The Pittsburgh Heart Walk: Why We’re Walking

When I was four years old, I lost my (first) best friend. It was the day of my brother’s birthday party, and I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of my grandparents and Uncle Ron. I remember standing on the couch, looking out the window and waiting, waiting, waiting. The phone rang. My dad disappeared. I didn’t like what I could hear as he and my mom murmured in their bedroom. My Pappy Jack was gone. My dad’s inspiration and my best friend passed away suddenly (at a fairly young age) of a heart attack.

Fast forward 20 years and my dad suffered another loss due to heart issues. His best friend and “First Mate” of our boat, George, had endured a lot, but it was his time to go. Both losses were pretty sudden, and had a big impact on my life. Carpe Diem. Live it up, live like you don’t know what is coming tomorrow.

My father-in-law also has had heart issues. Greg and I have two uncles with heart issues. Young children are suffering, undergoing multiple surgeries to survive.

For these fighters, and in memory of those who have lost the battle, we will walk. We will fight. On November 3, Greg and I (and probably the kids) will be walking in the Pittsburgh Heart Walk, raising funds for the American Heart Association. You can support us by clicking on this bar here (or there’s one on the side). Please consider giving to the cause, or even walking with us (comment if you’d like more info). Don’t stop the fight.

That Time of Year: Giving to Others (Food)

When you work for a food retailer, it’s very easy to forget that people are living in hunger. What a humbling thought, right? In my job, the focus is on selling groceries, so when you get an email with (essentially) that message, it really makes you stop and think.

While my family and I are able to have a hot meal every night, we are no strangers to hunger. Holidays are coming, winter will soon be settling in. We all have neighbors out there who are going hungry, and if you are lucky enough to have, this is a good time to consider giving to others. Here are a few ways you can help out over the next few weeks:

·         As part of Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s Fall FoodShare Food Drive, from October 25 to November 21, shoppers at participating Giant Eagle supermarkets will have a chance to stop and think about giving to others. Food (suggested lists are available) and cash will be collected at these locations and then distributed to food banks in the store’s county. (More information on the drive can be found on GPCFB website.)

·         Going to this Sunday’s Steelers game? Participate in the Steelers Food Drive at Heinz Field or consider donating online.

·         Buy a City Dining Card from GPCFB. (Cost is $20, 5% of sales go to the Food Bank. You get $10 off each $30 bill at select Pittsburgh restaurants.)

·         Visit the Food Bank’s website and find ways you can volunteer (http://www.pittsburghfoodbank.org).

I know that just doing the things we do, my family is never going to be able to eliminate hunger on our own. It truly takes a community, and I hope you’ll take a moment to consider helping out this fall/winter.

(Note: This post is not affiliated with or sponsored by any company. It is from the bottom of my heavy heart, asking for your help for our neighbors in need.)

Let’s End Hunger Now: #BlogMob #Hunger

While touring Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank (my third tour there in a year), this image made me ask, “Are you with me?”

Untitled

And really, I want to know if you are with me. Hunger is a real issue in our nation, and one each and every one of us can help with. Here are some of the things I learned during #BlogMob #Hunger that can help our neighbors.

Untitled

Produce to People This is a distribution the Food Bank hosts at not only the Duquesne location but at other local pantries throughout the month. If you know someone who is in need of food, especially fresh produce, let them know about this program. It is not limited to folks who receive food benefits—if there is a genuine need, recipients just need to sign a proclamation of need.

Tote Bags help! Events like Produce to People are what inspired the Tote Bag Project to focus on getting reusable grocery bags into the hands of Food Bank recipients. As I was walking into the Food Bank, I saw many kinds of “bags” to gather the 40 (or so) pounds of food that would be distributed—suitcases, an old potato sack, laundry baskets, rolling shopping bags, pockets, and tote bags. If every patron had a handful of tote bags to help them bring their haul home, it surely would make life easier (just imagine toting 40 pounds of produce on the bus in a typical grocery bag). A sad truth learned, although almost 20,000 tote bags have been donated in this past year, the Food Bank is now out of the tote bags and could use more. Consider hosting a tote bag drive in your workplace, religious center, or even among your neighbors. ‘lil Miss A is asking you to bring some to her birthday party to make a small dent, too.

