson, a nurse at a long-term care facility, realized when the pandemic first hit how hard it was to access personal protective equipment. She coordinated a group of almost a dozen women who volunteered to make masks. They were hung on a rack outside the post office, where anyone could pick one up for free. Hundreds of these masks were made.

Image from Storycorps

Jinny states “I believe our grandchildren [and] great-grandchildren will want to know how we fared during this pandemic,” “I think they will be in awe of the way Leverett has come together, in the kindest, most humble of ways.” What started with one email ended in a collection of over a dozen interviews.Taken together, these conversations paint a picture of small town life and community during an unprecedented time. As Jinny put it, “Just when things seemed so dark, I found some light in the words of the people all around me.”

Story shared by Tom Wolff, from Massachusetts, USA.

More info here or at tom@tomwolff.com

Farming in the City

Many low-income neighborhoods lack nearby sources of fresh food. Frequently there are no large markets in the vicinity; residents must rely on foods available in smaller stores, which are generally less healthy and more expensive.

One strategy for addressing this issue is to persuade more markets to locate in the area – but often that’s hard. A different strategy is to teach residents how to grow their own food, right where they live. That’s the mission of the Urban Farming Institute (UFI), a Boston-based nonprofit that not only teaches farming skills, but also how to set up urban farming businesses.

Image retrieved from pixabay

UFI manages seven farms in Boston city, in the middle of low-income neighborhoods. Every summer, it runs two distinct courses: a 9-week course in basic food systems, and a 20-week hands-in-the-ground course in urban farmer training. Both fill up regularly. Each year 700 trained volunteers come to help do the planting, harvesting, and other farm work.

Over the years, additional program features have been developed: a separate Young Farmers Program; a virtual farm stand; public lectures, workshops, and discussions; videos; and sales to numerous restaurant partners. UFI is growing, and it is thriving.

To build strong communities, it helps to strengthen residents’ abilities to address and meet their own needs — and there’s no more basic need than food. UFI has shown how this can be done despite limited funds, but with a clear sense of purpose, a committed staff team, strong organizational skills, and the provision of meaningful benefits; food you can eat.

UFI believes that “any location can be a place where food is grown for local consumption, local sales and local distribution.” When this happens, economic inequities are reduced, and we have made progress toward a just and sustainable society.

Story shared by Bill Berkowitz, United States of America.

More info here or at Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu

Children’s Leadership at Racial Justice Demonstrations

Children, and particularly children of color, are often those most impacted by injustice. But children have both feelings and opinions; and even young children can be quite capable of speaking out and acting in their own behalf.

Several recent worldwide demonstrations for racial justice have featured children, as participants, marchers, speakers, and sometimes leaders. Examples are a Children’s March in Brooklyn, New York, and a Peaceful Children’s March in Boston. In Brooklyn, according to news reports, “Dozens of children, from preschoolers to teens, took turns speaking at the podium, some using a step stool so the crowd could see them.”

Picture by Nick Sansone for The New York Times

It is difficult to measure exact outcomes of activities such as demonstrations, because their effects cannot easily be separated from other events. But some indicators of success are the media coverage that such events have drawn, which also calls attention to the strengths of children; these are both positive effects in themselves. An additional likely positive effect is the empowerment of the children who participated.

Children can be positive agents of social change. They are not just people to be loved and cared for, or future activists in training, but bona fide community assets who can be activated and empowered for causes that affect them and they believe in.

Too often, their strengths are under-utilized. But in the strong words of a Boston child demonstrator: ” I am a force that you can’t hold back. I am young. I am educated and I am proud to be Black. So the only thing I have to say to you is this: ‘Be prepared to be uncomfortable.'”

Story shared by Bill Berkowitz, United States of America.

More info here or at Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu

Haiku on the Bike Trail

A paved trail runs through a suburban town near Boston. It is popular both for commuting to work and for recreational uses, such as bicycling, walking, and jogging; it’s used by thousands of people every day.
Some artists in town realized that the asphalt pavement on the trail could be a good location for art, for it was highly visible, eye-catching, and unusual. So they started a Bikeway Haiku contest – an open competition in which residents were encouraged to submit haiku (a Japanese style of poetry, with 17 syllables). The winning entries would be painted directly on the pavement.

