Tiny homes, big hopes on Make a Difference Monday

I’ve worked with the homeless in one way or another for about fifteen years, in three states. And one of the things I have learned from so many of them is how easy it is to go from employed and “normal” to homeless almost overnight. And how very, very difficult it is to recover from the fall.

Those of us who have never lacked a place to call home can’t imagine the hurdles. It’s everything from having no place to bathe or store clothing to having no address to put down on a job application. It’s no proof of residence to get a driver’s license…or even a library card. It’s a thousand things those of us who have thankfully never been homeless cannot imagine.

That’s why projects like Mobile Loaves and Fishes Community First! Village are so critical to breaking the cycle of homelessness and letting people take the next step back into a normal life. This 27-acre planned community in Austin includes:

  • An innovative mix of affordable housing options
  • Places for study, and fellowship
  • Memorial garden and columbarium
  • A community garden featuring fruit and nut bearing trees and vegetables
  • A chicken operation, bee hives producing fresh honey and an aquaponics fish operation
  • A workshop with tool bank and art gallery for micro-enterprise opportunities
  • A medical facility for physical and mental health screenings and support services including hospice and respite care
  • Walking trails
  • An outdoor theater
  • Walking distance to public transportation
  • WiFi

The focus on Community First Village is to lift the disabled and chronically homeless permanently out of that life of uncertainty, illness and danger and offer them a chance. So far, 99 people have been reached by the Village, but there are still so many people here in Austin who need that helping hand. The goal of this project is to help 225 people permanently leave the world of homelessness and move on with dignity.

Several organizations around Austin are working with Mobile Loaves and Fishes to build more micro-housing and provide needed services for the residents. Some are raising money to build a micro-home…and then planning to work on the actual construction. Others are raising funds or offering their time for the support services the Village needs like help with gardens, health care or providing finishing touches like linens and kitchen needs. Everyone can help in some way.

Everyone deserves a chance to have a space to call their own, whether it’s a grand house or a tiny microhome. After all, to paraphrase Horton (my favorite Dr. Seuss character!), “A home is a home, no matter how small.”  Please help Austin’s homeless find a place to call home.

Mobile Loaves & Fishes is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization helping Austin residents in need regardless of their religious affiliation. 

The Specs

903 South Capital of Texas Highway
Austin, Texas 78746
(512) 328-7299

http://mlf.org/pave-the-way-home/

Two ways to fill hungry bellies, save lives this season

I usually reserve Mondays for posts about organizations and events helping the people and pets of Austin. But this time I’m making an exception because the causes are too good and the need is too great to wait even a few more days.

stuff the bus logo 2014

Stuff the Bus 

Capital Metro and Whole Foods are working to bring 30,000 much needed meals to hungry families in the Austin area, and they need your help to cram those buses full of tasty, healthy food.

Here’s the deal, in their own words because I couldn’t say it better if I tried:

This holiday season, Capital Metro, Whole Foods Market and the Capital Area Food Bank work in unison to help feed hungry Central Texans by hosting the 3rd Annual “Stuff the Bus” food drive Dec. 12-14!  Help us fill 2 entire Capital Metro buses with food to provide 30,000 meals for families in need. Donate non-perishable food items at any Central Texas Whole Foods Market store Dec. 12-14!

Three ways to participate: 

  • Bring your donations from home: Drop-off at any in-store collection bin OR take donations straight to the two buses parked at the Downtown and Domain stores!
  • Visit Whole Foods Market Dec. 12-14 and fill a brown bag with non-perishable items OR purchase pre-packed brown bags at the Downtown store.
  • Add a donation dollar amount to your final in-store purchase total at the register.

Bus Collection Sites: Open Dec. 12-14 | 10 am – 6 pm 

  • Whole Foods Market Downtown: 525 N Lamar Blvd.
  • Whole Foods Market Domain: 11920 Domain Drive

All proceed benefit the Capital Area Food Bank. 

Of course, all food needs to be in its orginal, sealed packaging. And only non-perishable foods can be accepted. It’s so simple to add a few cans and boxes of food to your next shopping trip or two, or buy one of the prepackaged food bags at Whole Foods and they’ll take care of getting it on tables that might otherwise be empty.
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And lest pet-friendly Austin neglects its beloved furry citizens, there is another awesome campaign running to keep dog and cat bowls filled.