Untitled

Key donation items include peanut butter, tuna, and low-sugar cereal. These are things the Food Bank should never have to run out of, but without the help of donations, this is possible. Sure, the warehouse has a nice stock of peanut butter, but with pantries across several counties, it would be easy to imagine the possibility. Do what you can to help with this—if you have a food drive, consider sending these items or even asking those helping out to focus on these.

Untitled

Funding cuts are real issues, too. Money going to food programs is facing serious cuts. There are a few things you can do to help with this. One, when you are asked to give money to the Food Bank, know that it goes a long way. Because the Food Bank orders wholesale, a $1 donation can bring about $4 of buying power. Two, you can sign a paper plate (even virtually, click here!) to send to Governor Corbett a message that you want to help protect the State Food Purchase Program (instead of this falling under a budget cut). While the #BlogMob group toured the Food Bank, participants in Produce to People could write out a message on a paper plate that will be physically delivered to the Governor at the end of Hunger Action Month. We got to fill one out too, and it brought some tears to my eyes.

IMG_0450 (Copy)

It’s not all doom and gloom! Sure, those observations above are sort of scary, but there are good things happening.

  • On Thursday night, each produce distribution station was accompanied by an informative table. For instance, Giant Eagle dietitians were there talking about a plate portions; participants could register to vote; and there were health screenings. This new feature of Produce to People seemed to me like a great idea, and I hope it sticks.
  • The Food Bank nutritionist was on hand to show recipients how to make a healthy Harvest Stew using acorn squash, onions, and collard greens that were distributed that night. I was inspired, learned how to cut an onion without crying (it works), and will be making this meal for dinner tonight!
  • Bought and donated food is marked with a 1, 2, or 3 depending on nutritional value and movement analysis. This helps local pantries with ordering so that they can properly order their distributions.
  • Volunteers are making things happen! You can volunteer by repacking, putting together boxes for Seniors, or carrying food to recipients’ cars. Every little bit helps.
  • Community Table is a new program where chefs are donating extra “plates” of food—they make the extras, so these are not items that have sat out—and a truck comes around and picks up the food, getting it quickly into the hands of those who need it most.
  • Kids. Kids. Kids! They learn so much, those ‘lil sponges! Miss Ivy goes to schools and groups and talks to kids about hunger and how they can help. Her cubicle was covered in inspiring posters children have made…if only we all had the heart of a ‘lil child, this world really would be a better place.

During the night, those of us in attendance learned lots about how we can take action. I hope this has inspired you. If you want to hear more about the night, go visit Emily, Elizabeth, or Lou (he wasn’t able to attend, but was still uber-inspired and interacted in our tweets, LOVE!) to hear more. The Tote Bag Project has also pulled together a great Storify site with our top stories about #BlogMob #Hunger, do read!

Here’s where I NEED you. Comment below—what action are you going to take in this 2nd half of Hunger Action Month? Will you tweet about this post and/or hunger (use the “Tweet” button below!)? Will you organize a food/tote drive? Will you sign up to be a Food Bank volunteer? Leave me some love below, my heart needs to know there are more and more great people in this world.

+ + +

The night ended with a few prizes, and we decided to share one of them with our blog readers. If you’d like to enter to win a session with Emily Levenson, a nutritionist, use the Rafflecopter form below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

+ + +

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you’ve probably seen these photos; however, take a look at all of my photos from the night over on Flickr.

#BlogMob #Hunger is Coming!

If you are keeping up with the Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project, you are fully aware that September is Hunger Action Month, a month full of events to make us aware of the impact of hunger.

One of those events, #BlogMob #Hunger will be my favorite. No, it’s not because I am lucky enough to co-host the event with Elizabeth and Emily, two Pittsburgh bloggers (but that’s pretty awesome). No, it’s not because I’ll get to network with other bloggers who share my passion. No, it’s not because I love working with the Tote Bag Project.

It’s because I firmly believe no one deserves to go to bed hungry, and this is a great chance to share with you what can be done about it. Donating to the Food Bank is a great start, but hunger needs advocates, and I’d like to call myself one. Being aware of the issues, observing Produce to the People distribution, and finding things to share with you are going to be the best parts of this event.