Image retrieved from Arlington Public Art

Over 460 entries were received. Of these, 111 haiku were selected for installation. Two samples:

Are you still seeking?
This is the asphalt speaking.
Keep up the good work!

Hope for bicycling
Humbly gets us around town
While saving our world.

Volunteers painted the poems, using stencils, at individually-designated locations on the miles-long trail. Eventually rain and weather eroded the paint, which was expected at the beginning, since this was not meant to be a permanent installation.

The bikeway haiku were a source of pleasure to those cycling or walking by. Part of artistic creativity is deciding where the art can have the most impact; in this case, the planners chose their location well.

More generally, art can be a powerful community-building tool. It can elevate the spirit, and create connections between people through their shared experience. The Bikeway Haiku project also illustrates that art can be part of everyday life, available to everyone, and should not simply be reserved for galleries or museums.

Story shared by Bill Berkowitz, United States of America.

More info here or at Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu

Making Sure Kids Get Fed during School Closures

Food service professionals and other community members are stepping forward to ensure no child goes hungry. Millions of kids across the US rely on school meals for essential nutrition. Communities are getting creative; some schools are delivering meals or hosting meal drive-throughs for families. Learn more about these efforts in this article from Voices for Healthy Kids

Image retrieved from Voices for Healthy Kids

Story from the USA.

Read more here or at the Community Tool box.

Kansans Turn To Each Other For Help During Coronavirus Outbreak

In Kansas, there were several examples of Mutual Aid Networks and about restaurants providing free meals for those in need.

“After one crowded lunch service, Heriford said, she could no longer justify the risk to her staff or customers. The restaurant closed March 14, though she and a small number of staff haven’t stopped working. The Ladybird is offering free bagged lunches for anyone who needs them. Heriford buys the food from her usual distributor, prepares it and leaves it on carts in front of the restaurant.”

Picture by Nomin Ujiyediin, Kansas News Service

Story from the USA.

Read more here or at the Community Tool box

The Digital Book Garden

Public libraries are storehouses of books and educational materials, but also often community gathering places– usually a good thing. But in times of pandemic, those same libraries are places that need to be avoided. So how can libraries serve their public while their buildings are physically closed? Here’s one of many examples: The Norwood Public Library, in a suburb near Boston, established a “digital book garden.” Library visitors find signs outside the building with the name of a book and a QR code (a two-dimensional barcode). By pointing your smartphone at the code, you can download an eBook or audiobook.

The Norwood Public Library

This and other electronic innovations have proven popular. The Norwood library reports a doubling of its digital resources since the physical library was closed. And other area libraries have reported a doubling of electronic library card sign-ups in recent months.

When faced with adversity, libraries, as well as other institutions and organizations, must find new ways to serve the general public, regardless of economic status or other conditions. And especially in times of pandemic, when more people are confined to home and fewer stores are open, the dual desires to escape from daily life and to learn new things are both stronger than ever. We may therefore expect more such creative initiatives, largely focusing on electronic resources, in the future.

Story shared by Bill Berkowitz, United States of America.

More info here or at Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu

Laughter in a Time of Crisis

The city of Juneau, in the U.S. state of Alaska, normally has a hiking hotline for those seeking volunteer-led walks in the area. But when the pandemic struck, hiking programs were suspended. The hotline might have been suspended too, but local officials had a very different idea. They decided what was needed in this challenging time were some light-hearted moments, and a chance to laugh. So they turned their hiking phone number into a laugh line. Anyone who called heard a pre-recorded joke, usually with a bad pun. Example: “What kind of music is scary for balloons?” “Pop music!”

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

According to reports, the new laugh hotline was an immediate success — so much so that the line became overloaded. And suggestions for jokes have been received from across North America.

This example shows that it’s possible to turn a difficult situation into something positive and beneficial It does take creativity, and the ability and willingness to go beyond usual boundaries. It was surprising that the laugh line attracted so many people. But in a stressful time, laughter is a good coping tool, which helps people stay connected. And people need to laugh. In the words of a local parks and recreation employee, “After all, laughter is the best medicine.”

To hear a joke on the hotline, call (907) 586-0428. To submit a joke for hotline consideration, contact Parks.rec@juneau.org.

Story shared by Bill Berkowitz, United States of America.

More info here or at Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu