Take ‘The 100 Item Challenge’

Take 'The 100 Item Challenge'Take The 100 Item Challenge

In the midst of our lives full of such excess, imagining that people we pass on the streets and sidewalks of our community are hungry is difficult to imagine. However, the truth is that hunger is a real thing — even right here in Acadiana.
Julie Lafleur, the new executive director at FoodNet: The Greater Acadiana Food Bank, says she has seen the face of the hungry in Acadiana. Lafleur says she sees families with young children and the elderly who have been able to provide for all of their needs until now.
“Often, these are people who don’t know what to do,” Lafleur said. “We get calls from family members, neighbors, friends and caretakers asking help for their elderly family members, friends and clients because they have little food in their homes.”
FoodNet has several major food drives on the near horizon. For example, the Rotary Club Election Day food drive set Nov. 4 will collect food at the election polls. The KLFY TV-10/FoodNet “Food for Families” food drive will be Dec. 2 at the Cajundome and is in partnership with 17 other food pantries in the Acadiana region from Mamou to Morgan City.
Lafleur said she and her staff are so grateful for the upcoming food drives. There’s only one problem. FoodNet’s shelves are almost empty now.
Literally. There is very little food left to feed the hungry between now and the upcoming food drives.
I spoke with Lafleur last week. (In full disclosure, we go to the same church.) I asked her what foods FoodNet could use most. She quickly rattled off a list of ten items. We talked a little more and developed what we are calling “The 100 Item Challenge.”
I am challenging you as an individual, as a Sunday School teacher, as a classroom teacher, as a book club member, as a Scout leader or member, as a civic club member – whoever you are, to be a part of “The 100 Item Challenge.”
It’s a matter of buying, gathering or collecting ten items or the ten things the food banks need most. Here’s your shopping list:
10 cans of tuna
10 cans of any other kind of meat
10 “meals in a can” — chili, beef stew, chunky soup, etc.
10 cornbread mixes
10 packs of pasta
10 cans of tomato sauce
10 jars of peanut butter
10 containers of oatmeal
10 containers of grits
10 “meals in a box” — Hamburger Helper, Rice-a-Roni, noodle dinner mix, etc.
I did some shopping and have priced the full list at about $150 (my exact total was $143.98). Of course, that depends on where you shop and the size of the items you buy. If you’d prefer to go in with a friend or neighbor to gather the items, please do. The point is, FoodNet needs the groceries now – before the big upcoming food drives.
You can drop off the food between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon on Monday through Fridays. Lafleur and the staff are also there at other times, but you should call 337-232-FOOD to check on exact times. Find the FoodNet offices and shelves at 217 Surrey Street here in Lafayette. Learn more about them on the web at www.foodnetacadiana.org. If you know of another food bank closer to you, I’m certain they could use your donations as well.
Take The 100 Item Challenge, and send me a picture of you and your FoodNet groceries.

Send photos or contact Jan Risher at jan@janrisher.com.

Mission: Methodical

10417658_10152346528702175_2566990752977945619_nOctober is the sweetest month, with days so perfect that my heart can’t help but sing. For the past five years, my October has been even better because in the second weekend of the month I’ve attended a retreat for women. It’s not the typical quiet retreat. It’s a retreat for spirituality and creativity.
One of my favorite aspects of the weekend is the Art Room — a room chock full of material, lace, needles and thread, felt, old stamps, sequins, wallpaper samples, hot glue guns and anything other item someone may have wanted once upon a time for a craft, that may or may not have ever happened.
Among other planned programming, the retreat encourages every participant to spend as much time in the Art Room as she wants. Everyone is welcome to make whatever she would like — or nothing. Each year, the organizers also encourage each participant to try her hand at one particular piece.
This year’s suggested piece was a small, nondescript gray drawstring bag. We were encouraged to decorate it in any way we wanted and create a prayer bag, to place names or issues of prayer. Sometimes, I’ve resisted the annual project and preferred to do my own thing. This year, I decided to dive into the project with my whole heart and do my best to create something beautiful.
I have an inexplicable love for buttons, and the Art Room had several cigar boxes full of buttons. I decided to see if I could find enough buttons of enough colors to create a graduated spectrum to cover the soon-to-be prayer bag.
Roy G Biv is my friend. I started looking for red buttons, worked my way to orange, then yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Having the time and space to sit and pick up button after button to find just the right shade was a thing of beauty, in and of itself. Sitting there surrounded by gracious women, who took as much joy in my buttons as I did (or at least seemed to) and eager to help me find another orange or green button, was also a joy.
Once I had all my buttons selected and carefully in place on my bag, I picked it up and slid them off into a pile. The women around me were crestfallen. They couldn’t believe I had abandoned the project. I explained that the buttons had to come off for me to begin the process of sewing each one on. Several of them looked at me in disbelief.
“You’re going to sew all of those buttons on?” one asked.
“Aren’t you going to hot glue them in place?” asked another.
And there was a chorus of consent for this idea.
Certainly, hot gluing 142 buttons in place makes for a more efficient idea, but one yielding results that aren’t nearly as elegant. Plus, I’ve metaphorically hot glued a whole lot in my life. I’ve avoided the tedium of doing the same task over and over, in favor of efficiency.
I’m not trying to reinvent who I am. However, I am trying to create a better version of myself. For a variety of reasons, I decided that committing myself to a mass button sewing project was one way to reinforce the new discipline I’m trying to cultivate in myself.
Certainly, I couldn’t have found a more encouraging environment to do so. With every button I sewed, graduating from one color of the rainbow to the next, women would share their admiration for my simple little project. Once I finished the yellow buttons and started on the green band, I was sitting at a table with two other women. I said, “Ladies, I really need a few more green buttons.”
One of them looked up and said, “Well, I’ve got a bag full of buttons in the trunk of my car, sorted by color.”
“Now you tell me!” I exclaimed as she and I made our way to her car. The first basket of buttons I pulled was full of green buttons. My friend was happy to share.
Ask, and ye shall receive.
Just as the weekend was ending, I sewed on my last violet button, and my button rainbow was complete. The process of this simple project provided immense satisfaction, and what better metaphor to adorn a prayer bag than a rainbow?

