Social Causes

During the summer, many families will see their grocery bills increase a bit. With kids home all day every day, that means providing meals that they normally would’ve eaten at school. Plus snacks. And BOY, can kids snack!

But while we’re balancing our own food budgets, it’s easy to forget about the kids who face a much bigger problem: Getting meals at all. There are many, many kids who rely upon school breakfast and lunch to get quality meals. So what do they do during the summer?

eathealthytogether

According to a new report by the Food Research and Action Center, the number of children participating in the USDA’s Summer Nutrition Programs increased last year, but the need for access while school is out of session remains high. Last year, only one in seven children who needed summer meals actually received them. That means the other six likely suffered without regular meals — much less healthy meals.

That’s a scary situation to face, whether you’re the child who spends his days hungry or the parent struggling to provide. Thankfully, there is help to be found.

The Walmart Foundation has kicked off a summer initiative to help children and their families get nutritious meals and learn healthy eating habits. The program includes $15 million in grants, which will will provide meals and nutrition education to 1.4 million children and families in more than 1,500 communities. The six nonprofits that will receive grant funding are:

These organizations do everything from providing mobile medical programs that offer nutrition education to directly providing healthy meals and snacks to low-income children nationwide.

But even if you’re not struggling to provide meals for your family, there’s still something you can do. As parents, we are our kids’ first role models, and they will often grow up to emulate what they’ve learned at home. This is especially true when it comes to eating habits. If they learn the importance of healthy meals and celebrating them as a family, that’s a lesson they will carry with them throughout their lives.

In this spirit, Walmart has issues a five-week Eat Healthy Together Challenge. The idea is to encourage families to eat healthy meals together at least three times a week. To reward you for doing so, each week, a random participant will win a $25 Walmart gift card. So how can you join in? Simple.

  1. Follow @WalmartHealthy on Twitter
  2. Post photos or updates on Twitter of your family eating healthy meals together, and include these hashtags: #EatHealthyTogether #Contest.
  3. Check out @WalmartHealthy each Monday for the announcement of the winning Challenge

The photo at the top of this post is my contribution. My hubby made a healthy breakfast for the whole family, and it was delicious!

The winner will be chosen from all those who use the hashtag, and the challenge continues through Monday, August 4. Entries need to be received by 10:00 a.m. ET on Mondays to be considered for the contest each week. Be sure to read the contest rules. You can also learn more about meal planning and creating healthy meals as a family at the challenge website.

Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you know that my family has had an up-close and personal experience with cancer. What you may not know, because I never shared it here, is that because of my daughter’s diagnosis, she was granted a wish by the Make-a-Wish foundation.

If you’re not familiar with them, Make-A-Wish grants the wishes of children who are facing life-threatening medical conditions. Like many 5 year olds, my daughter wanted to go to Disney World, and they made it happen.

makeawish1

makeawish2

makeawish3

We spent one magical week at the Give Kids the World Village not far from Disney and spent several awesome days at the parks, along with Sea World and Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and it was an experience none of us will ever forget. While we were on our trip, there were no thoughts of chemo or needle pokes or spinal taps. Just fun, and a little magic from Mickey Mouse and friends.

But we were not the only family Make-A-Wish helped that year. In fact, the organization grants 10,000 wishes each year that involve travel — and most of those, like ours, happen during the summer when kids are out of school.

So throughout the month of April, in preparation for the busy summer, Make-A-Wish has a big ask. Via their Wishes in Flight® program, folks who fly on Delta, United, or US Airways can easily donate frequent flier miles to help grant wishes in just a few easy steps at wish.org/miles. Donated miles never expire and they will never be used for anything other than wish travel.

makeawish4

If you’re like me, you probably have airline miles that have been sitting unused for a while. That will probably expire if you don’t pay attention. In fact, some estimates show there are more than 16 trillion (TRILLION?!) frequent flier miles that go unused every year, and that 25 percent of people let their miles expire or use miles for magazine subscriptions or a one-time upgrade just so they can use them at the last minute.

Wouldn’t those miles be better spent helping to grant a wish for a sick child? Doctors say that wish experiences can improve children’s state of mind, make them more willing to comply with treatment requirements, and even improve their physical health. I can vouch for this firsthand. Our week at Disney made my daughter a happier, more relaxed kid, without question. It was amazing for my husband and I as well, because it was our first real family vacation. And my husband, who had never been to Disney, got to be a kid again. Happy parents make for happier kids.

