The Longest Night

Yesterday, I was more Facebook vulnerable than is usual for me. I shared, “I don’t love Christmastime.” (I’ll get to the rest of the post in a minute.) Admitting this feels vulnerable because Christmastime is lights, parties, gifts. It is joy, goodwill, peace. What’s not to love? And lots of people do love it...look forward to it all year even. I felt like Debbie Downer.

Except 71 people engaged with the post, some of them admitting their own, as my mom called it, “Grinchiness.”

For many people Christmastime triggers a bout of the blues if not depression. In one study 45% of North Americans surveyed “dreaded the festive season.” Suicides and attempted and suicides are higher at Christmas.

I won’t parse what generally gives, though I expect it has to do with reminiscence. For me, Christmas has been difficult since the death of my husband’s father, Jim. Then, family alcoholism/recovery from alcoholism. Google “alcoholism and “Christmas” sometime.

In part two of the Facebook post, I shared what I’d just found while on a moody walk in Gulley Park with my dog. (I probably shouldn’t listen to Sufjan Stevens on a cold, drizzly, Sunday afternoon at Christmastime.) As Baron and I walked past a big rock at the top of the hill looking down on the pavilion, from where Summer concerts still echo warmth and ease, I noticed a small, ice cube-looking object sitting in a puddle on the top of the rock. I almost walked by it. But I didn’t. And here’s what I found.


I wept. And while there are lots of ways to read, “Look within. You are the world,” in that moment the world wept with me, and I wasn’t alone.

I am so grateful to those who recognize the importance of small acts of kindness, who offer a hand from out of and through the longest night. What you do matters. It is my warmest Christmas wish that some would see LFP that way, too.


Crime to Be Broke in America

On December 15, 1791, the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, later known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified. During 150th anniversary commemorations in 1941, Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing FDR, “to issue a proclamation designating December 15, 1941, as Bill of Rights Day." Today is that day. I wouldn't have known except I had cause to Google "Bill of Rights" earlier this week after reading a particular Facebook thread. How's that for timing? Here's the story. 

My daughter, Grier, has a friend who graduated from high school last year. Right before he moved into the dorm, he told her he hoped he didn't get a weird roommate. She said, "You are the weird roommate."

I've mentioned my BFF, Autumn, before. She was my weird roommate. I rolled 7s with that crap shoot because she's not only my kind of weird; she's also brilliant and passionate and caring. For years she was a public defender. Now, she is an attorney in private practice with her own Arkansas Times byline and the most awesome little girls ever. (I'm definitely biased when it comes to Autumn, but this is an objective truth.) Autumn has a platform, and people listen to her because, like I said, she's brilliant and passionate and caring.

This week she started a Facebook discussion about court fines and payment plans. Here are some takeaways.

  • Arkansas law (and presumably other state law) allows for installment fees ($10/mo/court in addition to fine/s), so people who cannot pay up front pay more for the same infraction.

  • People cannot be jailed for attempting to pay or if they are too poor to pay. The $10 fee accrues regardless.

  • In states across America, people who can't pay their court fines and fees can have their drivers' licenses suspended.

  • Some cannot afford things like a safe home/auto and health insurance because of large monthly payments toward a ballooning balance.

  • Costs, fines, and fees often fund our court system.

The 8th Amendment seems to apply: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted;" however, the Supreme "Court has elected to deal with the issue of fines levied upon indigents, resulting in imprisonment upon inability to pay, in terms of the equal protection clause, thus obviating any necessity to develop the meaning of 'excessive fines' in relation to ability to pay." 14th Amendment due process and equal protection promises make debtor's prisons unlawful, but are poor people really getting equal protection? If poor people end up paying more for the same charge, is that not excessive? Because millions of American adults and children struggle with debt stemming from economic sanctions issued by the criminal and juvenile courts, some are calling for a revival of the excessive fines clause. Read more here.

On this Bill of Rights Day, see if you can pass a Bill of Rights quiz. Read the Bill of Rights. Spend more time with Amendments 4-8, which address the rights of the accused. Really dig in and read Peter Edelman's Not A Crime to Be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America

Hanukkah and Hamilton

The festival of Chanukah, or Hanukkah, begins today and commemorates miracles that occurred in the second century BCE after the Maccabees defeated the Seleucids. The Maccabees were "a small band of faithful Jews," the Seleucids "one of the mightiest armies on Earth." When the Maccabees reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, they kept its menorah lit for eight days off a single day's oil supply. Modern day festival celebration occurs over eight nights and centers menorah lighting, accompanied by blessings, song, foods fried in oil (latkes), and Hanukkah gelt (gifts, traditionally money). 

The fact a single night's oil supply lasted eight nights is miraculous; however, it seems the greater miracle of Hanukkah occurred when the little Maccabees defeated the big Seleucids. During Hanukkah, the V’Al HaNissim gets added to daily prayer "to offer praise and thanksgiving to G‑d for 'delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few ... the wicked into the hands of the righteous.'" The sound of candle flicker whispers, "Never be afraid to stand up for what's right." Beautiful.

