Community, Memoir

Beware of Halloween

Beware of Halloween.

Halloween_Pumpkin_Icon_64x64

Kids will do anything for candy.

Jerry Seinfeld said, “Candy was my whole life when I was a kid. For the first 10 years, I think the only clear thought I had was ‘Get Candy.’ That was it – family, friends, school – they were just obstacles in the way of the candy. I could only think get candy; get candy; get candy.”

I wish I could say that ended when I was 10.

Sometimes my brain works like that now.

For now, forget all the studies about how bad candy is for you.

All that research about sugar rotting your teeth, making you fat, and increasing your cravings for all things not good for you? Forget it.

It’s Halloween. It’s all about the candy.

The costumes are just a means to an end.

As a kid, the more candy you get, the better. The one with the most candy wins.

Get candy. Get candy. Get candy.

Halloween_Children_trick_or_treat

Michigan football coach, Jim Harbaugh taught his kids that Halloween is all about the hustle — “constant hustle, hustling all the time.”

“You can hit the neighborhood in one costume — and better to jog and run from house to house, then you can get more candy than anybody else. Then come home make a quick change into the second costume and go hit those same houses again.”

I thought we were pretty good at getting candy when I was a kid, but clearly we were amateurs. We never even thought of the costume change-up strategy and the Halloween hustle.

We just plotted out the best neighborhoods – the nice, compact ones with lots of houses crammed in them so we could get a lot of candy in a short time.

You know it’s serious trick-or-treating when you outgrow your dinky little plastic orange pumpkin and pull out a pillowcase.

Now, because it’s all about the candy, you sacrifice the clever costume and go with the lame variety like grabbing a bed sheet and cutting two holes in it or putting a patch on your eye and pretending to be a pirate. I once blacked out my eye and wore a baseball cap. Good enough, I thought.

Again, means to an end here.

When our trick-or-treating starting looking like this, my mom did not hide her disgust.

She said, “When you stop dressing up in decent costumes, rummage through the house for old pillowcases, and beg me for a ride across town just so you can get more candy, you’re too old to trick-or-treat. And when kids like that knock on my door, I don’t want to open it. That’s not Halloween. That’s just begging for candy.”

Clearly, she did not understand the kid-crazed mind that can only think one thing at Halloween – get candy, get candy, get candy.

And gathering all that candy was only part of the fun. The other part was coming home, dumping it all out on the living room floor and sorting it into piles — Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Pops, Lemon Heads, Sixlets, and Mary Janes — all in separate piles.

Then, the negotiations started — – I’ll give you two of my bubble gums for one of your Lemon Heads. The good chocolate stuff like Butterfingers, Baby Ruths and Kit Kats were in the not-up-for-grabs, no-way-are-you-getting-this-pile.

Because kids can’t think straight when it comes to candy, Halloween can be a very dangerous holiday.

For one thing, you have to watch out for candy thieves. They’re so consumed by the need for candy; they’ll just rip it right of your hands and leave you standing there sugar-deprived and deflated.

My brother, all tough and rugged, said that could never happen to him. He would fight off a candy thief lickety-split.

But, then it happened.

His clearest Halloween memory was when a candy-hungry, sugar-obsessed overgrown kid mugged him. Of course he had gone to a different neighborhood to trick-or-treat because our neighborhood was too spread out and the candy potential was too low.

“We were probably too old to be trick-or-treating,” he said, “but we wanted that candy. Between Jon and me, we had a full pillowcase of candy by the end of the night. Then, some big kid came around and tried to steal it. I worked hard for that candy. I wasn’t about to give it up. We tugged back and forth and pushed and punched each other for a while. Finally, after he kid kicked me in the shin, I gave it up. And, Jon, he just handed his over first thing. He didn’t even fight for it. After it was over, I said, ‘Jon, what were you thinking just giving up all that candy? We had enough to get us through until New Year’s.’”

The things we do for candy.

The other lurking danger, according to our mom, was that some sickos might hand out apples with razor blades in them.

Red_Apple

I know, it sounds outrageous, but it was a thing in the late sixties.

Getting a seemingly good old nutritious apple was the worst possible thing that could happen to a kid on Halloween.

They even reported this razor-blades-in-apple danger on the news. That prompted legislators in New Jersey to pass a law that if you booby-trapped your Halloween treats, you’d go to prison.

It was hard to believe our neighbors would put razor blades in apples.

But, then again, we left the neighborhood on a get-more-candy-mission so, we didn’t really know who was giving us what now did we?

It all added to the spooky nature of Halloween.

So, now that I’ve given you some good candy-grubbing strategies and some safety tips, go out and have yourself a Happy Halloween.

Get candy, get candy, get candy.

Just do not get apples.

I repeat, do not get apples.

Happy Halloween.

Community, Religion

Please Don’t De-friend Me

I’m sitting on a plane sending a few birthday messages to my friends when it occurs to me that I’ve been blowing up Facebook with my “Day to Serve” life lately.

how-to-help-calderon3-2

I hope my friends haven’t hid me from their timelines like I’ve wanted to hide my friend Erin from mine.

You see, Erin is so obsessed with MASNsports  photography contest that she posts about a thousand Nats pictures a second. Her one-track posting habits have earned her a lot of grief from her friends, including me.

But, as I looked at my own “Day to Serve” Facebook posts, I realized I should button my sassy lip about Erin’s baseball posts.

I’m an obsessed, one-topic poster too.

Let me try to explain myself…

I am a regional coordinator for Day to Serve. So, early in the beginning of each year, we start holding early morning conference calls to plan this annual service event. Since it’s geographically huge, covering Virginia, D.C., Maryland, and  West Virginia., and we want it to keep growing within this region, it takes over a big chunk of my life, like baseball takes over Erin’s.

The Governors of these states and the mayor of Washington, D.C. appoint staff members to represent them on this committee, and since the LDS Church is a major Day to Serve partner, and I serve as an LDS public affairs director for the DC/Virginia area, I help with everything from news media to interfaith and government partnerships.

The primary focus of our service is on feeding the hungry and improving our communities. We started out with one day a year but grew to a two-week time period to allow more groups to participate, including our friends of the Jewish faith who have a Saturday Sabbath/Shabbat and many Jewish holidays in September.

Can you tell I am trying to justify being a frequent one-topic Facebook poster?

I get so immersed in Day to Serve that I get “share” happy.

A great photo of Bryce Harper with a reminder to buy Nats tickets? Share that baby! A newspaper story about going to the Town of Herndon to promote Day to Serve? Gotta post that! A Feed the Need event in Crystal City? People should know about that!

I wish I could say it might end soon, but we’re starting the most intense time of Day to Serve now because hundreds of service events are going to be happening over the next few weeks and as the results pour in, I won’t be able to help myself.

Please don’t de-friend me for this.

Just patiently understand that it will soon end.

But, in the meantime, try to share the joy with me, and let me brag just a little…

Thanks Julie Fred for the photos
Thanks Julie Fred for the photos

This year, I’ve been particularly proud of our Virginia team for:

  • Getting the Washington Nationals as a Day to Serve partner and having them sponsor two games with part of the proceeds going to Capital Area Food Bank to feed the hungry
  • Getting 500 LDS missionaries to attend the game which helped spike the Nats food donations. After all what do missionaries do anyway? Serve!
  • Getting a Day to Serve proclamation issued by Governor Bob McDonnell
  • Getting Day to Serve resolutions passed in every regional government organization in the Commonwealth of Virginia, resulting in local government jurisdictions following suit and getting their towns, cities, and counties to support Day to Serve. We even saw how one mayor’s leadership in a small Virginia town brought a divided town together under the banner of service.council
  • The Virginia Department of Transportation is encouraging all the participants in the Adopt-A-Highway program to do their clean-up projects during the Day to Serve time frame, adding hundreds of more projects to our effort.
  • Getting the Capital Area Boy Scouts on board with great clean-up projects and a new Day to Serve patchbadge

Of course there are more, but a blog can only be so long.

So far, there are about 500 service events listed on the daytoserve.org website, and many more will start popping up in the next two weeks. The results are so astounding that I’ll have to share that.

You see, when millions of people in a huge region of the United States decide to work together to help each other, it’s news. It’s Facebook-worthy. It begs to be shared, promoted, and posted.

And, I confess I have an ulterior motive: I want you to join us.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8fR-i-gQFA

Do something over the next two weeks to help someone else. Drop off some food at a food pantry. Send in a check to your local food bank. Fill an extra bag of groceries at the store and remember people who are hungry need quality food. Donate some non-perishable protein like peanut butter.

And, did you know it’s extremely difficult for needy families to afford diapers? People rarely think to give baby supplies.

Go to daytoserve.org and find out how you can be part of this growing movement.

Then, go ahead, share it on Facebook!

You know I will.