Have a blog? Want to come take part in the event? Here are the details about the September 13th event at Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. RSVP info is in the image below. 🙂

Highly Recommended: Bistro To Go

Greg and I volunteer with The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project, an opportunity that has taken us to various new places in town. This weekend, we had a chance to help organize bags and then got dinner with two others who were sorting. Sure, we could have decided to just grab a sandwich from anywhere, but we were easily convinced to go local after Greg and Ledcat went to pick up totes at Bistro To Go and ogling the turtle cheesecake.

Logistically, we don’t get to the North Shore often (unless it’s for a Pirates game), so without this opportunity, we probably wouldn’t have realized this as a good dining option. It will now be on our “meet-up” and pre-game list. Parking is on-street/metered, but it wasn’t tough finding 3 spots on a busy Saturday afternoon.

The first thing I realized about Bistro To Go is that it is beside Bistro Soul, another restaurant in the Bistro family, and both boast of southern décor. I fell in love immediately, not needing to see that darn turtle cheesecake. When you walk inside, you know you are in for a soul food treat.

If you want technics, you should know this is essentially fast-casual dining, but the prep is nothing but. Amazing specials are in front of you, and served up (big helpings) right in front of your eyes. You can get the food to go, but I urge you to take a seat at one of the adorable tables or even the “bench” seating with an old church pew as one side of the seating. We stayed well past our original meter because we loved the atmosphere so much. Bonus, free wi-fi, people watching out the front window, cheerful employees, and listening to the chefs prep and cook in the open kitchen. Have some time? Sit and read some of the many cookbooks in the dining area. Absolutely beautiful.

Oh, you saw this was a post about a restaurant and want to know about the food? Well, gee! Entrees come with your choice of 1 or 2 sides (pricing is just a little more expensive than getting a combo meal at a drive thru) plus a bun “the size of Ledcat’s head”. From what I can see on the Bistro To Go website, specials change weekly, but there is always a great variety. I selected the stuffed beef cabbage, green beans with turkey, and a chipotle black bean and cilantro salad (no bun, those things were seriously HUGE). Greg got chicken and gravy (the breading was almost reverse fried with stuffing on the outside…), green beans, and…well…I can honestly say I am not sure what his side was. He gobbled everything down quickly—maybe it was mashed potatoes?

We were treated to dessert by Chef Nikki, a supporter of the Tote Bag Project. Greg went for the Turtle Cheesecake, and although I was tempted by the Ho Ho Cake, it was crème de menthe bars for me. Let me tell you a little bit of what I understand about Chef Nikki. She loves Pittsburgh, and she loves our people. She has a big heart. And, she is going to have me attending some of her cooking classes, because I want to amp up the kitchen. Her passion with Bistro to go was to “create a neighborhood restaurant where good food brings people together”. Uh, in my opinion, she’s hit it on the mark. Further, part of the Bistro mission “is to be a Christ-centered business and an employer where all cultures are welcome”. Again, absolutely evident.

We will be back again, and hopefully with the kids. There were high chairs, but I’d have to make sure I knew the menu before going with them for the ‘lil ones dairy issues. Perhaps we’ll even make a Sunday brunch!

+++

Disclaimer: I was not asked to write this review, and Bistro To Go might never even know how much I heart them. These opinions are 100% my own, and the dessert was provided out of kindness. Time to pay it forward and send you there!

Are You #Brave Enough to Help Out and Fight Hunger?

This weekend, the Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project and Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank will be hosting a tote/food drive at the premiere of “Brave” in the South Side. If you are a Burgher and can make it out, you definitely should. The ‘lil Burghers just might even be there (we’re still working out details).

Here is the press release, or you can check out the blog post on the Tote Bag Project’s page.

School’s Out – Watch Out for Hungry Kids!
Food Bank and Pittsburgh Totebag Project Plan Drive at Movie Premiere

Pittsburgh, PA (June 19, 2012) Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and The Pittsburgh Totebag Project will hold a food and totebag drive called “School’s Out – Watch for Hungry Kids.” The drive will take place this weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (June 22-24, times below) at the opening of Disney’s new movie Brave at South Side Works Cinema.

