Saturday, November 5, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 5: Football, Food and Volunteering

Day 5. The weekends will be a challenge, although theoretically I should have more time to write. It's 10:23 pm now, let's see what I can bang out in 1.5 hours.
OK, this pic is a couple of years old but it's me and Jonathan "Jet Ski" Franklin, UCLA star running back. Just had to post, because we were at the thrilling game where UCLA eked out a 1-point win over Arizona State to tie for first place in the Pac-12 South. It wasn't always pretty but a win's a win.

Earlier today, I volunteered with a group of Anderson alums and current students, as well as University of Virginia alums, at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. I hadn't ever been there but I've known about it and its good work since years ago. I might have even donated money some time ago.

So I met up with some friends there, and there were lots of other groups there, from KPMG, various USC student and alumni groups, and others. Probably, oh I don't know, 100 people in total? Maybe more. So we broke up into groups and were put into different areas of the warehouse to sort produce, bread and other foods. The UCLA/UVA group sorted bread and squash.

Anyway, the only reason I mention this is, while I realize the need for organizations like the LA Regional Food Bank, I must say I'm still not comfortable with groups like ours volunteering for just a few hours one Saturday. It's a little hard to articulate, and I was talking to a friend last night and couldn't quite get across what I wanted to say.

So here's my beef (no pun intended) - I could be totally off, but I feel like well-to-do people use volunteer opportunities like this to feel good about themselves, like they're so concerned about the plight of the poor or the homeless or whoever is being served. In the meantime, they continue to drive their luxury cars, go out to eat at expensive steakhouses and shop at Whole Foods.

After they're done with their three hours of volunteer work looking at donated bread to make sure there is no mold, no holes, and there are nutrition facts and expiration dates on the package and packing them into boxes, they go on their merry way, not giving the social ills plaguing the poor and disenfranchised much through for the rest of the year.

Maybe, just maybe, they do go back to their daily lives and urge their Congress people or state legislators to do something about the unemployment rate, or the cost of health care, or the cost of child care, or the cost of housing. Maybe they also donate money to the food bank or other organizations that help feed the poor. Maybe they run their own businesses and actively create jobs and hire locally. Maybe they're blogging about their experiences and getting the word out among their friends and family to encourage them to do something. Do they support raising taxes to increase services to the poor? Do they protest cuts to Medicare, food stamps, and education? Maybe, hopefully.

I think that because I am more used to thinking about root causes of social issues like hunger and joblessness and trying to address them at that level rather than the immediate needs, that I feel kind of frustrated at people who eagerly volunteer to drive to south LA for a few hours and think they're helping to eradicate hunger or poverty.

My friend had also done this type of volunteering at the food bank several times in the past, and she was telling me that the reason why she did it was because there is a real, immediate need now and that's what she wanted to address, even though she knew it doesn't do anything about the long-term root causes.

I think what bothers me is how easy it seems to get a 100-person turnout for a 3-hour stint like this, while I'm not sure that these people, or their friends and family, will come out to a rally at City Hall, let's say, to protest the number of homes foreclosed upon in the city, or lobby their local representatives about the issue.

I know I'm not doing as much as I should or could be about all these root causes, and admittedly, mine was one of the luxury cars lining 41st Street this morning, so I'm being a bit hypocritical. But as I watched all the Mercedes, BMWs, Infinitys, and other cars, I couldn't help but to wonder - if all of us donated $1,000 a year, which surely we could afford if we're able to afford these cars, to nonprofits like the food bank or CPAF or LTSC, or even foundations like the California Endowment, how much more effectively can we address the root causes?

Just wondering.

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