You can donate airline miles to Make-A-Wish throughout the year, but April is a critical time for airline miles because travel arrangements are being made for summer wish travel. To donate miles, visit wish.org/miles.

Note: I have not been asked to write about this or compensated in any way. I just wanted to share because I know what wonderful work Make-A-Wish does, and thought this was the very least I could do.

As you have no doubt seen, I do a lot of work with Walmart around the holidays every year. There are crafts, product reviews and even some shopping for gifts for my own family. But without a doubt, each year, the assignment I look forward to the most is the chance to buy and donate toys for kids in need. The idea of providing a little something special for a child who otherwise might have little or nothing for Christmas truly warms my heart.

toysfortots1

Through the Walmart Moms program, each of us received $100 to shop for toys. Each year, I struggle with whether to buy bigger gifts, or get smaller items to make the money stretch further. We also like to try finding gifts for older kids, because as a general rule, little kids are easier to shop for, and probably account for the bulk of donations. In the end, we tried to accommodate a bit of all these things. We bought:

The Nerf bow has been crazy popular this year, and in fact, my own daughter has it on her wish list. So I thought it would make a great gift.

toysfortots3

Also, when I buy dolls, I try to buy African American ones, because I think little girls of all colors need to see a reflection of their own beauty in their playthings, and in this area, diverse though it may be, black dolls aren’t always easy to come by. I couldn’t resist the round, brown face on this one, and her wild, curly hair reminded me of my daughter :)

toysfortots2

Finally, to boost our donation, we added some toys we’d collected throughout the year, including a Jake & the Neverland Pirates ship, a Minnie Mouse figurine, a ball and paddle, a couple of jump ropes, and a set of small toy cars. That made for an awesome stack of gifts that would hopefully help a ton of kids.

This year, Walmart is really trying to help a lot of kids with a huge giving project: the Fill the Truck campaign.

FillTheTruck1

In partnership with The Salvation Army, Walmart is working to get gifts to children in need locally. Essentially, stores provide a huge cardboard truck where customers can donate toys, coats, video games and more. The Salvation Army will handle fulfillment of those gifts to local kids. I love this push for giving back, and it is a value we work hard to instill in our kids.

While our store did not have  Fill the Truck box, it did have a Toys for Tots box. However, it was present only for a limited time, and when we went back to the store to deliver our toys, the donation boxes were already gone. We did find another dropoff location, at a retirement community a couple of miles from our home. They had a big tree set up in a great room for donations, and we added ours to the growing pile.

toysfortots5

I imagine that this year, given how rough the economy has been, there may be more children than ever who are receiving help through Toys for Tots, Fill the Truck and programs like them. This is why it always feels amazing to do this, knowing that in a few weeks, these gifts will be making some kids’ Christmases just a little bit brighter.

How do you plan to give back for the holidays? How do you teach your kids the importance of giving back?

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Disclosure: I am a member of the Collective Bias Social Fabric community. I have been compensated to share my experience with you by Collective Bias and their client, Mastercard.

Cancer is still not one of those things I like to talk about — not even nearly four years after my daughter’s initial diagnosis and more than a year since she has been off treatment and officially cancer free. Truth be told, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to talk about it freely. But every once in a while, I find I’m able to use my voice to help other people — other families — who might be facing the same and not knowing what to do or where to turn. This time, I’m lending my voice to MasterCard and their efforts to help Stand Up to Cancer. As a MasterCard holder, I was really proud to find out that they are donating up to $4 million to the organization, and anything I can do to assist in that effort is the very least I can do.

mastercard-sutc1

You see, my daughter was just four years old when she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, also known as ALL. It happened out of nowhere, and it rocked us to the core. Even the doctors’ assurances that this was the most common form of childhood leukemia, or their reports that the cure rate hovers around 85% didn’t help. Because this was cancer. That dreaded C word that always happens to other people, but never to us or the ones we love.

My husband and I beat ourselves up, wondering what we possibly could have done to cause this. What we could have done to prevent it. Why God was punishing us. Because it couldn’t be happening. Not to us.

But during her treatment, something special happened. I watched my daughter, four brief years old, endure pokes, prods, medications and surgery that would make the average adult moan and complain. I watched her do it with grace and strength that I never would’ve thought she possessed. This little girl — this sick little girl — taught me more about life in the two years after her diagnosis than I could’ve learned in a lifetime.

Case in point? Here we are on the day the doctors surgically removed her port, officially marking the end of treatment:

mastercard-sutc2

Here she is the next day, on the floor, as if nothing had happened, drawing a picture.

mastercard-sutc3

Strong doesn’t begin to describe my baby.

