Sunday, September 28, 2014

Volunteering at the San Diego Food Bank and Feeding America

Back in 2009, I wrote an article about what it was like to volunteer for the San Diego Food Bank and Feeding America.  I volunteered there through Volunteer San Diego, which is no longer in business.  However, you can schedule volunteer time with each agency individually.  Enjoy this article on what it was like during the time I volunteered at these food banks.  I updated the links on the original article.

For several months in 2009, I volunteered at the Food Bank and Feeding America in San Diego. Both are types of food banks that distribute food to the poor and to other organizations that deal with hunger. The Food Bank was established in 1977 in San Diego and has its own pantry for people to pick up packages of food on their own and have a warehouse where organizations can obtain food for distribution. Over 10 million pounds of food are distributed annually through this organization. They also deal with government donations and large corporate donations of brand name items. Another one of their facets is educating the public about hunger in the region. 

Feeding America (formerly known as Second Harvest) deals with many organizations that deal with homelessness and hunger around the region. They also receive donations from large companies like Kraft, Del Monte, and Kellogg's. A lot of what they do is help alleviate some of the burden on local food banks and have a long list of outreach to the community to fight hunger. They also act as hunger advocates.
I found out about volunteer opportunities with these organizations through an volunteer organizer here called Volunteer San Diego. Their offices are in the United Way building in the Murphy Canyon area. I like using Volunteer San Diego because they are very organized and I can record my hours and comments in a single area. This is very helpful if someone is looking for a job as they can print out the number of volunteer hours and locations to show a potential employer.
I started by volunteering at Feeding America. When I first arrived, I watched a video about what the organization does and then I went to work. I mostly sorted items that were donated. These items ranged from canned food to toys and clothes for young children. I had to be careful as some items leaked or were open and could spill on my clothes. In another area, the items were sorted down even more and special pallets were set up for certain organizations who placed orders through them. The work involved a lot of lifting, bending down, and standing for about two hours.
At the Food Bank, the job was a bit different. I helped put together kits for seniors that were distributed around the county. This involved uncrating brand new food items such as cereal, condensed milk, tomato juice, peanut butter, and other things. Often, items changed from month to month based on the donations. The workers worked very fast as everyone wanted to get as many kits made so that as many people as possible could be helped. Other people made boxes to place the food in and some broke down boxes that the packages of food arrived in.
During these projects, I've found that many different types of people volunteer for these projects. Some just like doing the work and feel good about helping. Others are students getting credit for their school or school organization. Some are also doing this because it's court ordered. And, some are doing it because they are on assistance programs the require them to put in a certain number of volunteer hours every month. People's demeanors are different and often based on why they're there. Some people didn't seem happy to be there and were not very friendly or talkative. Others were very energetic and talkative, but focused on their work. No one I've met there were mean or spouted a bad attitude.
Tips for volunteering:
Here are some things that I recommend if one wants to start volunteering at an organization such as Feeding America and their local Food Bank:
Wear your grubbies. That is wear clothes that you don't mind getting damaged. Packages and cans might break open and ruin your clothes. Also, closed toed shoes are a must as things can easily drop on your feet and break something.
Be mindful that some people have been doing this a long time. There are people that volunteer for these projects at least once a week and have been doing so for months or years. Some of them can be very territorial as to their "spots" where they like to work. So, if that's the case, see if you can find another place where you can be of assistance, or ask if they need help at their station. There's always room for someone to help.
Arrive Early to get the best choice of spots or jobs.
Beware of flying or dropping objects. At some projects, boxes could be thrown and heavy cans may drop that could potentially get someone hurt, unintentionally. So, heads up!
For more on Feeding America, visit:
For more on the San Diego Food Bank, visit:
Volunteer hours are usually at night or on weekends. You can also contact the Food Bank or Feeding America directly to volunteer. Have fun.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

How to eat healthy at the fair

I wrote this back in 2009, but looking through it again, I see a lot of relevant points to today.  Sure, the food has changed, but the technique to keeping your choices healthy haven't.

Lots of food choices at the fair

Fair season in San Diego has just passed, but many areas in Southern California have fairs during the fall and winter.  I thought I would write an article about how to choose healthier options while enjoying the fair. Of course, the healthiest option is to bring your own food, but I feel that part of the fun of going to the fair is to eat. Here are some options that I have found to help with eating healthier. Most of these are based on my own research and experiences with fairs in southern California, but can be applied elsewhere. If anyone else has an idea specific to their area, please feel free to comment.

