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My pet project this week…. I was going to post on the “What we had for Dinner” thread, only this would have been a “What we DIDN’T have for Dinner” entry, but I thought that might be hijacking that thread for other reasons.

Let me start by saying there is NOTHING wrong with feeding ourselves and our families well. Most eGulleters I’ve come to know are food junkies, and truly understand the importance of food in our lives – not just for nutrition, but as a sign of respect for our culture, the cultures of others, our celebrations, our losses, our together-ness, our individuality. Good food is an art, an act of love, an expression of one’s self. This post is in no way trying to minimize that reality.

Most of us have worked very hard to be able to buy luxurious ingredients, go to great restaurants, spend time in the kitchen. I so totally respect that – and I am also a serious food junkie with the rest of you all.

This last week, however, I got a thought in my head that wouldn’t go away…

Here in Portland, as is the case in many other traffic-congested urban cities, we have “metered” freeway onramps… you know, during rush hours, you approach the freeway and are stopped by a traffic light… you have to wait a few minutes until you get the “green” and can proceed onto the freeway. Homeless folks have learned that this is a good spot to show their sign (“Disabled”, “Vietnam Vet”, “Christian down on their Luck”).

Call me a sucker, but I am constitutionally incapable of passing them by… after all, I don’t flinch at paying $4.50 for a grande latte or frappicino…. I can’t afford to give a fellow human being a buck?

On Sunday of this week, I exited the highway (Portlanders will recognize the neighborhood of “Hollywood District”) and I was traveling along the freeway access road and noticed a concrete walkway between the access road and a commercial building. I remember thinking…. “If I were homeless that secluded area would be a good place to hang out”… it was private, well wooded and looked safe.

Lo and behold, I then saw three people, obviously homeless, who had made a place for themselves and their meager belongings.

So the “Julia Bag Project” was born. Read on…

"Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.”

Francois Minot

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I am not rich, and am currently challenged by some severe medical and mobility issues, so my philanthropism efforts are challenged from the start. I just knew, however, that with a little effort and some careful shopping, I could make a small difference in a few people’s lives. I was going to feed some folks.

I first realized there were many things to consider – lack of refrigeration, shelf-life of ingredients, average food likes and dislikes (no offal or liver, to be sure!), price of product.

I ended up by stopping at three stores – a chain grocery store, a “dollar store” and a chain drug store. For me, this is a full day of effort. I hate using my cane in public, but a grocery cart functions as a very efficient walker – without me having to look handicapped. With good planning, I can park near a grocery cart “corral” and use the cart to get inside, around and out of the store.

Every purchase I made for the “Julia Bags” was a choice in quantity versus quality. Could I have used an artisan bakery bread instead of cost-effective white store bread? Absolutely. It would have meant fewer “Julia Bags”. Brie or Manchego cheese instead of pasteurized American cheese? Sounds better…. But again, it would have meant fewer “Julia Bags”.

Did white bread and American cheese offer nutrition – carbs, protein, calcium, minerals? You bet.

I worried about food safety – so I avoided any and all use of mayo. I did not include potato salad or cole slaw in my bags. While I like lettuce and tomato on my sandwiches, I knew they would get soggy or make the bread soggy. I figured portability would be critical, as would easy “storage” when feeding folks with no home.

I did make a few choices just for the hell of it… I wanted a little dessert, but knew chocolate would melt and get messy… Not to mention it could get pricey. Do I like dark, semi-sweet chocolate nibbles? Of course! But again, I knew that would mean I could afford less “Julia Bags”. I found lollipops on sale instead.

So here is the end result: The first “Julia Bags” (I didn’t call them that to anyone – I only use that name in my mind, and in here.)

gallery_28847_1134_72072.jpg

(Sorry for the blurry pic...)

Two turkey and American cheese sandwiches (with butter, even I couldn’t economize with margarine!), an apple, an orange, a bag of “goldfish” crackers, an individual serving of some sort of “chips”, two bottles of water (bought on sale) and a lollipop. While I don’t use them myself, I included a couple of large paper napkins. (If a meal doesn’t deserve fabric napkins in my household, I use paper towels!)

More to follow...

"Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.”

Francois Minot

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I used recycled supermarket plastic bags, and loaded the car. I had 24 bags in all.

I had them handed out this morning in less than two hours. I first got on and off the expressway near my house, and found several grateful recipients. I went back to that spot in the Hollywood District and sat and talked to four men camping out there. I went to a park in the Lloyd Center neighborhood, which I figured was a good place to meet people with no home to go to, since it was on the outer edge of the Portland Public Transportation “free zone”. (You don’t have to have a ticket or pass to ride the “Tri-met – buses or trains – in the “free zone”.)

I don’t know how much I affected people’s lives, but I feel like a million bucks. For one day, it wasn’t about me, about cancer, about chemotherapy, about puking. Totally small price to pay for that luxury!

"Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.”

Francois Minot

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Things I’ll do different next time:

I tried very hard to find what we used to call “Wet Naps” – moistened, single serve towelettes. You used to get them with take-out food – especially BBQ, fried chicken and anything else messy. I figured they would be wonderful if you didn’t have regular access to showers – can you imagine how good they’d feel on your face? Oddly enough, I couldn’t find them in the three stores I visited… all three had hand sanitizer, but even the cheapest small bottle was a buck, and – you know it by now! – that meant fewer “Julia Bags”.

Next time I’ll either order them online or find a restaurant supply store that carries them.

I also want to be more careful about adding more veggies… carrot sticks will surely survive well, for example.

Next time it may be more cost effective to roast a turkey, a ham or a few chickens for sandwich meat instead of buying deli meat, even if it is on sale. I would like to find an alternative to American cheese as well, provided I can afford it.

I also have a fantasy that I can talk a small group into meeting me in the park so I can indulge my cooking love and provide a more substantial meal. Lasagna, salad, garlic bread? Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn? Since I’ve gotten sick, I can only eat very small amounts at a time, and traditional comfort foods are just too much for me alone.

I didn’t bring my digital camera – it just felt too weird to ask for a picture. Next time I’ll reconsider, and explain that by posting a picture, it will help humanize the problem of homeless and hunger. I will, of course, promise to not use their name, but I think it might make the other “projects” a little more personal.

I have always loved and supported “traditional” charity organizations – especially those heavily involved with food and food prep – Second Harvest, Habitat for Humanity, the Heifer Organization. I won’t stop that practice. BUT, it is a totally different experience to do something local, personal and up-close. If you’ve never tried it, please do. If you have, I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Cook on!

Julia

"Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.”

Francois Minot

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What you did is truly awe-inspiring! Especially as you seem to be dealing with debilitating health issues. I really admire you for this.

One thing, though... please be careful. Does anyone accompany you on these ventures?

Also, what about including a couple of those little bite-sized Hersey's candy bars? You could get one large pack of them really cheaply at a place like Sam's or Costco, and the people would love them!

Again, I think this project is so cool. It is inspiring me to do something similar in my own community...

-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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What a wonderful thing you're doing, Julia. I've put together smaller kits than you (just a sandwich and a slice of cake I made) and given them away around the holidays, but didn't think to include fruit for more nutritive value. When we did fundraisers in high school, we would go to larger businesses like Safeway and Subway and ask for food donations, and then charge students an entrance fee to the buffet. (The money went to an orphanage we supported in South America.)Places like Safeway donate to organizations like Second Harvest, so I'm pretty sure they'd be willing to support your project. :smile:

Edited by Ling (log)
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What a cool idea - I like the direct to the problem approach. As *soon* as I finish my dissertation, I'm going to take a day and do this. I'll post my results.

Did you keep track of the cost/time? It would be fun to know (and to see how low you could go)!

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Julia,

It is wonderful that you are doing this, especially at a time that you are clearly facing serious personal health challenges.

There is a lady in Vancouver who goes out every day to feed the homeless, of which we have a large population. She is disabled and rides a scooter, which she loads down with coffee, sandwiches, etc. I don't know her name, but I know all the street kids in the West End call her mom.

I truly believe that one person can make a difference. Maybe this will inspire some more of us to do something similar.

You have restored my optimism, at least for today :smile:

The sea was angry that day my friends... like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.

George Costanza

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Julia,

Your project is truly heart-warming and inspiring. I've occasionally given my restaurant leftovers to a homeless person, but have never had either the courage or motivation to try such an endeavor. Hopefully reading this may change that.