Pound for Pound Food Drive

The Pound for Pound Food Drive

Tomlinson pet food has launched their annual double-the-donations food drive to benefit homeless pets and rescue groups throughout Austin. Here’s how it works, in their own words:

“Our annual food drive for local animal rescues is on. From Black Friday to Christmas Eve, all food donations made will be DOUBLED–pound for pound.
Here’s how you can help:

  1. Drop by any Tomlinson’s location.  (There are nine locations around Austin.)
  2. Upon checkout, donate a small, medium, or large bag of pet food.
  3. Check a box for the rescue to which you would like your donation to go.

After Dec. 24, we will collect your donations–doubled by our generous vendors–and distribute them to your choice of the following rescues:

Austin Boxer Rescue
Austin Dog Rescue
Austin Siamese Rescue
Animal Trustees 4Paws
Bastrop Animal Shelter
Blue Dog Rescue
Canyon Lake Animal Shelter
Central Texas SPCA
Diamond Dachshund Rescue
Greyhound Rescue Central TX
Love-A-Bull
Pawsitive Karma
Pug Rescue of Austin
San Antonio Dusty Paws
TX Great Pyrenees
TX Humane Heroes
Texas Sweeties
Thundering Paws
Wags, Hope, & Healing
Wee Rescue

Their goal? To provide 100,000 of pet food. That’s enough to feed 400 homeless dogs for all of 2015!

So now you see why I couldn’t wait until Monday to share this information!  We all need to help get the word out, too. Won’t you please share this post or the information in it with everyone you know in Austin? Hungry people and pets are counting on you to keep their tummies full.

Pass it on, please!

Junking, Gypsies and a good cause

Junk Gypsy Yard Sale I usually try to write about places you can go again and again. But sometimes I have to make an exception.This is one of those one-off events that’s too good to pass up.

On November 15th, Texas’ own Junk Gypsies will be helping out the Round Top-Carmine school with a very special yard sale at Junk Gypsy World Headquarters in Round Top, Texas.

2014-09-28 15.57.42

Not only will Amie and Jolie be there (the Junk Gypsies themselves), fresh off their stardom as co-hosts for the CMA  Awards, the Great American Country network will be on hand to film the event!  If you’re near Round Top, or want to take a drive out there between now and sale day, they’re collecting goodies for the sale at the shop. Think vintage, collectible and of course, glitter and glam!

The Specs

1215 Texas 237
Round Top, TX 78954

(979) 249-5865

Sale starts at 10 am

Junk Gypsy Facebook

iACT is changing lives in Austin – Make A Difference Monday


iACT Hands on Homes project AustinYesterday, my family and I got to help change someone’s life. Now that might sound like an big, unlikely thing, but it’s true.

We spent the day working with other iACT (Interfaith Action of Central Texas) volunteers to paint someone’s home. The woman who graciously allowed us to work with her on her home is a senior and a recent widow. Her husband had been ill and disabled for some time before he passed, so between time and lack of income, things on the home they had owned for three decades had fallen behind.

Her home repairs and painting were part of iACTS’ Hands On Housing program which brings together willing volunteers and skilled home repair professionals to “repair the homes of senior citizens and disabled individuals who are living in deep poverty.”  Teams gather for work days at the clients’ homes, and fix them up so these struggling long-term residents can remain in their Central Texas homes, giving continuity to our neighborhoods.

So what was it like? It was wonderful! And hard. Our group of volunteers and professionals ranged in age from teens to 60+. There were lifetime locals, transplants and immigrants. There were Christians and Muslims and Jews. And everyone worked. We scraped and painted. We worked and we got to know each other. And we were blessed to get to know the homeowner, too. We all shared our stories from the tops of ladders, over pizza when we took a break to eat, and while we were stirring paint. We painted trim and shutters. We painted the sides and the back.

Painting shutters at iACT Austin

At the end of the day, the whole house was painted and beautiful. Earlier in the project, plumbing issues had been addressed. At the end of the project, a valuable member of Austin had a home she could once again safely live in with pride. And a group of strangers had gotten to know each other.

