Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Grateful for Our Urban Harvest

I've been amazed and grateful for over the last few weeks to witness the huge outpouring of support for neighbors in need following Hurricane Sandy. I have always known New Yorkers to be generous and giving, despite the tough exteriors that we may show. What I've also been reminded of again and again is our flexibility, resilience and persistence. Inspired by Red, Round and Green's call for #SecondHelpings, I wanted to share this story about how small efforts can add up to make a real difference.

On Monday, my daughter's public school held its annual Harvest Day celebration. Originally scheduled for the week Hurricane Sandy hit, it was unclear if the event, themed "Our Urban Harvest," could even be rescheduled. The band couldn't make it, nor could the worm composters from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. A few of the outdoor art projects also had to be scrapped because it could only be held inside. Would it even be worth it?

A key component of Harvest Day was a food drive which seemed especially needed in our community this year, so with the backing of the administration, we went ahead with a curtailed day. There were concerns about the hasty re-scheduling. Parents were only given a couple days notice (a backpack flyer on Friday for a Monday event (!)) and there was concern of donor fatigue (this would be week 4 of near-continuous asking for local donations). All those worries were washed away as the food and donations came pouring in that morning in the school yard. There was such a mountain of food, we weren't quite sure how to handle it.

The kids stepped in. Preschoolers and Kindergarteners sorted cans and older children actually put together boxes of balanced meals for the pantry. They were all beaming and filled with pride because it was clear that this urban harvest had a purpose. Their donations were not just being left in a big pile at the schoolyard gate to go some mysterious place; they were being actively organized and sorted to go to a real family's Thanksgiving table.

Parent volunteers drove over 40 meal boxes and many other bags filled with goods to the food pantry. One parent stepped in to rent a truck to bring over the haul, once it was clear that a couple of cars wasn't going to do it!
Parent volunteers.
Once at the pantry, they were welcomed. Another volunteer reported:

We just dropped off the food at the [food pantry] in Sunset Park. The gentleman who received us was so choked up - he said he was so worried because the shelves were bare. They didn't know what they were going to do for Thanksgiving. 

The shelves had only a few boxes of cereal until our delivery showed up.

Some critical differences that made this food drive a success:

  1. The school PTA worked closely with a local pantry and asked them what was needed. The pantry was able to refrigerate items and could distribute the ingredients for meals, not just canned or non-perishable goods. 
  2. Each class was asked to put together a Thanksgiving meal for a family. Rather than just ask for "anything," specific sign-up sheets were established so parents could donate a main course, fresh or canned fruits and vegetables, fresh bread and pies and all the other makings of a real Thanksgiving feast. This avoided duplication and made the bounty much more diverse. Fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh bread and pies are very rare but welcome commodities at food pantries, if they can store them. 
  3. The kids learned about healthy choices and balanced meals and then immediately put that knowledge into action. The food was arrayed into sections across the gym floor, and the children were encouraged to choose items to make balanced meal boxes.

Over 40 main courses (turkeys, chickens and hams) were donated.

As for the kids, I'm sure they probably missed not having a band or not having any take-home arts and crafts goodies. But they will remember being a small part of something bigger, making a difference by being part of the our urban harvest of generosity.

Happy Thanksgiving!

#Second Helpings
Red, Round and Green's Round -Up
The Lunch Tray's Round-up 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Comfort Foods & Cash: Carrot Tzimmes for #FBS4Sandy

Food Bloggers Support Sandy Recovery #FBS4Sandy 

I am proud as ever to be a New Yorker and Brooklynite. I live just a few blocks away from flooded Red Hook and Gowanus and just a few miles away from some of the worst of Hurricane Sandy's devastation in the Rockaways and Coney Island. I can report from the field that the outpouring of support--goods, money and hands-on help--has been truly inspiring and almost overwhelming in this time of great need for our city.

One of the most pressing needs has been to help deliver hot foods to serve to flood-stricken survivors, to the elderly that are without electricity, to evacuees that are in shelters around the city and to the many volunteers who have been on hand to dig out, bail out or help out in any way they can. Something as fleeting and precious as a warm cooked meal has served to both feed hungry bellies and to show that people, strangers no less, really care.

I love #FBS4Sandy idea from Barbara at Creative Culinary's and Jenn from Jenn Cuisine  to build food blogger support to raise money and awareness for Sandy Recovery efforts. I believe in the power of our online community. We can help with thoughts, prayers and dollars so that the "real-life" communities of New York, New Jersey and all the affected areas on the East Coast have the tools and support they need to rebuild.

Give to the Red Cross, or considering giving to one of the local on-the-ground sources I list below. Our local Brooklyn communities have doing tremendous work and have been in many ways more nimble and earlier on the scene that FEMA and the Red Cross.

Today I present my family recipe for Carrot Tzimmes; it is a wonderful, healthy comfort food that is a staple at our Thanksgiving and Passover dinners. I wanted to use a vegetable dish because unfortunately vegetables have been sorely lacking from the hot-food donations. If you are making or giving food locally, consider a vegetable dish like this or a healthy soup.

Carrot Tzimmes
Tzimmes means "with a lot of fuss" but this recipe is actually very easy. You can also use sweet potatoes or a mixture.

1-2 lbs of sliced carrots (depending on how many people you are serving)
2 Tbs of each Butter and Olive Oil
1/2-1 cup Orange Juice, enough to fill pan by 1/3.
2 Tbsps. Honey or brown sugar
1/2 cup Raisins or currants, more or less to taste
1 tsp Cinnamon, more or less to taste
Salt and Pepper to taste

Parboil carrots. Melt butter in microwave, add equal amount of olive oil. Then mix in orange juice, honey, and cinnamon. Drain carrots and arrange in 9x12 baking dish. Pour in orange juice mixture, adding more liquid if needed. Toss in raisins and cover with foil. Whenever the oven is free, place pan in oven for about 30 minutes or until hot. If you like the carrots to be more golden brown, remove foil and heat for another 15 minutes or more, until desired color.

(Oven Temperature can vary, though 350 degrees is ideal. If oven is hotter than 350, decrease time and check more regularly so that it does not burn.)

Check out Creative Culinary's List of #FBS4Sandy contributors here. Remember these virtual posts of comfort foods for #FBS4Sandy will only help actually feed people if you give generously. Below I've listed links of local organizations as well as national ones. More details on the local resources are in my post from earlier this week.

Local Resources:
Occupy Sandy Wedding Registry on Amazon

National Resources:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Resources to Support NYC in Recovery from Hurricane Sandy

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I have been moved to tears and moved to action many times this week. My family was blessed to be unharmed and without damage. Neighbors less than a few blocks away were less lucky, but for the most part, the damage my close friends experienced is repairable. Many others, so many families that lost their loved ones or their homes, are really hurting.

It is heartbreaking to see the devastation of many of our cherished communities in Brooklyn, Red Hook, the Rockaways and other nearby communities of Staten Island, Long Island and New Jersey. The volunteerism and outpouring of resources (time, money and goods) has been amazing and overwhelming. It will be a long haul to rebuild, a marathon not a sprint, and we need sustained help and commitments from everyone.

I have listed a few resources for making contributions, mostly financial, but there is also an Amazon registry that you can purchase and send goods.

Thank you for all your help and support and please keep it up!  For the love of our city and our country, many, many thanks.

Occupy Sandy Wedding Registry on Amazon

Where to Eat, Donate and Volunteer for Sandy Relief from The Village Voice

Brokelyn Blog, which has had amazing and repeatedly updated resources on the relief efforts

Red Hook Initiative 
Brooklyn Recovery Fund
Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York
Salvation Army
United Way Sandy Recovery Fund