 

Community, From the News, Religion, Uncategorized

Overwhelmed by the Goodness of Others

Last Friday, President Scott Wheatley, our church’s leader over the area from Vienna to Herndon, Virginia and everything in between, wondered what we could do as a community to help the Hurricane Sandy victims in New York and New Jersey.

President Scott Wheatley with Sharon Bulova, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

He contacted Kevin Calderwood, a church member from Reston who is now serving as a mission president in the New York South Mission of the church, overseeing 200 LDS missionaries. President Calderwood quickly responded and said the people there needed warm clothing, blankets and coats.

We sent out the word last Saturday that these good people needed our help.

I sent an email out to my neighbors, and other members of our congregations in this Northern Virginia area did the same. We also invited some of our church members in surrounding areas to join us by bringing clothing items and gift cards in $25 increments to help our missionaries buy food because they have depleted their own funds eating out. They can’t get back to their own homes for meals and they are spending all their waking hours hauling furniture out of homes and helping people one house at a time.

Local bishops announced an “Emergency Gifts of the Heart” donation event to be held at one of our buildings the next day. One couple in Frederick, Maryland immediately left the church, rallied their neighbors and joined other church members, packing up vans, trucks and a long trailer they towed to Oakton, Virginia because they felt the urgency of the call to help.

On Monday afternoon, the day before the election, when I showed up at the donation site, Stuart and Trina Neel, who organize a similar non-emergency “Gifts of the Heart” event like this twice a year, were busy putting up signs to direct cars through an efficient drive-thru where donors could drive up, drop off their donations and exit the parking lot. Our church members know this drill extremely well after participating in it for at least the last 10 years. In fact, Kevin Calderwood, the NY South mission president, is the church leader who really built up this event in the area all those years ago.

Hunter Daines drops off another bag of donations

Little did he know then that the giving model he perfected would be the same one that would benefit him and those he serves so many years later when faced with perhaps the most challenging assignment in his life as the leader in an area hit by the “storm of the century.”

Slowly the volunteers came. They picked up yellow “Helping Hands” vests, went to their posts and the work began. Volunteers then started coming in hoards and didn’t stop all night. The cars lined up from the drive-up and drop-off area, out the parking lot and down Hunter Mill Road. And the line never let up all night long.

Vehicles stuffed from floor to ceiling continued to be unloaded by teenagers who used their day off from school to gladly help. They rushed the items into the gymnasium where a woman from Rockville had positioned her wheelchair for the evening to direct the teenagers where to put their bags of donations.

Then, hundreds of volunteers hurriedly grabbed bags, tore them open and began the massive sorting.  When stacks of clothing became too high, they piled them neatly below the tables — infants, boys, girls, young women, young men, men and women. We saw boxes full of brand new towels, brand new coats. Families came together and every child had a job to do. The biggest challenge of the night was tracking down enough boxes for all the donations.

Becky Probst from Reston walked into the church and asked Trina what she could do to help. “Do you have a van?” she asked. “I have a van,” Becky said. “Then go find boxes — as many and as fast as you can.” Becky left and wondered where she could go that hadn’t all ready been cleaned out of boxes by other volunteers. Finally, she pulled her car over to the side of the road and said a prayer. “Help me find boxes,” she pled.  The name of a man she’d worked with on a different project years before popped into her head, and that led her to another man who owned a moving company. She emailed him and he responded promptly asking,”How many do you need and when?” Without hesitation, he offered all the boxes we needed AND trucks, and drivers.

In one night, we filled five 26-foot trucks with not an inch to spare and still had boxes we would send up later with another church’s load later in the week. We collected over $45,000 in $25 gift cards, had 400 or more volunteers receiving, sorting, boxing, loading, about 2,500 boxes, 10,000 diapers and over 100 bags of summer clothing we donated to the MS Foundation locally.

Channel 9 and Channel 7 news reporters joined us along with Sharon Bulova, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Everyone was astounded at what we were able to do in 48 hours.

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151186707268192

I put a collection bin on my porch and every time I returned home from an errand, I found more clothing. The bin overflowed, filled up my porch and the sidewalk leading up to the porch. The charitable goodness of my neighbors overwhelmed me. And, by far, the most frequent comment I heard was, “Thank you for giving me an opportunity to help!”

This is just one of my carloads

We had no idea what our community could do in a weekend but when motivated purely by love and a desire to help others, we learned they could do miracles.

When the five-truck caravan arrived in New York and the back doors were opened, I hope the people there felt the love behind every jacket, pair of pants and warm quilt.

And you know what the second most often asked question was?

“What else can I do?”

I got emails from people wanting to take time off work to drive up and help. One was from a church leader in Mount Vernon that said, “I have people chomping at the bit to get up there and help! Just send me the word when it’s time and they’ll be off.”

For now, it’s hard for the rescue workers to accommodate extra people. They can’t feed and house more bodies with an infrastructure so badly ruined, but soon they will have need for manpower, and I have no doubt those calls for help will be answered swiftly and generously.

One of our church leaders was once asked how we get members of the church to do so much service. He wanted to know how we get young men to postpone college for two years while they serve missions and why older couples leave their grandchildren and aging parents to serve humanitarian missions. How do you get people to do so much?

The simple answer was this: We ask.

I’ve seen the same thing in good people everywhere over the last week.

To everyone who helped with this emergency service event, thank you.

It’s amazing how much good we can do in the world when we just respond to a simple call for help even if it’s as small as a $25 gift card, a coat, or a warm pair of mittens for a cold set of hands.

I’m overwhelmed by the goodness around me.

Community, From the News, Religion

Day to Serve and The Snowball Effect

Last January, I received a new church public affairs assignment.

One of our first decisions was to encourage the members of our church to dedicate a day to serve.

We explored the various needs in our communities.

After reviewing some startling hunger statistics, we decided to focus on the needs of those who are considered “food insecure.”

One in four Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from.

11.8 percent of people  in Virginia, one in six people in Maryland, a surprising 27.4 percent in the nation’s capital, 

and 21 percent of children in West Virginia live in families that cannot afford food

We reached out to the Governors of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia and the Mayor of Washington, D.C. and asked for their support.

They eagerly jumped on board.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoIXrRRRikE&feature=plcp

They issued proclamations declaring September 29 as a regional Day to Serve.

They reached out to their community faith groups and asked them to join us by organizing and/or participating in service projects to benefit the hungry.

Governor O’Malley in Maryland set a high bar by sending out letters to over 30 faith groups who all wanted to help.

We have held weekly meetings with our planning committee, which includes representatives from our church and representatives from the Governors’ and Mayor’s offices.

Each week, there is more to report.

More people are catching the vision.

More people want to help.

In West Virginia, all the football games played this Saturday will include food drives.

In Virginia, there are soccer games, 5K races, grocery store food drives, clean-up activities and more.

In D.C., there are “pack the pantry” projects to benefit the Capital Area Food Bank.

In Maryland, there are activities to clean up the environment and restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and feed the hungry.

Enthusiasm is building for what will be a historic, unprecedented regional day to serve.

We set up a website at daytoserve.org and asked every organization sponsoring a service activity to add a pin to a google map.

If you go to the site, you’ll see a packed map, full of activities in this wide swath of the country, all designed to feed the hungry or serve the community.

In fact, we maxed out the number of pins allowed on a google map.

We are now in the process of redesigning it to accommodate all the projects that haven’t made it on the map yet.

Every day the snow ball gets bigger with more activities, more donations, and more people gearing up to serve.

If you’re not sure, how to help, go to the website, click on a pin in your community and show up.

Everybody is welcome and everybody is needed.

Community, From the News

Proud to be an American

Happy Fourth of July!

photo credit itthing.com

What better place to be on Independence Day than in Washington, D.C. at Nat’s Stadium with your family and best friends?

That thought has been in my head from the minute I got up this morning.

Highlights of my Fourth of July:

  • Watching all the families dressed in their Nats fan gear pile on the metro
  • Two little boys sliding together on their seat, and saying, “Do you want to sit down?” With mitts in hand and autographed ball caps on their heads, they told me they were hoping to get Bryce Harper’s autograph at today’s game.  I loved their excitement. “How many more stops?” they kept asking their parents. “Why is this thing so slow?” they asked as they bounced up and down in their seats. Their enthusiasm was contagious.
  • A huge American flag draped between two fire truck cranes at the entrance to the stadium
photo credit Washington Examiner
  • Four home runs!
  • Standing up to sing America the Beautiful with a stadium full of proud Americans. I loved the patriotism that surged through the crowd.
  • Thanking our military with a packed house of fans
  • Sharing stories about last week’s storm but not letting it affect a great game, a beautiful city, and resilient group of people.
  • Heat wave? What heat wave? We had a breeze that kept us comfortable all afternoon in the sweltering heat.
  • Fireworks
  • Homemade Strawberry gelato
  • Feeling proud to be an American and celebrating freedom in the greatest nation on earth with the people I love most.