Refuge of last resort

Before my most recent visit to the Superdome amidst One Direction 12-year-old girl teenybopper hullabaloo, the last time I had been there was in the days after Katrina.
Three days after the weary mass of humanity moved out of the Superdome, their refuge of last resort, I was in New Orleans reporting on the deserted city. On that day, the city was a ghost town, and the stinky, broke-down Superdome felt like the ghosts had come to stay.
It wasn’t totally surrounded by water, but the water was still standing on its French Quarter side. With special permission we gave ourselves, we drove right up one of its ramps and met a few others on an external elevated walkway. The stench was overwhelming.
Soldiers were patrolling the massive perimeter. They walked in groups of three, carrying big guns. Like the hands of a clock, they made their way round and round the scarred face of the Superdome. One of the soldier trios had a very distinguishing addition.
A little dog, probably a schnauzer, was marching alongside the soldier in the middle. In a landscape so devoid of life and joy, that little dog was the most startling thing I saw that day.
He was perky. He pranced like a little dog that had been loved so much that he had no real sense of his place in this world.
He alone was hopeful.
I couldn’t help but smile each time that dog and his soldiers marched past. For a week, along with so many others, I had taken in more gruesome stories, sights and haggard faces than I could absorb. Each time the little dog paraded past, for a few seconds, I was able to forget the horrors so many had endured.
Our scraggly group of journalists and aid workers stood conversing, most of us bordering on shellshock. When the soldiers rounded the Dome again, I walked away from our group to speak with them.
They were just back from Iraq and also in a near state of shock. They couldn’t believe they had come home from a war zone and were dealing with a disaster the scale of Katrina.
I asked about the dog.
One soldier said the little dog wouldn’t leave his side. We agreed that the pup had been loved fiercely. We stood in silence, looking at the dog, carefully avoiding any discussion of the awful scene that surely occurred when its human was forced to leave the dog behind at the Superdome.
We all knew someone somewhere was lamenting that dog.
With the soldier’s blessing, I decided to bring the dog home to my daughters. I walked back to the group I was traveling with and told them what I was going to do. One of the people with me, who had spent more time in the Superdome than anyone should have, told me that in good conscience he just couldn’t recommend my taking that dog back to my family. He was worried that the dog might be carrying something that could harm the health of my kids. I understood his concern and wasn’t driving the car. I caved without a fight.
Against my better judgment, I walked away from that puppy. He was blissfully unaware of the direction his life almost took and kept prancing right along with his favorite soldier.
There are so many scenes from Katrina that haunt me still:
There’s the lady I greeted as she got off a bus at the Cajundome. Her face was burned badly, but she didn’t have a clue how it had gotten burned. She had spent three days in her attic and finally busted through her roof. In the chaos, she lost her glasses.
There was another woman at the Cajundome, who had given birth in New Orleans the day Katrina hit. When the hospital was evacuated, the administration failed to tell her where they were taking her baby. With the help of others, we finally found him. She had been looking for three days.
And there were the horrors I’d rather not describe that I saw along Airline Highway as I rode in a boat through Holly Grove with a stranger holding a gun in the air.
Of all the Katrina memories I have, that little dog is the easiest to remember and smile. Through the nine years since, that little dog’s hope has stayed with me. I believe someone rescued him and regret that someone wasn’t me. The remorse I feel about not rescuing him stays with me.
I will never reconcile that regret, and anyone who lived through or witnessed Katrina knows that regret is about a lot more than a dog. My inability to save that puppy is a scratch in the surface of the ways we, as a society, failed.
Every time I see the Superdome, my regret, wrapped up in the package of that dog, catches my heart.
After experiencing 60,000-plus screaming fans inside the Dome hanging on Harry and the rest of his One Direction friends’ every note, Piper, my 12-year-old daughter has a whole different set of feelings related to the Superdome.
As a mother, I pray that all of her and her generation’s Superdomes be filled with music, and may they never regret tiny dogs they were unable to rescue.