#SIMPLEGiving Starts Young

Disclosure: Below is information that was provided to me about the SIMPLEGiving  program. I chose to participate on behalf of Champions for Kids and The Motherhood. All opinions are my own.

Did you know that 16 million American children live in poverty? Many of these kids don’t have reliable access to the nutritious snacks that help them thrive and succeed both academically and socially.

This fact glared me in the face as I read the email from TheMotherhood asking my family to participate in a Champions for Kids / Dole Game Day Great #SIMPLEGiving Blog Tour and Twitter Party. Let me be for real, hunger is real and I didn’t need an email to tell me that but I did need to take a moment and remember this.

You see, there are kids on our street that run off the 3:12 school bus to empty homes. There’s no one home to ask them if they’ve had a good day. No one home to celebrate the challenges they overcame. No one home to help them power through 5 pages of homework. No one home to provide a healthy snack to fuel them to be thrivers. This breaks my heart, but there is something we can do to help out. 

Here’s what The Motherhood had to share with me:

Throughout the month of August, Champions for Kids is partnering with Dole to encourage community projects across the country benefiting children in need. Called SIMPLE Service Projects, the idea is to host or organize an event to collect snack foods that you would then donate to a local organization that serves children in need, such as a food pantry, after-school program or daycare center.

As our SIMPLE Service Project, my family and I will be collecting snack foods (single servings of non-perishable items – the healthier, the better) to donate to our local food bank so that the kids on our street don’t have to go hungry. We’re a family of snackers, and I am 100% certain it’s why we have the health we do. Always fueling our bodies to be thrivers. I can’t imagine how the ‘lil ones who come home hungry after a long day of school must feel having to wait until dad or mom gets home at 6 or 7 to get dinner started. And I don’t want to miss an opportunity to help out. We’ll be having a “Fire Pit Friday” this week, inviting our family and friends (hey, that’s you!) to join us and get some fresh air – all we ask in exchange is that you bring a snack food donation. We have a goal to fill up 10 of these totes – and I’d love to see the look on the kids’ eyes if we can make it happen.

We’ve always believed that giving starts young – and this drive is no different. The kids don’t really get it when I tell them there are hungry kids all around us, kids without snacks to give them the energy the need to run and play or the brain power to count to 10. Yet, they have giving hearts and know that it’s our duty to help others out when we have a ‘lil extra. (How awesome is it that Champions for Kids agrees, “Helping others does not have to come in large doses. Champions for Kids seeks to ignite generational change by fostering a ‘habit of giving’ among youth and parents in America.”?!?! Love, love, love this.

Hopefully we’ll see you  on Friday with some snacks. I promise chocolate and hugs in return.

Want to help out? Comment below and I’ll be in touch with more details. 

Can’t make it but want to have your own SIMPLE Service Project? Visit Champions for Kids for more information and to share the project you take on for the cause in your life. Share with us, too! 

Coming to the event and not sure what to bring? Here are some suggestions from Dole: 

  • Dole offers a number of terrific, portable and nutritious snacks perfect for game day, including Dole Fruit Bowls and Dole Fruit Squish’ems.
  • Dole Fruit Squish’ems squeezable fruit pouches are a delicious and nutritious snack that is just a fun squeeze away. Fruit Squish’ems gives parents an easy way to get more fruit/healthy snacks into their kids’ diets. Each pouch contains 1 Full Serving of All Natural Fruit that has 60 calories and contains 20% daily value of vitamin C. Dole Fruit Squish’ems is made with Fresh Apples only from the USA and have no High Fructose Corn Syrup or any artificial flavors.
  • Dole Fruit Bowls come in many varieties, including fruit in 100% juice, fruit packed in gel, or fruit with no sugar added. Dole offers lots of choices, such as pineapple, tropical fruit, pears, peaches, apples and more, so there is something for every taste.

Fun Fore All to End Childhood Hunger

Think of five children you know. Mine can be two of them, why not.

Of those five children, it’s likely that one of the five is affected by Childhood Hunger (based on a stat that I was given for this post).

Now think about you as an adult. How does it feel when you are hungry? Not so good, right? Likely, you’re able to get yourself something to satisfy that hunger (and if you’re not, head on over to www.pittsburghfoodbank.org to get some assistance – it’s a judge free zone). But that feeling of hunger is not so fun. When I am hungry, I am mean and unstable. I can’t think. I can’t do anything but crave food NOW.

Go back to those kiddos you thought of. If one of them is lacking proper nutrition because their family does not have the resources to feed them, they are likely going to suffer in school, have short and long term health issues, or have behavioral problems.

Hopefully I am  not the only one whose heart gets heavy when they hear this information. Actually, I know I am not. The Kids Campaign to End Hunger (through Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank) makes sure that kids get enough to eat. They also educate children about how to help, organize fundraisers, and provides volunteer opportunities to raise awareness and support.

That’s where the Fun Fore All comes in. Fun Fore All is a miniature golf event that will be held on Saturday, May 31 at Fun Fore All in Cranberry Township. The cost to participate is $25 per person which includes 18 holes of miniature golf, a swag bag with goodies, lunch, and a Putting an End to Hunger t-shirt. You can enter a foursome, or attend as a single, double, or triple group and be paired up with other awesome ‘Burghers who are there to help with the cause, too.

Greg and I will be there, and we’d love to have you join us, too. Tickets are available for purchase through this link and proceeds from the event will go toward Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s Kids Campaign to End Hunger.

Let’s do one ‘lil thing to help in a big way, Pittsburgh. Hearts.

Fun Fore All


Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank facts from 2012-2013:
  • Distributed 27,014,117 pounds of food and other essential items to low-income individuals and families
  • Completed 186 Produce to People distributions, serving 16 distressed neighborhoods and 198,399 people and distributing nearly 3.7 million pounds of food and non-food products
  • Expanded the Summer Food Service Outreach Program to Somerset and Butler Counties and are continuing outreach in Fayette, Beaver, Lawrence, and Greene Counties, serving nearly 10,000 children
  • Collected 475,040 pounds of food and non-food products, valued at $802,817, through community food drives
  • Harvested 114,903 pounds of produce (that otherwise would have gone to waste) from local farms during 47 gleaning sessions
  • Purchased forklifts, freezers, and other essential equipment to help our member agencies better accommodate the families they serve
  • Engaged 13,333 volunteers (including 4,280 new volunteers) for a total of 70,043 service hours, helping them repackage and distribute food to people in need
  • Increased distribution of healthy produce by more than 900,000 pounds, distributing 5,972,903 pounds
  • Conducted 260 Speaker’s Bureau presentations in the region, reaching 18,694 people


Disclaimer: I was asked to share the above information as part of a campaign with The Motherhood. That means I was compensated to be a Blogger Ambassador, but all opinions are my own.

Be My Neighbor

Disclaimer: This post contains sponsored content. All opinions, however, are 100% my own.

It’s been a few months since we’ve really seen our neighbors (thank you, winter). Soon, the neighborhood will be bustling with people out on their porches and enjoying the spring weather. (We even had the ice cream truck roll through already!) It’s an exciting time if you have and are a good neighbor, right?

Growing up as a child in the Mister Roger’s generation *my own term*, I was always singing cheerful songs about being a good neighbor. As an adult, I’ve found it’s not always easy to be a good neighbor, but it’s important to be a good neighbor. Why? Because we all want to live in a neighborhood like Mister Roger’s, didn’t you? It was a beautiful invitation, one I hope to model and pass on to my kids.

Logo courtesy of bemyneighborday.org

Be My Neighbor Day is one way to share Mister Rogers’ legacy of being neighborly. It is held the Saturday after Mister Roger’s birthday (March 20) and brought to Pittsburgh by United Way and WQED. Families will be able to participate in activities that benefit the community (including a sweater drive) and help kids practice being neighborly.