I am always amazed by the power of volunteer action to bring together people who might never otherwise meet. And to accomplish so much with so little time and limited resources. So yes, yesterday my family and I got to help change someone’s life. Thank you iACT! And thank you to the wonderful lady who invited us to her home to help.

iACT is a registered 501 (c)(3) non-profit. They work with faith communities and partner organizations throughout Central Texas. If you would like to get your faith community involved, volunteer for projects or donate your professional skills or building materials, new paint or make a monetary donation, please check out their website or contact them at iact@interfaithtexas.org. 

The Specs

2921 E 17th Street
Building D, Suite 3
Austin, TX 78702

(512) 386-9145

http://www.interfaithtexas.org/

Healthy and TASTY meals from a can? A special post on affordable cooking

pot pie

Let me start by saying food banks are wonderful. They’re a lifeline to put food on otherwise empty kitchen shelves, and keep hunger at bay when the budget doesn’t support a trip to the grocery store. At one point in my life, a box of typical food bank canned and boxed food that appeared on my porch was a lifesaving gift, so I know what I’m talking about.

But one of the biggest challenges facing people trying to use a food bank to survive is how to build healthy, tasty meals from canned and packaged foods. Even after my own financial crisis had passed, my single mom days were often filled with trying to make healthy, tasty meals for my kids and I from the case-lot canned good section of the grocery store, or even what was on the shelves at Dollar Tree. If you’ve never experienced that, let me tell you, it’s hard!

The Capital Area Food Bank here in Austin understands that struggle. That’s why they’ve asked local Canned-Food-Month-Badge-Featuredbloggers in the Austin Food Blogger Alliance to come up with a family friendly, low cost dinner using canned goods  likely to be found in a food bank. I jumped at the challenge, because I understand the need!

(Before I share the recipe, I need to let you know that even a meal as simple as this one is hard to make when you’re counting pennies. Food banks seldom include spices or seasonings on their shelves, simply because people don’t think to donate them, so making food flavorful is hard.  I chose to include them here, because the availability of bulk spices in local grocery stores like HEB makes it more affordable to get a small amount for under a dollar, and make a big impact on flavor. ) 

I started with a selection of canned good typical for a food pantry. Selecting a variety of vegetables means you’ll end up with a meal that’s heavy on nutrition. If low sodium versions are available, do select those cans.

canned goods

Vegetable (or Chicken) Pot Pie
6-8 small pot pies or one large casserole

Ingredients

Crust:

packets of biscuit mix

  • 2 packets biscuit mix (available at many food banks, or for .50/packet at HEB
  • 1/2 can evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed)

Filling

  • 1 can peas, drained
  • 1 can carrots, drained
  • 1 can potatoes, drained (diced, if not already diced from the can)
  • 1 can corn, (do not drain)
  • 1 can green beans (do not drain)
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped

whole onion

  • 1/2 can vegetable broth
  • 1/2 can condensed cream soup (mushroom, potato, chicken, etc.,), low fat if available
  • 1/2 can evaporated milk
  • 1 can cooked chicken, tuna or turkey or one block tofu (optional)*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning

poultry seasoning

  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions

  • In a bowl, combine biscuit mix with 1/2 can of evaporated milk (or 1/2 cup regular milk)
  • Mix and set aside.
  • In a large sauce pan, combine all the vegetables, broth, remaining 1/2 can of milk, 1/2 can of condensed soup and seasoning.
  • Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until onions start to soften

pot pie filling

  • Make an egg-sized ball of the dough and pat it into the bottom of a pot pie tin or small loaf pan (I bought a package of 5 mini-loaf pans at Target for $1.45)

OR

  • Pat one half of the dough into the bottom of a 9 x 9 baking pan
  • Fill pans to within 1/2 inch of top of the pan(s)

filled pot pie

  • Pat out remaining dough to cover each pot pie (or the large pot pie.)

unbaked pot pies

  • Make 3 -4 small slits in the top of the crust
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes (or 45 minutes for a large pie)
  • Serve hot, in the pan or inverted onto a plate

Baked pot pieIf you have any leftover filling, as I did, mix the filling with the remaining broth mix and condensed soup. Add some extra milk, broth or water to make a nice cream soup to serve with another meal.

These pot pies freeze well. If you’re not planning on eating them immediately, assemble them, then freeze. Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees, or until hot in the center.

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* I don’t eat meat, so I used vegetarian protein sources. Tofu, at about a dollar a package is a great choice for vegetarians on a budget who want to make this dish.

It’s Puppies! Austin Dog Rescue on Make a Difference Monday

Lindsay and a PuppyAustin Dog Rescue and a puppy to hug…gotta love it!