Summer means fun for most children – vacations, camp, or just playing all day. But for children who depend on school breakfast or lunch for the most nutritious meal of the day, and for their parents who have to find ways to put more food on the table, summer can be a trying time.

Sue Kerr, Founder and Co-Chair of the Pittsburgh Totebag Project saw a connection between kids going hungry and Brave, and initiated this drive with assistance from the Food Bank. “Adding tote bags and backpacks to the drives to fight child hunger gives all children a chance to help by donating their gently used backpacks. It adds dignity to the process of giving and to the experience of families receiving help.”

Collections will take place on Friday (June 22) from 6:00-9:00 pm, and Saturday and Sunday (June 23 & 24) from noon till 8:00 pm, only at the South Side Works Cinema. People are asked to donate a bag of nonperishable items, packed in a reusable grocery “totebag” or backpack if possible. The first 50 families that make a donation will receive a family pass to the ToonSeum, downtown Pittsburgh’s museum devoted to cartoons. Popcorn vouchers will also be available.

The title of the drive is a takeoff on the old public safety campaign that said, “School’s Out! Watch Out for Kids!”? It meant drive more carefully because more kids would be out playing outside in the summer. In the same way more children are at risk of hunger in the summer as well.

Team Tote Bag

Greg and I have made the Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project and food banks (such as the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank) as our main community organizations to support. Yesterday, we had the chance to walk in the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community as Team Tote Bag, raising money for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and spreading awareness of the Tote Bag Project. Greg even got Highmark to donate a box of totes!

IMG_3998

This was supposed to be a walk, but we had a few traffic issues. Coming from 28 in the North, we couldn’t get to the North Shore via 28, so we had to detour downtown. Another event (which we’ll write about later) had roads blocked and we couldn’t get to the ideal garage downtown, resulting in a detour back to 279, luckily toward the North Shore. By the time we parked, we had to start the 5k walk with the people doing the 1 mile fun walk. After about 5 minutes of walking, Greg asked if I would be ok running to catch up with everyone else who was walking. I agreed, and next thing I knew, we ran 95% of the event. The only unfortunate thing is that I forgot to track the entire run on Runtastic…but what I did learn from results of the run is that I ran the fastest miles EVER (14:54…shhhh, I know that’s SLOW but at least I am running) AND that I ran the furthest from start to finish that I’ve ran since spraining my MCL. Victory!

IMG_4003

We’re Taking a Challenge and Need Your Help! #PghToteChallenge

(Want to check out the rest of the participants in the Challenge? Check them out here!)

In celebration of Earth Week, our family is going to be taking on a challenge…the Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project’s Tote Bag Challenge!

Using tote bags isn’t something new to us, but it (admittedly) isn’t something we always think about. Sure, we use tote bags to make sure the kids have an adequate stash of diapers, clothes, and snacks during day trips. My lunch bag is always a cooler (no brown bagging here). The problem is, we do not always remember to use our tote bags when we coupon or grocery shop (shh, I know, I know!). We really could benefit from a reward system for using our bags (but even Target’s 5 cents off doesn’t even give us enough oomph to always remember).

Next week, things are going to have to change. The Challenge will ask us to use reusable bags, and for every time we slip, we’ll be giving $1 to the Project to buy totes. That includes carryout, groceries, lunches. We can do this, right?

A few days out from the start of the Challenge, I have some thoughts that I hope we can consciously work around. Like when grocery shopping, there are “green bags” for veggies…but those bags sure aren’t green (unless we take them to the recycle bins for plastic bags)! Or when couponing. A quick run in to a store is going to require some thinking.

Good thing the challenge isn’t about whether we succeed or fail. It’s about whether we stick it out. There are sponsors who are donating bags based on the 11 participants success (awesome). And here is where you come in. We’d like to get friends and family to sponsor us for our participation. Would you consider donating 7 bags (1 for each day) to the Project? How about 14? Let me know by commenting below, and I will gloat share your efforts with our fellow participants.

If you’d like to find out more about the Challenge or the Project, follow on Twitter or “like” on Facebook for more!