Nearly four years after that potentially devastating diagnosis, she is cancer free, and the average person would never know what she had gone through if we don’t tell them. And thought the memories and emotional scars of fighting cancer may never completely disappear, thankfully, there are no visible physical scars or lasting side effects of her treatment. For this, we are thankful — to God and to her medical team.

She was treated at the #1 hospital for pediatric cancer in Georgia; a place where innovation is rewarded, and treatment is delivered on a child-by-child basis. My daughter also participated in a study throughout her treatment, which hopefully will help other children who are battling ALL in the future.

All of this is why it took exactly 2 seconds for me to fall in love with Stand Up to Cancer, a wonderful organization that was created to push innovative cancer research and get new therapies to patients quickly. They’ve managed to bring together the best researchers and encourage collaboration among the cancer community instead of competition. The ultimate goal? To save lives right now. Today. Not at some distant time in the future.

So how can you help? Well, you can do what my husband and I did. You can go out on a lunch date.

mastercard-sutc4

Or have dinner with friends or grab breakfast at your favorite diner.

We had lunch at one of our favorite restaurants after an early showing of the new Hunger Games movie. Who knew that a big plate of the best chicken fried rice I’ve ever had could help save lives?

mastercard-sutc5

Well, most days, it couldn’t. But today, my delicious lunch — paid for with my MasterCard — helped do just that. When you use your MasterCard card to pay for a meal that costs $10 or more, MasterCard will make a donation, one precious cent at a time, to Stand Up To Cancer. They’ve pledged to donate up to $4,000,000.

Four. Million. Dollars. Think about how many lives that could help save. And all you have to do is use your MasterCard next time you eat out. It’s quite literally that easy to Dig in and Do Good for cancer research. Will you help?

Pssst! And while you’re at it, tell your friends that they can help too!

For days, I have been trying to write this post. I’ve written it in my head at least a dozen times, and still, I’m not really sure I’ll get it “right.” If it’s even possible to get it right. But I feel compelled to write SOMEthing, so write I will.

I am afraid. Not for my own safety, as George Zimmerman would have us believe he was when he shot an unarmed Trayvon Martin. I am afraid for my children, my nephews and nieces, my friends’ children, my husband, all the other black boys and men in my family and all those who go about their daily lives never thinking any day could be their last.

I am afraid because there will be people who will see my stepsons’ gorgeous brown skin and assume they are gang members because of the way they dress, or talk, or walk — or just are. I am afraid that my daughter will make a mistake, like kids sometimes do, and she will receive a punishment way too harsh for the offense, just because he has brown skin. I am afraid because my husband is a strong black man with a disarming personality, but he wasn’t raised to defer to white people or acquiesce to police who are in the wrong just because. Because where we grew up, we didn’t have to. I’m afraid that one day, his strength will get him killed because someone didn’t appreciate it. Because someone feared it.

I am afraid of the opinions of the people on the other side of the fence, who have stripped away Trayvon’s humanity and say he deserved to be shot for daring to defend himself while black. Who are quick to remind us that he was not a “boy”, but a “man” who never should have “attacked” George Zimmerman. Who say that they would have shot Trayvon too, in the same circumstances. Who call him a nigger and a thug and all manner of other things I’m sure they’d hate to have someone call their dead teenage sons. I am afraid of their opinions because while they are vocal about their feelings online, most of them would never say these things in real life, and their hidden biases are much more dangerous to me and mine that those people who are openly bigoted.

I am afraid of the mindset of the jury of women — most of whom were white and presumably some of whom were mothers — who acquitted “George” because Trayvon shouldn’t have fought back. And one of them said publicly that Zimmerman was justified. I am afraid of the reasons they would so readily accept the word of a man who has pending sexual assault charges, called the police to report suspicious black men dozens of times, and consciously ignored a police dispatcher’s explicit instruction not to follow this boy of whom he claims he was so afraid. I am afraid of the reasons they choose to remember Trayvon for smoking weed and getting into petty scuffles — something MANY teens do and document in photos online — rather than the fact the he saved his father by pulling him from a burning kitchen, his love of horseback riding and his ambitions to become an aviation mechanic or pilot. I fear they didn’t even know those last few facts because they didn’t care to learn. Because they saw Trayvon as “other” and weren’t even aware enough to try to overcome that bias.