You’re invited to take part in Be My Neighbor Day this Saturday (March 22) at one of four Pittsburgh YMCA locations: Baierl Family YMCA (Sewickley), Western Area YMCA (Coraopolis), Penn Hills YMCA, or Thelma Lovett YMCA (Centre Avenue). The event is FREE, and you can get more information here: www.bemyneighborday.org

If you can’t make it, still check out the site for ideas about being nieghborly. There are plenty of ways you can be a good neighbor, including these tips inspired by the “Neighbor Day” episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood:

  • Volunteer!:  Check out your local food bank, library or neighborhood park for opportunities for your family to contribute, whether it is going through your house with your preschooler and donating extra canned goods or old books  or helping plant brand-new trees!
  • Play outside and meet new people!:  Bring your young children for a fun visit at the neighborhood playground, so they can make new friends and interact with old friends, too!
  • Ask to help!:  When your family sees someone who might need a hand, offer it!  Work together with an elderly neighbor who needs extra assistance in their yard or even have your preschooler help take care of a friend’s pet while they’re away on an end-of-summer trip.  You can also just talk with your child about times when you helped someone in need.
  • Smile and say, hello!:  Sometimes the littlest things makes the biggest difference!  When you are walking through your own neighborhood with your kids, greet passing neighbors with a friendly smile and a “hello” – you might just brighten someone’s day!
  • Make Coupons for Giving: Help your child create homemade paper coupons for kind and helpful acts, like “a hug,” “help with household chores” or “reading a book to a younger sibling.”

Aren’t those great? My family needs to get better at meeting new people in our neighborhood. After four years of living on our street, I am sad to say that I can only name about 5 people on our busy street. Thanks to these tips, I am inspired to get to know some more people this summer. Which of the tips will your family use first? 

Thank you to The Motherhood for sharing the details about Be My Neighbor Day with me so I could share with you!

Be My Neighbor Day

Firehouse Subs Bringing Aid to Oklahoma

Are you sitting on your couch flipping your eyes between your Twitter feed refreshing your OKC search and your TV tuned to The Weather Channel? (Sorry if you have grand illusions of me out partying on a Friday night, I am an old soul.) The destruction hitting Oklahoma (as well as Missouri and Illinois) tonight just adds to the impact of the tornado in Moore two weeks ago. In an interesting timing silo, I was e-mailed about how Firehouse Subs is bringing aid to Oklahoma.

Remember when I told you about Firehouse’s Foundation? Well, the Foundation has already been at work to help survivors and first responders in Oklahoma:

Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation has already hit the ground in Moore, Oklahoma from their Tulsa, Ft. Smith, Stillwater and Norman locations, feeding more than 2,000 box lunches to first responders and survivors thus far. The Foundation will also help fire, police and EMS in the affected areas with the opportunity to request life-saving equipment to enhance future rescue and recovery as well as replace any equipment lost in the disaster.
Utilizing the Foundation’s Round Up program, Firehouse Subs is teaming up with guests across the nation to aid residents and hometown heroes in need. Restaurants are asking guests to “round up” their bill to the nearest dollar throughout the month of June–all funds raised will be used toward Oklahoma disaster relief.
And with tonight’s added weather, I am sure that they’ll continue the efforts. If you live near a Firehouse Subs (we have three in the Pittsburgh area) you can donate in the restaurant. Don’t live near a Firehouse Subs but still want to help out? Click here to donate.
source: www.firehousesubs.com

Three Days

One of these days, I will be back and regularly sharing stories with you. For now, I am in final countdown mode. In three days, the goal I have been training for will be met. I will have completed the Pittsburgh Half Marathon.

I will be celebrating Genre, thanking my supporters for helping me raise money for Kids With Cancer.

I will know my kids are cheering for me from a safe distance with my parents, understanding that Boston changed our plans but didn’t take our spirit.

