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Archive for December 1, 2012

Black Friday Antidote – Fighting Hunger

Once again we are at the time of year when we hear about the extravagances of living in the material world. People fighting over TVs, shoppers descending on stores in the middle of the night to fight over some gee-gaw that will eventually sit in a corner of the house or more likely will be thrown out in a couple of years.

We hear these stories hyped hour after hour on our media and we begin to wonder where are the people who care in this country? Where are those who give back? Where is the soul of this country that still as a nation has so much more that others?

Well we found such people and such a group the other day and it makes me feel good to have a chance to tell folks about it. Carol and I work with a small local group called Dream Catchers in West Liberty. One of the things we hope we can inspire the Dreamers with is that they are part of a larger world and they are expected to give back to the world. One of our mentors set us up with a great opportunity to do so the other night.

We were set up to help package meals for an organization known as “Kids Against Hunger.” Kids Against Hunger (I will use the initials KAH here on out) began about a dozen years ago by an engineer named Richard Proudfit in New Hope Minnesota. Mr. Proudfit worked for years to come up with a way to ship highly nutritious food in small containers to kids of the world and their families. He developed a small plastic package that contained dehydrated vegetables, soy protein, rice and 27 vitamins that could survive shipment around the world. The contents of that little package contained 6 meals at a total cost of $1.50 or 25 cents a meal.

Proudfit encountered many hurdles while developing his cheap, high nutrition meals and the distribution systems. The last hurdle was the need for constant expansion of the workforce to put the meals together. This is where we come in.

The packing system is a simple set up that involves a few pieces, a small amount of training and of course the meal supplies. So last Monday the Dream Catchers organization, mentors and students, met at a local church hall to be trained and to package KAH meals.

West Liberty, Iowa is one of the most interesting towns in Iowa. One of the hallmarks of West Liberty is that people are involved. They are involved in many activities that help make life better for the community. As Iowa’s only minority majority city, people of West Liberty learned long ago that we need to work together to survive or surely we will all sink. In that spirit some local folks became what is known as a wing unit of KAH. As a wing unit they have equipment and host packing groups as often as they can. So at 7PM we traipsed out to the First Church United community room and by 7:15 we were packing meals. All we needed was 12 people and an hour of time and some minor skills.

Let me interject here that KAH is not a religious group. Their mission is to feed starving children around the world. Period. Churches in small towns are often one of few place to gather. And while many may think that you should be religious to join in one of these groups, believe me all you need is a desire to help people. While I seldom discuss it, I am as far from religious as they come.

So we packed and it was fun. We had kids from age 9 to 15 and a smattering of adults. In one hour we packed 10 full cases of meals. So in total that was 2,160 meals (6 meals per packet X 36 packets per case X 10 cases). And we felt like we had really accomplished something, because we had accomplished something big.

Here comes the pitch. As soon as I heard the story of KAH that night my first thought was “I have to tell people about this group.” I have a small bullhorn here and I am taking that privilege to sound off. If you have a group looking to make a difference I daresay you would be hard pressed to find a more rewarding vehicle.

If you are in the eastern Iowa area, you can give one of our local KAH leaders a call. Syd Harned can be reached at 319-627-2643 or Bill Koellner at 319-627-4138. If you live elsewhere in Iowa go here to contact the state leaders:
http://www.kidsagainsthungeria.com/contact-us
And if you live elsewhere in the country, I am sure the folks in New Hope would love to hear from you Go here to contact them:
http://www.kidsagainsthunger.org/contact_us.shtml

Let me add that sadly some of the food packages are distributed in the United States. So if you are focused on helping in the United States, KAH works here also.

By the way the website for KAH in Iowa is here: http://www.kidsagainsthungeria.com/

What Iowans Should Know About Walmart, Medicaid and Branstad

One issue that was almost totally ignored in the recent Iowa legislative was Gov. Branstad’s vow to not accept expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Personally I thought that it should be a central issue, but trying to bring the voting public up on how this would affect Iowa was an effort in education that I doubt many candidates were willing to spend their precious time on. I mean that sincerely. When a candidate gets just a bit of time that a voter will actually spend paying attention to them, they need to hit them with the best pitch possible.

Many months ago Governor Branstad, after the Supreme Court said that the Medicaid section of the ACA was not mandatory, took it upon himself to reject any future expanded Medicaid money in the name of the state. My hope was that if enough legislators were elected who favored the Medicaid expansion they could pressure even a Branstad to change his position.

But that was not to be. My other thought is that the GOP in general feel that poor people must be punished for being poor and that those that have caused their poverty do not deserve punishment. Often these folks are rewarded by the state with tax breaks.

This is where we get to Walmart. In a bit of news the M$M (mainstream media, mostly corporate) most likely ignored, it was revealed that as one the nations largest takers of government handouts, Walmart’s low wages force its employees to seek government assistance especially food stamps and Medicaid which helps poor folks get some level of medical care.

Based on an average size store, a single Walmart costs about $420,000 in subsidies. From what I have heard, their hiring process includes instructions on how to sign up for government aid programs. How many other places of business puposely use government aid as part of their compensation package? If your knew a company was using your tax dollars as part of its compensation package wouldn’t you feel just a bit miffed? Yet they have been doing it for years and no one seems to care.

So Branstad doesn’t want to expand Medicaid in Iowa. Will this be directed at companies like Walmart who are obviously exploiting the system which was not set up to subsidize corporations, but to help individuals? I doubt it. Remember that the GOP in Iowa fought tooth and nail a few years ago to let Walmart keep a huge tax loophole that allows Walmart to pay little to no tax in Iowa. When Branstad rejects Medicaid, the Walmart employee will suffer, but not the corporation.

But there is still a law out there that hospitals must treat those that show up in their emergency rooms whether they can pay or not. So I expect in Iowa that will be the new Walmart health plan – go to the emergency room. But the emergency room is the most expensive form of health care and someone will be expected to pay. Currently that bill is paid with higher costs to medical premiums that most will be forced to buy or will be subsidized to buy under the ACA. Or in other words – you – in higher premiums. Walmart wins again.

What a great argument one more time for single payer healthcare. But until then, remember when you go into Walmart you have already given them a thousand dollars or so this year just because they are there. Hope you can save that much, but I really doubt you can. And that is only the surface of Walmart’s affect on your community.

Let me end with some words from the recently re-elected Alan Grayson, often called “the congressman with guts” on Walmart subsidies:

“The taxpayer pays for the earned income credit,” he said. “The taxpayer pays for Medicaid. The taxpayer pays for unemployment insurance when they cut hours down. And the taxpayer pays for other forms of public assistance like food stamps. I think the taxpayer is getting fed up of paying these things when, in fact, Walmart could give every employee its got, even the CEO, a 30 percent raise and still be profitable.”

“In state after state after state, Walmart employees represent the largest group of Medicaid recipients, the largest group of food stamp recipients, and taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear that burden,” Grayson said. “It should be Walmart. So, we’re going to take that burden and put it where it belongs: on Walmart.”