1. Grilled or BBQ protein, best if it's grilled chicken or steak. Fajitas can also be good in terms of watching one's calories and fat, but are usually soaked in a high-sodium marinade. Teriyaki dishes are higher in sodium as well. A word of caution: do NOT go for that turkey leg that is often seen at these fairs. They are at least 1000 calories just for one leg. I don't know how that happens, but that's what the fair food nutritionists say.
2. Fresh or Grilled Veggies. Try to find places that use whole vegetables such as grilled corn, stir fry, rice bowls, salads and the like. Watch the seasonings and dressings as these can add a lot of extra calories. Also, dishes with whole beans can be healthier, but stay away from re-fried beans as they often have lard, salt, and sugar in them.
3. Desserts with Fresh Fruit. There are often booths that sell fresh fruit desserts such as caramel apples and parfaits. I know of one place at the San Diego County Fair that sells a dessert with whole fruit with a little bit of sponge cake and whipped cream. However, to keep it low calorie, skip all the syrups and limit the whipped cream and nuts.
4, Low or Non-Fat Frozen Yogurt is often available nowadays at the fair. Also, you can often find low-fat ice cream and even non-dairy options. The best option is to have it served in a paper bowl or cake-style cone and not the waffle cones or bowls.
5. Ask for a child or snack size. If you do want to indulge, ask for the smallest size. That way, you can still treat yourself without worrying about all the extra calories. Just limit these indulgences to a few items otherwise, you end up eating a lot of calories if you eat a lot of different snack sizes. San Diego County Fair often has a day where you can go around to different food booths and sample the smaller versions of their items for just a couple of dollars each. Other fairs might have the same option.
6. Drink Water instead of sugary sodas. 100% fruit juices can be a healthier option, but also contain quite a bit of sugar from the fruit and should be limited.
I hope these ideas help. I'm sure I'll see more choices when I go to the fair this year and I may report back on it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Remember government cheese?

I remember when I moved to California in 1981 with my brother and mother, we would sometimes go and get "government cheese" and I think powdered milk at the same time.  Not many people I know have ever heard about government cheese.  It didn't taste good, but it was edible and better than some of the cheap stuff at the stores.  It melted very well and was good on hamburgers or as grilled cheese.  It kinda had the consistency of Velveeta.

The cheese came in 5lb bricks and I remember that they were distributed out of a large truck.  It was part of a food program that stemmed from dairy subsidies and stockpiling for disasters.  President Reagan ordered the cheese to be distributed in 1981 as part as a Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program.  I think you either had to be low income or part of a food co-op, like SHARE, to get the cheese, but I don't remember.  I think they may have given it to anyone who wanted one, but only one per family and only once a month.

I know that the cheese was welcome in our household at that time, but we soon got bored of eating it.  By then, they had stopped distributing it and we missed it.

I found a great article on government cheese here:  WTF Happened to Government Cheese?

So, who remembers government cheese?  Did you eat it, too?

Sorry I couldn't get a picture of any blocks of government cheese.  It was so long ago, before digital cameras and everything.

Wayward Whale Seems to Like San Diego

We had a wayward whale enter San Diego Bay in March of 2009.  This was a little story I wrote about it for Associated Content:

A young California gray whale who had wandered into San Diego Bay on March 10th, 2009 doesn't seem to be in any hurry to leave. The 30 foot long male, of an indeterminate age, seems to like where it's at right now. The whale came into the bay around Shelter Island about midday and was thought to have left later that night. However, the next morning, he was seen even deeper to the south. He seems to prefer being around the Star of India and the main Embarcadero right on the coast of San Diego's Harbor Island.
It's not the first time, and probably not the last time, a whale has been in San Diego bay. Whales do like to wander there from time to time over history. At this time of year, most of the whales that had spent their time calving and hanging out in the waters off the coast of the south end of Baja California have begun to migrate north again. However, some whales, especially early in the year, are still making their way south. Right now, it is unknown which way this whale was going when he decided to take a turn into the bay.
The Coast Guard and a whale expert have gone out to check on the whale after a report that it was struck by a boat, which turned out to be false. The whale has said to be healthy and possibly feeding near the bottom. In fact, food may be the main reason why he came into the bay in the first place. Long periods of time pass between sightings and whale experts say that this is a good thing. When a whale is distressed, it surfaces more often and the fact that the whale is not surfacing that much means that he is more relaxed. There have been times when it is thought that he had left the area only to show up again later on.
In the meanwhile, business at the harbors of San Diego have been booming as people flock to get a glimpse of the whale which has surfaced fairly close to the docks. People are booking whale watching tours and spending money in the museums and shops in the area.
Gray whales are usually about 15 feet when they are born and grow to a maximum of around 40 to 50 feet long. At a year old, they can be as big as 25 to 30 feet. They are generally weaned at about 8 months, but stay with their mothers for about year, or after their first full migration. They are fully mature at about 8 to 10 years old They generally travel in small groups of three and pods up to sixteen members. When feeding or resting, they may associate into larger, temporary groups.
Sea World and other cetacean authorities say that they can't do anything regarding this whale at the current time. Federal law also states that people and boats must stay at least 100 yards from any whale and not do anything to impede its movements in any way.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Remembering the FA-18 that crashed into a San Diego neighborhood

I wrote this in December 2008 when an FA-18 crashed into a home wiping out a man's entire family, including his mother in law, wife, and babies.  To me, this seems like just yesterday and can't believe it's been almost 6 years since that happened..  I used to work in the area at that time.