I hear Hanukkah whispers echoing through LFP. Over a year and a half later, I experience an already-stocked pantry as miraculous, that first stock at project launch lasting more than 579 days. I recognize a force beyond ourselves at work through the project, that work done by and for the weak, the few. And while I wouldn't presume to claim righteousness, to me what we do feels right at a time when much feels wrong. 

Be the light.

Happy Hanukkah to those celebrating. 

Please enjoy The Maccabeats' "Hasmonean," a parody of Hamilton. It's an informative and fun way to learn more about those long ago events with a story for tonight. For Hamilton fans "My Shot's" call to "Rise up" even echoes the lesson, "Never be afraid to stand up for what's right."

Home Health and Hunger

Nanci, a good friend of mine since nursing school, recently left her position as CCU (Critical Care Unit) RN at our large regional hospital. Like me, my friend is a lifelong learner (probably why we’re friends), and after obtaining her CCRN certification, she decided to move on to her next care-giving learning experience, one with better hours and less stress—home health. She’s been at it since the end of October, and after only a few days in the field, she texted me, overwhelmed by the poverty she was seeing up close. “I had no idea, and I thought of Little Free Pantry. Maybe there’d be some way LFP can help.” One of the homes she visited had no running water. Its single working stove burner provided heat.

To qualify for home health care, a person must be homebound; if a person can get to outpatient physical therapy, that person does not qualify. This means most folks who receive home health care are elderly. According to National Association for Home Care and Hospice 2010 statistics, of the 12 million receiving home health care, 69% were over 65. With the “graying of America” well underway, I imagine that number is higher now, and medicare enrollment is expected to more than double over the next 15 years.

When I was in nursing, I had a particularly soft spot for geriatric patients. I guess I have a particularly soft spot for this population more generally because since the LFP Project inception, it’s really bothered me that LFP isn’t a solution for homebound seniors; like most bricks and mortar pantries, folks go to it. 

I told Nanci I’d think about it.

Food security involves several components—access, distribution, stability…. In America we have more than enough food for everyone. For those doing hunger work, distribution is often the most challenging part. Mobile food pantries are trending, but these usually work through host locations, and folks must still go to them. Hard for the homebound. This is why Meals on Wheels is such a critical social support (and why you should call your Senators/MOCs and ask them to increase its budget funding). But Nanci’s patients often aren’t even getting that. Unlike the home I mentioned in the first paragraph, most do have a way to prepare their own food.

Then, I remembered six area law enforcement agencies had recently partnered with our local food bank. Officers receive boxes of food for distribution on their beat, feeding folks, building relationships.

Nanci works M-F, seeing around eight patients a day. Her agency employs eight RNs. These have a similar case load. More LPNs and therapists. Estimating, the RNs at this single agency make 320 house calls a week. 

What if home health care providers partnered with anti-hunger agencies, empowering their nurses to utilize the two-question food insecurity screening tool and equipping them with healthy, emergency food supplies to promote nourishment and healing?

These nurses would not only be feeding the old, sick, and hungry. They’d be uniquely positioned to conduct assessments tracking outcomes of healthy food as intervention for a demographic that will only grow. As the most trusted profession, they would also be uniquely positioned to provide point of care nutrition education.

Law of Unintended Consequences

Letting you know up front some of this content is tough.

Today is World AIDS Day. I probably wouldn’t have written about it had it not been for Bono’s recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel. (U2 fan from way back, Achtung Baby and *gasp* Zooropa, favorites.) (RED) Campaign spokesperson since its inception, Bono talked about this year’s campaign, which raised $500 million dollars. At the end, Kimmel cut to a video of the “currently unemployed” President Obama, who says, “Hi everybody. This World AIDS Day, everyone has a role to play.” Huh? I thought we had this. And here we are.

The 2014 Scientific American article, “Food Security and the Fight Against HIV/AIDS,” corroborated in fact much of what I guessed about AIDS trends, noting several achievements: new infection decline, 61% accessibility to antiretroviral therapy (ART), AIDS-related mortality dropping from its 2.3 million peak in 2005 to 1.6 million in 2012. However, declines, accessibility…these things aren’t happening across the board, and one of the drivers of inequity in sub-Saharan Africa is…you guessed it, food insecurity. Predictably, those infected with HIV/AIDS have higher medical expenses. They miss work. All of which exacerbates food insecurity and affects outcomes. Also predictable but something I hadn’t let myself think about much, hungry people engage in transactional sex, increasing transmission.

US trends are even better, but inequity still complicates. People of color are disproportionately affected, and a highly publicized 2010 CDC study suggests infection among heterosexuals living in inner-cities most depends on poverty; rates doubled among those living below the poverty line. The surveyed were not IV drug users, though they could have been more proximate to them. The CDC 2016 “Today’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic” fact sheet blurb about poverty as an exacerbating socioeconomic factor implies an additional reason: "Those who cannot afford the basics in life may end up in circumstances that increase their risk for HIV infection." (Emphasis mine.) Transactional sex.