I will probably not know what to do with myself, because my training will be complete and my life will be “mine” again.

But…I will not forget a moment from today that proves I have changed.

Me: I will be back soon, it is only three miles. That’s not far!

Greg: Cool, we will be here.

Me: Wow. Only three miles! A few years ago, that would have been, “it is okay to go off this exit, the Ponderosa is only three miles off it”.

Change is good.

Hopefully you will cheer me on. Whether from afar or along the Half Marathon course. You have all been great so far. And for that…I thank you.

Willis Family at the Park

Run For a Reason: I’m IN for the Half (And Need YOU!)

Okay, you guys. I am seriously shaking.

Today, I decided to bite the bullet and register to “Run for a Reason” for the Pittsburgh Marathon’s Half Marathon. My mind and body fought, but after attending an event where the Race Director (Patrice Matamoros) spoke about why people do the marathon, I couldn’t just sit there and say “I wish I had done that, I had it in me.”

I lost 88 pounds. I lost my best friend to cancer. I ran 2 5ks. I did Mud on the Mountain. I birthed two babies. I was a single mom. I moved every 3-4 years as a kid. I moved to South Carolina on a whim and prayer. I moved home on another whim and prayer. I have no freaking excuse to not be able to do this. I can take this half and kick it.

Right? But here’s the thing. I really, really need your help. If I don’t raise the $350 for Genre’s Kids with Cancer Fund, I am going to have to foot the entire $350 registration fee myself. Those are crazy scary odds. Scarier than me worrying about finishing the half.

But what is even scarier is being a kid and having Cancer. Genre’s Kids With Cancer fund seemed like the most logical charity to run for. Genre fought and won against cancer, and now this young man (12 years old, he was 8 when diagnosed in 2009!) is doing more for others. Helping get sick kids toys and games to pass their time at Children’s Hospital (where Wendy was treated) and keep their mind off the c-word. Helping parents with the financial burden of traveling for treatments. Helping everyone to spiritually deal with the impact of cancer. It’s just such good stuff, that I can’t NOT do this for him, for the sick kids, for Wendy.

Source: Genre’s Site

If every person who read my “ONEDerland” post gave just $3, I’d have this thing beyond in the bag.

If every Twitter follower gave $0.50, I’d be above and beyond my goal.

If every Facebook friend gave $1, I’d be there.

For some reason, I think my network, my CROWD, could put this in the bag for me this week. Right?

We together would raise a ton of money for kids with cancer. But I know my friends, family, and network. You guys have pushed me. You’ve held me when I’ve fallen. And you can help me raise this $350 in no time. No pressure, but I need half of it by the end of this month!

So, how are you going to help me? Who is in to be the first to give to my goal? And even more importantly, who is in on Cinco de Mayo to join one of the neighborhood festivals and stand along the race path and cheer me on?

I’ve got this, right?

Help me to help the kids (and to cross that finish line). Visit my CrowdRise page and donate here: http://www.crowdrise.com/genreskidspghmarathon/fundraiser/mrsgregwillis. If you’d prefer, Email Me to donate privately or via cash/check.

Have a few extra moments? Check out Genre addressing the crowd at the Marathon Press Conference. Trust me, it’s worth your time.

We All Have Our Crazy

We all have some version of crazy in us, trust me.

My crazy is my loyalty. I will be loyal to the end, no matter how evil people can be to me. Case in point, my life in 2006-2008. I moved to South Carolina with my then boyfriend and I thought things would be peachy for the rest of my life.

I was wrong.

Six months later, I had an engagement ring on my ring finger…right beside a broken pinky due to the fact I didn’t iron a polo shirt collar. I continued to live a life of lies, hiding bruises under long sleeve shirts in summer weather and standing up for the person who took me down so far.

It was easy to hide, and hide I did. I was hours away from family and surrounded by people who only knew what little I shared. I was not myself, the strong World Ready Woman produced at Chatham.

Finally it went far enough that I called the police, but the only thing that came of that was a long overdue breakup followed by months of repeat offenses until I finally cut the ties for good.

You are probably wondering why I am sharing this, and why tonight in this time of holiday cheer. It is because we all have our crazy.

You see, I was in tears an hour ago…

I was chilling after a busy day and decided it was time to buy some toys to go toward Michelle’s Christmas Crazy efforts. She buys toys each year to go to people in need…specifically women and children in domestic violence shelters. Women who are in (probably worse) situations than I was in.

The tie for me is helping to provide for women who are where I would have been if I had kept on pushing my crazy against someone else’s crazy. And so, I felt it right to pick out some toys and purchase them for the cause.

But let me get back go those tears. As I looked through the toys, I connected. There were toys for all ages. Toys for kids of every race (love! I picked out a Kira Barbie). There was a Princess Tiana costume (Arianna demanded I buy this for the kids). And then, the tears.

A Little People airplane. Mom, are you still reading and crying too? You see, my parents and I got this for Arianna to celebrate her first flight. The flight that moved her to PA after I decided to move home with my ‘ill girl following a year of dealing with pain, pregnancy, and emotional behaviors after my breaking point. In the cart it went.

For the ‘lil ones who are safe from broken homes. For the ‘lil innocent children. For the child who has to deal with painful memories of mom and dad. For me working toward getting over the crazy and healing, learning that everyone is not out to get me.

Any ‘lil bit to do something to help others and to get to a world free of domestic violence, hate, and true crazy…replaced with a world of love and fun. Arianna and I were blessed to get out and move past the crazy. Not everyone is.

If you have a few moments, read up on Christmas Crazy and consider a gift from the wish list for the kids at Center for Victims and Alle-Kiski Hope Center. Michelle will do a good kind of crazy with it, trust me.

Thirty Days of Thankful and NaBloPoMo Day 29: Raising Givers

Today, I am thankful for people (yes, ourselves included) who raise givers. There are so many people in this world who take, take, take and are selfish. I hope that our kids are different.

Last year, we started a tradition to ask for people to bring gifts in tote bags for birthday parties, supporting The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project.

This year, Arianna asked if she could help us get ready for our Stuff A Bus tradition and she asked people to bring gifts for Stuff a Bus instead of for her.

Both kids know of the Food Bank and the Tote Bag Project, volunteering by helping us with couponing, tote gathering, and drop offs.

They are givers, no doubt, and we are giving them a good start.


The other night, we took a Durango full of toys (almost all couponed for + Black and Gold Bucks purchased) to 96.1 Kiss FM’s Stuff a Bus and the kids were so excited. They’ve been listening all week to Bob and Mikey updating the bus count (“a bus! a bus! a bus is full!”, they yell), which is right now at 21. They were so proud to drop toys into the bus, especially a short of creepy doll that Arianna named Arianna (and she hopes a ‘lil girl will get her and put a blankey on her to keep her warm). All smiles and giggles, they kept talking about “Christmas Magic”. Below are some of the photos we took, you can see more on Flickr.

IMG_4234 (Copy)

IMG_4237 (Copy)

IMG_4238 (Copy)


This post is part of NaBloPoMo.

NaBloPoMo November 2012

Thirty Days of Thankful and NaBloPoMo Day 24: Stuffing

I’ll admit, the one thing I really look forward to each Thanksgiving is stuffing. We don’t have anything traditional to our family culture, but we sure do love our stuffing. Three years ago, I made 3 additional kinds of stuffing to add to my dad’s traditional loaves (what can I say, I was pregnant!). This year, my mom asked my dad to change it up a bit and turn his loaves into muffins. Stuffin’ muffins? Amazing.

Today I’d like to share with you an opportunity with the Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project, an organization dear to my heart. We all know that the holidays are full of asks, giving, and busy times, but we cannot forget that this is also a time when people are going hungry.