I am afraid that the Zimmerman verdict will create more people like George Zimmerman who will unapologetically follow and take the lives of black boys and men, because they have now been told that it is OK to do so.

I am afraid of the laws, in Florida and elsewhere, including my home state of Georgia, that give folks free reign to carry a gun and use it as long as they claim they were “afraid.” I am afraid because I know these laws will be overwhelmingly used AGAINST people like me who have black and brown skin, and therefore are inherently seen as threatening. I am afraid because I know this not because of personal rhetoric or made-up boogeymen, but based on historical evidence that the justice system is stacked against us.

I am afraid because people who say they “don’t see race” really believe that to be true, when we all know that race — and our experiences because of it — tend to be the lenses through which we view the world. Or at least color the lenses through which we view it. I wish that people would stop hoping for a “post-racial” society, and instead learn to celebrate differences or at least view them neutrally, rather than pretending they don’t exist at all. Because I am not a woman who happens to be black. I am a black woman, and among other ways I identify, that is an important part of who I am. Telling me you don’t see that isn’t helping. At all.

I am afraid of the deafening silence of my white friends, who see fit to publicly grieve the death of a Glee star, but say nothing about the murder of an unarmed teen. Who stand up vocally for marriage equality or demand women’s reproductive rights and choice, but say nothing about race or racism. I fear they are silent because they feel like they can be. Because this case doesn’t affect them the way it does me and other people of color. I wish they would say something. Anything. Because this case is about ALL of us, and our inherent biases and prejudices.

I am afraid because so often when a black person mentions racism or white privilege, we are told we are being oversensitive or ridiculous, and that we should just “get over the race thing already.” As if these problems don’t really, truly exist. These people act like the Supreme Court didn’t just invalidate what was perhaps the most important provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, forgetting that today, states are still looking to disenfranchise the poor and people of color with voter ID laws and by taking away early voting and redrawing voting district lines. I am afraid because we are past the days of overt bigotry, and it now lives in the hearts and souls of us all, so deep and invasive that most of us either can’t see it, or just flat out refuse to acknowledge it. I am afraid because I know that I am guilty of bias too, but hopeful because I recognize it and I’m working to overcome it. Still though, I am afraid because I know that my biases are a lot less likely to result in someone’s death than the biases of my white peers, because my biases tend to make me cautious rather than make me act invincible.

I am afraid, but that is not all I am. I am also empowered, because for once, it seems, the eyes of the nation are collectively looking in the same direction, whether we are talking about it or not. We are all thinking about Trayvon, even if just in passing. Many of us are outraged, and I’m determined to find ways to turn that outrage into positive change. I’m determined to continue talking about race, because I would be guilty if I remain silent.

So friends. Readers. Can we talk about this? Really talk about it? Can we actually DO something about this, even after the news coverage ceases and the marches end? Because things have got to change. And trust me when I tell you that as helpless as I feel today, I am determined to find a way to act.

In the meantime, read this post for things we can each do, every day, to combat racism, in ourselves and others.

Every once in while, a cause comes along that makes you want to shop, and today, on International Women’s Day, I have a great one. Yesterday, Walmart launched Empowering Women Together, a section that offers goods from small businesses owned by women around the world. In other words, each purchase you make helps a woman somewhere in the world feed herself and her family, which in turn helps to uplift her community and empowers her to do everything of which she is capable.

WMT Empowering Women Together_2[3]

These are women who have faced challenges like poverty, lack of education, domestic abuse and physical limitations. These women come from countries like Rwanda, where economic opportunities are scarce, and who would otherwise never be able to reach American shoppers.

I can get behind that 100%.

Of course, it helps that the products are beautiful, and more than worth buying. Here are some of my favorites:

empoweringwomen1

1. Women’s Tiered Convertible Dress / 2. African Patterned Wristlet / 3. Recycled Rice Bag Quilted iPad Case / 4. Paper Mache 10″ Vase / 5. 18 x 18 Reversible Decorative Pillow / 6. 3-Piece Woven Chevron Bangles Bracelet Set / 7. Fair Trade & Organic Coffee and Chocolate Gift Set / 8. Handpainted Card and Beaded Earring Set (aff)

At the moment, you can purchase more than 200 items from 19 businesses in 9 countries. However, this will eventually be part of a larger project, Store for Good, which will help connect shoppers with products that do good for others, themselves or the environment.

Would you look at me strange if I jump up and say Hallelujah? These are the types of projects I want to see big businesses take on more often. Bringing products like these to consumers who otherwise might never consider buying them is the only way, in my opinion, to demonstrate why these products matter.