At about noon Pacific Standard Time, an FA-18 military aircraft crashed into a neighborhood in the northern part of San Diego called University City. The plane crashed into a home on Huggins Street near Cather Avenue near highway I-805 just east of Genesse avenue. Witnesses say that the plane pretty much broke one house in two and set fire to at least two other homes. Some vehicles were also set on fire. Debris was widely strewn all over the area. Nearby residents were evacuated due to toxic fumes in the area and as of the time of this writing, they are still locked out of the area. 

The pilot ejected and landed near University City High School. He appeared mostly uninjured and asked a civilian for a cell phone to call his batallion commander. According to the civilian, the pilot seemed very concerned about where his plane landed. He was taken to the hospital to be checked out. Apparently, he was on a Marine training mission, flying offshore from the U.S.S. Lincoln when one of his engines failed. Since he was not allowed to land on the carrier, he decided to make a landing at the Miramar air base inland. He was on final approach, about two miles away from the airstrip near Governor Drive, when the other engine went out and the plane began to drop suddenly and that's when he ejected.
Four people, all family members from the home first hit by the aircraft have been confirmed dead. They consisted of a grandmother, mother and two very small children. The family had just moved there to have a bigger house for their growing family. The husband and father of the mother and children was at work when this happened.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Remembering Martha and her Kind

Martha probably never knew how special she was.  She probably never knew she was the last of her kind and no more of her family existed anywhere.  She spent most of her life in the Cincinnati Zoo where she passed away on September 1st, 1914, exactly 100 years ago.

Martha, stuffed, in 1921
Photo by Robert W. Shufledt  

Passenger pigeons once filled the sky in various areas east of the Mississippi River.  They traveled in one huge flock from food source to food source and nesting site to nesting site.  They were often seen flying over in large groups for days.  People often described the loud beating of their wings as they massed in such a large flock.  Europeans often considered them a pest, native people considered them a blessing from the creator.  No one ever thought they could go extinct.  Then, one day, they were gone pretty much all of a sudden.

For at least a few thousand years, perhaps longer, native peoples lived alongside the pigeons with no problem.  The pigeon squabs were collected by the native people before they fledged.  The people used an almost unlimited number of squabs for food.  But,  they never seemed to have affected the population despite the heavy harvest.  One thing native people's tended not to do is hunt the adults during nesting season (though some tribes didn't totally ban hunting the nesting birds, they did hunt them less at this time).

The white man, however, hunted them at any time all the time whenever he saw them.  The market hunters in the 1800s would wipe out large numbers of adult birds at one time.  They also cleared more and larger tracks of the forests that supplied the pigeons with food.  This led to a rapid decline of the pigeons as well as other species, like the Eskimo curlew, the most numerous shorebird in the world at that time.  After about forty years, all that was left was Martha.  People killed them all off.

People tried to save the pigeon, but many people saw the pigeon as a pest and in abundance, so they didn't think it really needed saving.

One thing Martha has taught modern people is that you shouldn't take advantage of any species just because they're abundant to the point of being a pest.  For example, Canada geese, at one time, were so reduced that people rarely saw them.  Now, they're everywhere.  The same with white-tailed deer.

I am reading A Feathered River Across the Sky.  It's a bit wordy, but contains a lot of information on the passenger pigeon and it's relationship with human beings.  You can buy it by clicking the link below.

Band-Tailed Pigeon by Tyler Karaszewski
The band-tailed pigeon is a local relative of the passenger pigeon.  It doesn't live in large flocks, but does like to gather in the mountain forests of the west.  There are efforts to clone and re-create a passenger pigeon and the band-tailed pigeon will be both the host for the clone and a source of DNA to fill the gaps in the DNA already extracted from mounted specimens.

I once came across the band-tailed pigeon who had accidentally strayed west of the mountains.  They are a large pigeon and usually solitary or in pairs.  It, promptly flew off.

I found this interesting article while researching Passenger Pigeons.  It explains more about them than I can say in this blog:

A Feathered Tempest