In some cases, the people going hungry are also going without traditional holiday foods. I am really not sure what I’d do if I couldn’t have stuffing at Thanksgiving. I know it’s a simple holiday tradition, but one that many will go without. 

From the Tote Bag Project:

Our focus this year is on Supporting Cultural Traditions w/ A Simple Gift of Food. We encourage donors to focus on a list of ethnic foods that are not often available in food pantries.
The project grew out of the realization that pantries serving refugees and immigrants were having no problems with reuse because it was a cultural value for many of their clients – a lesson that many of us could learn. During that conversation, we learned about the lack of ethnic foods and thought this would be a good way to fuse the two concepts – highlighting something our newest neighbors can teach us as well as a specific support we can offer in return.

So, how can you help? Organize a drive this holiday season. Many folks are already planning on doing this. Ask specifically for tote bags and ethnic foods. Need a list? Here’s what the Tote Bag Project suggests:


For more information on this holiday drive, check out the event page; follow along on Twitter (@tote4pgh); or like the Project on Facebook.

Today, I am thankful I have my stuffing…and I cannot imagine what it would be like to not have that traditional item. I hope you can find a moment this holiday season to help out with these efforts.


This post is part of NaBloPoMo.

NaBloPoMo November 2012

#BlogMob #ReusePgh

Last Thursday, myself and several other bloggers plus The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project converged on Construction Junction and Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse (PCCR) for #BlogMob #ReusePgh. (Find more posts on the Tote Bag’s site here!)

IMG_3699 (Copy)

I took lots of bitty notes during the event as we toured PCCR and then CJ:

CJ 11 Years ago, PCCR 2007

Donations 2 days a week, have to limit due to space.

Small staff, a lot of org is volunteer. Sort, measure, facilities, data entry, etc. Community resource to keep prices low for makers, artists, teachers.

Excess donations…part is staffing and part is marketing. No advertising budget. Adult parties/space rental.

One space CJ rents out is Computer Reach, getting computers to ppl who need them.

CJ regives helps other orgs get furniture they need. Like the college furniture. Applications online?

Church pews, college desks…card catalogs…

Big Pour annual fundraiser.

Goodwill partners who learn skills and help CJ in the warehouse and connect with the community. Buckets of reuse cost $1 and contain ideas of things to donate!

Classes to help people learn remodeling skills (like sanding!). Have a skill? Have a project you wanna learn? Send email!

Like them on Facebook and share it with your friends. No searchable inventory, look for items, call and claim! Mike Gable (exec director) wants to do a program encouraging folks to instagram doc dumpster finds, put on fb, and see what you could have done with that instead. Stuff that shouldn’t go to the trash! Don’t actually pick the stuff up. There are some Boroughs that fine you!

The Space Upstairs dance, art experiences.

There was so much to learn and take in…my only regret is that we didn’t have more time to shop ourselves! 😉 Both sites are a crafter and builders dream. As I was posting photos on Instagram, people were asking where they could get the items I was showing. It’s amazing how few people know about these places, and both and accessible to anyone in the city (as long as you’re willing to fight pre-5 PM Highland Park bridge traffic, ha!).

Following our tours, we had a potluck dinner and then participated in Meet n’ Make, making ornaments for a tree that will be donated to a shelter. We also met people involved in Knit the Bridge, a project of knitters and crocheters who are crafting a cover for one of the Three Sisters bridges. I wasn’t feeling very crafty (what I didn’t know is that I was actually really sick), but I did participate in making some ornaments for the tree reusing items from the bulk section of PCCR.

Teachers, artists, parents, ANYONE who loves crafting, PCCR is for you! If you build things, remodel homes, or just like neat stuff (thanks, Pinterest), CJ is for you!

Enjoy my photos from the event on Flickr. PCCR on Facebook and Twitter ; CJ on Facebook and Twitter…both post unique finds and you can claim them via the ‘net!

#BlogMob is taking a break over the holidays, but we hope to be back with more great ‘Burgh finds in the early spring.