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I’ve been writing about green living and sustainability for so long that it’s almost second nature now. The conscious actions that my family and I have adopted during the last 5 years or so have become family habits that now feel effortless. I realize, however, that not every family or every company is there yet. While I wish every company would immediately drop potentially toxic ingredients and manufacturing processes from their products, I’m enough of a realist to understand that this isn’t going to happen overnight. And I’m all about small steps toward a larger goal.

Unilever is taking steps toward making not just the company more sustainable, but the lives of the consumers who purchase their products as well.

I wrote a few weeks ago about their Cross Off Hunger program, in conjunction with Feeding America. Unilever is committed to donating more than two million meals to families in need with Feeding America and every item on your shopping list counts. Show your support by adding Unilever brands to your cart next time you shop. Together we can help to Cross Off Hunger.

unilever-whatibought1

I purchased a variety of Unilever products on a recent shopping trip, in part because I buy them all the time, but it also felt good to know that my dollars were helping a good cause. I bought Axe deodorant for my stepson, who loves the stuff; Q-Tips, because we always need them and recently ran out; Country Crock Spread with Calcium, which we buy all the time because stick butter is pretty difficult to spread on bread; Ragu & Barilla pasta sauce, both staples in our pantry; Lipton Green Tea, because we love tea; and Breyers ice cream. Do I really need to explain that last one?

However, Unilever is pushing sustainability in many other ways. They are helping to deliver health and hygiene products to more than 1 billion people and delivering clean, safe drinking water to more than 500 million. They’re looking to reduce greenhouse gas production created by their products by 50%, as well as reducing by half the amount of water required by consumers to use their products and the amount of waste created by their products.  Finally, they’re looking to work with smaller farms to help deliver a sustainable livelihood to many more people. In essence, their goal is making life better for all of us, one small change at a time.

Is it a perfect plan toward sustainability? In my opinion, no, but they’re working toward the greater good. And I can respect that.

unilever-whatibought2

Tonight, I’m just making a great dinner for my family with these products that we always buy. Both Ragu and Barilla pasta sauces went into my famous (well, not really) baked ziti and ground turkey meat sauce. And I’m resting happy in the knowledge that the meal I’m giving my family is helping other families eat, too.

DISCLOSURE: I am a member of the Collective Bias® Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™ and Unilever #CBias #SocialFabric. As usual, all opinions are my own.

unilever1

My family is blessed. We’re not always able to buy the things we want, but we’re almost always able to have what we need. There are many, many families and people throughout the nation for whom that is just not the case. Having been in a position to need help in the past, my family and I know what it feels like, and it’s not fun. With the holidays quickly approaching, that feeling is likely to be greatly exaggerated.

These people, in many cases have to rely on nonprofit organizations like churches and food banks just to put food on the table. But of course, food banks don’t just magically appear when there are folks in need. The need help in order to provide for the needs of the people they serve. Food banks always need nonperishable food, but they also need personal care items. While my family is able to be selective and buy only personal care products that are made with organic and largely natural ingredients, when you’re in need, almost any assistance is a good thing.

This is where Unilever comes in.

Unilever is committed to donating more than two million meals to families in need with Feeding America and every item on your shopping list counts. Show your support by adding Unilever brands to your cart next time you shop. Together we can help to Cross Off Hunger. This program is part of Unilever’s overall goal to become a more sustainable company and help one billion people improve their health and well-being.

unilever2

We can each do our part to help their cause. Visit MakingLifeBetter.com to learn about hunger in our nation, including what food banks really need, how they operate and where you can find banks in your area, so you can offer informed assistance.

You can also simply continue to use your favorite Unilever products, including family favorites like Ragu, Skippy, Lipton, Benn & Jerry’s and Q-Tip. Our family uses Ragu pasta sauce, Breyers ice cream and Country Crock spread pretty regularly, and my stepsons asked for Axe products for Christmas.

unilever3

In the next few weeks, I will purchase $50 worth of Unilever products to do my part and share with you what I bought and why (or why not). I’ll also learn all I can about what the food banks in my area actually need so that when my family donates, we’ll be fulfilling actual needs rather than perceived ones, and I’ll share ways that I believe all of us, including Unilever, can lead more sustainable lives. Because I believe that we can make things #BetterTogether

What will you do to help fight hunger?

DISCLOSURE: I am a member of the Collective Bias® Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™ and Unilever #CBias #SocialFabric. As usual, all opinions are my own.

{ 1 comment }