Kudos to you.

Karen C.

"Oh, suddenly life’s fun, suddenly there’s a reason to get up in the morning – it’s called bacon!" - Sookie St. James

Travelogue: Ten days in Tuscany

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Julia, that is totally beautiful.

I'm reminded a bit of Food Not Bombs, a totally decentralized movement to serve free dinners to homeless people. To be sure, that movement has very specific political agendas that might not be everybody's cup of tea. But regardless of the politics (or their dedication to vegetarianism), you might still find stuff in their logistics of running these food projects that you could adapt to your own purposes.

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Sometimes it's people like Julia that restore my faith in humanity. I always make a habit of passing on my restaurant leftovers to a homeless person, but I never have the kindness to take on such a project. Like duck, I hope that this will change.

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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How wonderful of you!

i tend to give away trail mix when i'm asked for either food or money or money for food. (not on purpose - but i tend to keep a bag on hand for myself at all times - and i'll give it away if asked).

I've often toyed with keeping an emergency food kit in the car - something like trailmix, some gum, a bottle of water and a couple of cigarettes.

good on you for actually doing something! I'm inspired now.

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I think you are doing a good thing and I applaud your efforts. Please keep in mind that some county and municipal government agencies take a dim view of home prepared food. Having read stories from Chicago and New York about people fined for handing out food in a similar manor, it was simple stuff like PB&J or baked potatoes.

I would hate to hear that your good works were taken the wrong way.

Living hard will take its toll...
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Julia,

A while ago my son and I would go on Midnight Runs with a local Methodist Church. Yes, literally in the middle of the night. Many bagged suppers were donated, as well as coffee, soup, water, toiletries, some clothes, and we went into NYC and passed them out.

One of the supper components was a hard-boiled egg (they had a suggested menu). So I just wanted to pass that on as a healthy, inexpensive, and I guess non-perishable item you might consider putting in your bags. Little pieces of candy, like Jolly Ranchers, are reasonably hearty, too.

We met some of the neatest people out in the middle of the night--how does it go? "There are a million stories in the naked city...." You know what I mean.

Good luck with the great work. Take care of yourself, too.

A

"I'm not looking at the panties, I'm looking at the vegetables!" --RJZ
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I think you are doing a good thing and I applaud your efforts. Please keep in mind that some county and municipal government agencies take a dim view of home prepared food. Having read stories from Chicago and New York about people fined for handing out food in a similar manor, it was simple stuff like PB&J or baked potatoes.

I would hate to hear that your good works were taken the wrong way.

This is just wrong.... I realize that some sickos might use some home-prewpped food as a vehicle for mayham, but can you imagine a government spending time and effort on fini ng folks who are just trying to be good world citizens?

How sad that this has come to that...

"Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.”

Francois Minot

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This is a wonderful start and I applaud your choice to make a difference. I do worry, though, that in a very short time you may start feeling overwhelmed, especially now as you are dealing with your illness. Please just take care of yourself first.

I often am involved in local oganizations like food banks and soup kitchens, and yes the need is always there. We usually have an easy time helping someone out who does have a home, but the homeless of course are a totally different story because they're always moving, and because anything you do leave them with can often be stolen by someone else.

For the Julia bags, try to eliminate those potato chips because they're really not very nutritious and are costly.... try to replace them with veggies or grains. If you want to do the work, you can take several different types of cereals that are inexpensive, cheaper dried fruits like raisins, peanut butter or yogurt chips, nuts and seeds, and make them up into a rice crispie square type of thing. Nutritious and a little sweet.... folks do eat them and can carry them around for a few days too. Try shopping in the bulk store for tht stuff.

I'm not sure what the social services are like in your city, but in Hamilton Ontario there's actually a church group with a small truck that goes out 3 times per day and stops in 3 set locations to give out hot meals to the homeless. (soup & sandwiches sort of thing, coffee/toast in the morning, + basic toiletries if anyone needs them.) See if there is anything like that in your area already.....because what you're doing is great but there is strength in numbers, and maybe the $$$ is already there for this type of service and all they need is volunteers.

Anyways, best of luck to you, and get well soon. :smile:

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Thanks to everyone for the nice words. I felt very safe and really met some nice people.