+ + +

If you are new to ‘lil Burghers and want to know a little bit more about our family and why we joined the Tote Bag Challenge, here you go!

We are the ‘lil Burghers, Mrs. Burgher (a working mama), Mr. Burgher (a Stay at Home Dad and extreme couponer), ‘lil Miss A (our sassy three year old daughter), and ‘lil Man (our one year old son). We are trying to raise our kids to be the best for themselves, our country, and our world. While we do not always think green, we are trying our best and look forward to learning about how we can all do our part.

Celebration of #SisterSupplies

Remember how The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project was collecting supplies for Women’s History Month and I posted a challenge to gather some supplies? Well, I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed that Mr. Burgher was the only one to pull in supplies in my effort to fill up the car, but I was super excited that he gathered up 250 supplies (filling 5 tote bags) for us to take to the end of the month celebration at our favorite restaurant, Las Velas.

But, those totes added to others who took on the challenge, and celebrate we did! There were cookies, totes, authentic Mexican dishes, raffles, and of course, Sister Supplies! The kids were a fun time, ‘lil Man dancing from the moment we stepped in the door (and only stopping when he was eating some chips and salsa) and A drawing the raffle tickets. Both highly enjoyed Burgh Baby’s (not) Eat n’ Park Cookies, each eating at least 3, then screaming in laughter all the way home.

All in all, it was a successful evening for The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project and On the Spot, as well as a fun time for our family. It’s one of the ways we “minister” to our community, our “Unless”.

Take Time for “The Time” #SisterSupplies #BlogSwarm

Friends, there is a harsh reality in the world around us. People living in poverty, unable to provide clothing, food, or shelter (basic needs) for their families. This shouldn’t be news to any of us, but today, I want to call attention to a special situation that is the harsh reality of poverty. Today, I am teaming up with a number of other local bloggers in a #BlogSwarm and we are going to bring it to you. This isn’t your typical ‘lil Burghers topic, but I urge you to listen.

As you know, my family and I strive to give back when we can, and we are involved in the Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project‘s efforts to provide food pantry patrons with sturdy tote bags to carry their food home in. Each month, the Project has been focusing on a partnership with causes, and this month is no different. This month, Women’s History Month, the Tote Bag Project has teamed up with On the Spot for a drive of (Tote Bags) and menstrual products for women across our county, and you can read more about it here.

Did you know?
* We’ve all seen it–people laughing at the embarrassed dad or brother who has to go and get the “time of the month” supplies from the local pharmacy. Guess what? It’s real and it happens. And, it doesn’t happen. It’s not a laughing matter.
* Some families cannot afford to purchase menstrual supplies such as pads and tampons because their what money they have goes to covering the bills. SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) benefits have to go elsewhere (like…buying food) and do not cover for these basic need products.
* One tote bag of menstrual products will last a woman 6 months.
* This impacts your neighbors…and who knows. One day it could impact you.

You might wonder, why in the world would I want to dedicate a blog post to this cause? Well, let me tell you, I’ve seen it all first hand. When my dad was a pastor in Fayette County, we all volunteered at the Food Bank and I got to see the impact of women getting supplies such as pads and tampons–and these women were grateful that their needs were met. Come to think of it, being a pastor isn’t the world’s highest paying job, and I am pretty certain that my first few years of supplies were “made possible by” the Food Bank, too. (There are some things you don’t realize as a kid–I was too busy understanding that I had lights, heat, and a full belly to understand that my parents had to work hard to make those ends meet and that really, I didn’t have much more than the people I was “serving”. Isn’t God awesome how he makes us see only what we need to?)

Today, I urge you to do what you can to help this cause. Because Mr. Burgher and I love to coupon, we’ve been building up quite a stash of pads, liners, and tampons. But, we’d love to add more to the cause. Consider this–go to your local store of choice and pick up a pack (or two) of each. Drop them by our house, at my desk, or at my Grandma’s. We’ll gather them up and deliver them to the Tote Bag Project and On the Spot on your behalf. Or–let me know if you’d like us to do the shopping for you. While you’re at it, send over a few totes you aren’t using. (The Project could really use them.)

I really want to fill the car up with Sister Supplies for this worthy cause, but I can’t do it alone. Are you with me?