Over the past few days, Austin Dog Rescue has been offering a Puppy Kissing Booth in honor of Valentine’s Day. It’s a great way to celebrate the holiday (raise your hand if your pets give you more love than most people!), and a fun way to show off the puppies looking for their forever homes in Austin.

Mimi, one of the adorable dogs at Austin Dog Rescue

But as much as I loved the cuddles (as you can see in that first shot, where she snuggled up against my neck, and fell asleep!), I really enjoyed learning more about this wonderful group.

Austin is known for its focus on animal rescue and no-kill shelters, but that’s not an easy thing to pull off. Caring for dogs until the right home is found is expensive, and requires a committed group of volunteers who will work with the pups until they’re adopted.

Pile of Valentines puppies

And when it comes to Austin Dog Rescue, that also means finding the right foster home for each and every dog accepted into the group. Unlike rescues based in shelters, which are another essential piece of the animal rescue puzzle, these puppies and adult dogs are cared for in private homes where they can spend time socializing with people and other pets.

That home-based care was the goal when the group was founded in 2006. And since that start, it has worked to help them place over 1,000 homeless pups in loving homes in and around Austin. But they’re not done. Even after all those forever homes were found, there are still so many wonderful dogs waiting for their own home. And new homeless dogs appear every day.

Austin Dog Rescue event

The pups are great, but it all comes down to the volunteers

At Sunday’s event, I loved meeting the amazing rescue volunteers almost as much as playing with the dogs. There were teens and there were seniors, and all ages in between.  Some were foster moms and dads. Others were event volunteers. But you could see that each and every one of them loved these pups.

If you’re thinking about adding a pup to your family, please celebrate one of the best aspects of Austin and head to a rescue group like Austin Dog Rescue, Austin Pets Alive, Austin Cats’ Angels instead of a breeder or a pet shop. The love — and the chance to save a life —  is there waiting for you!

Austin Diaper Bank helps young and old (Make a Difference Monday)

Austin Diaper Bank logoCan you imagine not being able to buy diapers for your baby? Or being a senior citizen in need of adult diapers, but with a limited income?

Diapers and other personal care needs aren’t covered by programs like Food Stamps. They’re not available at most food banks.

But if you have a baby or toddler, they’re not optional either. Lack of enough diapers to keep a baby clean can lead to a whole host of physical and behavioral problems. And now researchers are finding a link between being unable to afford diapers and a mom’s increased risk for depression. Which of course, then affects her ability to care for an uncomfortable, fussy baby — or a baby who may even be in pain with severe diaper rash and other infections. It’s becomes a downward spiral in which no one wins.

And for older people in need of incontinence protection, having adult diapers can mean the difference between going out in public at all…or becoming a recluse.

Cloth diapers might sound like an option for people with children, but the laundry costs can quickly become financially prohibitive for that, too. Especially if, like so many people in apartments, you don’t have a washer and dryer at home. (Trust me…I did the cloth diaper route! It was hard to keep up even WITH a washer and dryer!) Add to that the fact that most day care programs won’t accept a child in cloth diapers, and you have a secondary economic issue.

Thank goodness there are people stepping in to help to fill this need here in Austin. I met the ladies behind the Austin Diaper Bank at a Texas M.I.L.K. event a few months ago. I learned that the group was the idea of founder Beverly Hamilton. She read about a similar program in other cities across the country, and was touched by the impact of the programs on the lives of children and families. But when she learned that Austin had no such program, she stepped into the void. The Austin Diaper Bank was born in June of 2013.

“There are many reasons people need help with diaper costs,” the volunteers told me. “It could be a family living in poverty, a job loss, a divorce or an illness. And with seniors, it’s an on-going problem as income doesn’t keep up with higher prices.”

The program is currently run out of the director’s home, but is looking for help with renting a space so they can accept more donations, sort and repackage them, and get them out to the growing numbers of families in need.  The group has already taken in and distributed over 50,000 diapers to date. But the need keeps expanding.

So how can you help? So glad you asked! Austin Diaper Bank is always in need of diapers, volunteers to sort, package and deliver diapers and to get the word out. Check out their How YOU Can Assist ADB in 2014 page for the details. That package or two of baby, toddler or adult diapers you donate could make a big difference to a family in crisis.