When I used to travel for business, I hated leaving leftovers at restaurants, but really could not use a "doggy bag". I was in New Orleans when a waiter told me to take the doggie bag and just leave it on top of a public trash bin (Back then, they were covered, but had a "slot" to throw your trash in...). I remember the first time was right on Bourbon Street. I never saw anyone pick it up, but it was gone in literally seconds! It became my "game" to see how fast my little offerings would disappear! Turned out to be a good way to avoid even leftovers from a bread basket from just getting tossed.

Do other cities have similar unwritten rules?

Surely "the man" can't bust you for that! :biggrin: (Actually, I guess you could busted for littering - sigh)

J.

"Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.”

Francois Minot

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This is just wrong.... I realize that some sickos might use some home-prewpped food as a vehicle for mayham, but can you imagine a government spending time and effort on fini ng folks who are just trying to be good world citizens?

How sad that this has come to that...

That's not to stop you from helping or they're not worried you'll be poisoning anyone...it's just because a lot of people don't know that much about food safety or proper food handling. Someone who has been homeless and had very poor nutrition for a while can have a compromised immune system, so skipping a meal or 2 or 3 is sometimes safer than consuming compromised food.

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[...]When I used to travel for business, I hated leaving leftovers at restaurants, but really could not use a "doggy bag".  I was in New Orleans when a waiter told me to take the doggie bag and just leave it on top of a public trash bin (Back then, they were covered, but had a "slot" to throw your trash in...).  I remember the first time was right on Bourbon Street.  I never saw anyone pick it up, but it was gone in literally seconds!  It became my "game" to see how fast my little offerings would disappear!  Turned out to be a good way to avoid even leftovers from a bread basket from just getting tossed.

Do other cities have similar unwritten rules?[...]

I had a conversation with my brother about that. In San Francisco, homeless people are happy to accept leftovers. In New York, I've found that they won't touch them. New Yorkers are more suspicious.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I tried very hard to find what we used to call “Wet Naps” – moistened, single serve towelettes. You used to get them with take-out food – especially BBQ, fried chicken and anything else messy.  I figured they would be wonderful if you didn’t have regular access to showers – can you imagine how good they’d feel on your face?  Oddly enough, I couldn’t find them in the three stores I visited… all three had hand sanitizer, but even the cheapest small  bottle was a buck, and – you know it by now! – that meant fewer “Julia Bags”.

Another option for immediate use would be baby wipes. Unless they're sealed in something they dry out after a couple of hours.

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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Good on you, eJulia. You are making a difference in the world, one starfish at a time. As much as the recipients of your efforts appreciated the food, I bet that even more, they appreciated being treated like people and your conversation with them. Its so easy to look away.

I used to keep bags of food in my car to hand out to the "will work for food" folks at so many intersections (grocery bag, cans of veg, stew, etc, small backpack style can-opener). I must start doing this again. Thank you for the reminder.

JPW beat me to it. Bulk baby wipes are relatively inexpensive. Several can be removed and folded neatly into small ziploc-type baggies. Even the cheapest baggie will suffice to keep them moist quite a while. Very labor-intensive tho.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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I just Googled "moist towelettes" and turned up a number of food-service and other links, such as this one. Yeah, this place has a minimum order of a case, but the price per case looks fairly manageable; and it doesn't look like they require you to be in the business to order off this site.

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I just Googled "moist towelettes" and turned up a number of food-service and other links, such as this one. Yeah, this place has a minimum order of a case, but the price per case looks fairly manageable; and it doesn't look like they require you to be in the business to order off this site.

Thanks, Ducky... I hadn't yet gotten around to research!

"Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.”

Francois Minot

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Your bag lunch idea is a perfect thing to do - esp in light of all that you are facing. I often debate handing out money to the panhandlers - I passed a couple with a sign saying they were hungry - but I usually keep going. On occassion, I will hand out a couple of bucks. What I need to do is come up with a non-perishable goodies bag to hand out so I can keep it in my car to disperse when I see someone in need. Bottled water, granola bars, raisins, maybe some beef jerky. Not cheap, but it the food won't spoil and I can be prepared. Thanks for the inspiration.

Edited by hazardnc (log)
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