Last Fall, Urban Institute and Feeding America released details of another highly publicized study, “Impossible Choices: Teens and Food Insecurity in America”. Focus group conversations with teens in ten communities across the country revealed, "Teens in all 10 communities talked about some young people 'selling their body' or using 'sex for money' to make ends meet. However, these themes were strongest in high-poverty communities."A young woman from Portland, OR, told researchers, “It’s really like selling yourself. Like you’ll do whatever you need to do to get money or eat.”

I warned you.

Back in Africa…Having recognized systemic inequity as the barrier in the fight against HIV/AIDS, over the last decade PEPFAR (the United States Government’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), UNAIDS (the joint United Nations program on HIV/AIDS), and WFP (World Food Programme) have facilitated increased adoption of food and nutrition security policies within larger HIV and AIDS policies. Among the $2.2 billion in proposed budget cuts to our global world health program, President Trump proposes to cut PEPFAR (an agency begun by George W. Bush) funding by 17% with total cuts of $800 million to the HIV/AIDS global health program. One day ago, the (One) Campaign cited a Kaiser Family Foundation report projecting these cuts could result in nearly 300,000 deaths and more than 1.75 million new infections each year. Organizations everywhere, including the Gates Foundation, are ringing alarm bells; they see proposed cuts as a sign of US retreat from the global fight against AIDS.  

Today, back in the US, the GOP is lining up votes for a tax bill analysts say will add $1 trillion to the deficit, and anti-hunger organizations are ringing their own alarm bells. It remains to be seen whether the bill will pass and if so, how lawmakers will balance the federal budget. What seems certain is withdrawal of funds for the global fight against HIV/AIDS will cause new infection rates to rise again after a decade of retreat, and withdrawal of funds to support hungry folks will mean more hungry folks. Some of those will do whatever they need to do to feed themselves and their families.


Why Thanksgiving

Folks are increasingly put off by Thanksgiving. It is a fictional event divorced of brutal historical context. Black Friday brawls may in fact more accurately reflect historical truth and who we are most of the time. And the current US Census held in 2010 found that 80.7% of the population lived in urban areas. Harvest?

I get it. Except I don’t get it. I’ve always loved Thanksgiving—the food, family…the reading. (This year Barnes & Noble conducted a survey finding Thanksgiving Eve is the biggest reading day of the year!) More than these things, though, I love how Thanksgiving Day centers reconciliation, peace, gratitude for what we have today. Even if we jockey for hot dealz tomorrow. Even if it’s all a beautiful lie. (Think Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.)  How it inserts itself between Halloween and Christmas, two holidays that are frequently too much. Finally, growing up in a rural, Northeast Arkansas farming community, I do understand the significance of harvest, yielding community along with bushels.

I love the idea of a holiday especially for giving thanks. I have so much to give thanks for.


This Thanksgiving I am deeply grateful, though, for those who daily rekindle my spark.

1.       My family, with whom I can just be.

2.       The LFP/BB community, who chooses optimism.

3.       Kids, who teach me.

4.       Project stewards, who choose trust and compassion.

Because of you, my flame is bright. Good for seeing in the dark. (Or beyond Black Friday.)

Happy Thanksgiving. 

A Good Habit

Mama’s always kept a neat house. My urge to “pitch it” first and ask questions later comes from her. I speculate, though, that like she and I, lots of neatpins have one messy space where we nod to entropy. For me, my car. For Mama, her pantry. Cans upon cans stack and topple. When she remembers she has her own culinary Room of Requirement, finding anything is a mini-archaeological expedition. The number of websites offering tips for cleaning out one’s pantry suggests she’s not alone.

In the United States food is relatively cheap, and we prefer it pretty, which means we waste A LOT. The Environmental Protection Agency says food ends up in landfills and incinerators more than anything else we throw away--as much as 50% of all produce, according to a 2016 Guardian report. Before doing the research for this post, I hadn’t given much thought to the food waste my own household creates. Now, I can’t stop thinking about that ½ quart of week-ish old strawberries next to a much older quart of heavy whipping cream in our fridge. The *several* boxes of couscous in my own pantry.


It matters we don’t think about it; waste has both personal and global cost. The EPA estimates 20% of total U.S. methane emissions come from landfills, and at least some of what we throw away could help feed a few of the 42 million food insecure American households, households living without the luxury of strawberries.

In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg expands on his finding that every habit consists of a simple, three part, neurological loop: a cue, a routine, a reward. Daylight Savings Time is a cue to change smoke detector batteries. The routine completed, one feels his/her household is safer, validated as a responsible care-giver. I propose we cultivate a new annual habit. Using Thanksgiving preparation as a cue, let’s clean out our pantries. Maybe some of us won’t need to add chicken stock to our holiday shopping lists, saving time and money at the grocery store. More of us will find items we can donate to local food banks/LFPs/Blessing Boxes. Giving these forgotten items will make us happier, and we’ll be keeping them out of the trash, reducing our carbon footprint. I can think of no better way to “Give Thanks” for our abundance.

Please see linked resources for every day ways you can reduce, reuse, and recycle food waste.

For general suggestions:

To find a food bank near you:

To find a place that will take donations including prepared food: