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5 months ago · by · Comments Off on Food Donations Pour In For Rescue Crew of Florida Building Collapse

Food Donations Pour In For Rescue Crew of Florida Building Collapse

As crews continue to search through the rubble of the building collapse in Surfside Florida for those still missing, a growing army of volunteers has been offering everything from water and energy drinks to pizza and deep-fried Oreos to firefighters, police officers and other rescue workers working 12-hour shifts at the site. The crews have been searching since the huge section of the Champlain Towers South building fell to the ground at around 2am on June 24th.

The community has been dropping off cases of water and food to nearby churches for distribution to the hundreds of search-and-rescue workers since the day of the collapse. At Casa Church near the disaster site, Pastor Ezequiel Fattore began with handing out a few bottles of water. His congregation pitched in and within hours he was at Costco buying $600 worth of water and food with the first donations. The donations have been flowing in ever since and the church has a side room now packed with cases of water along with a large assortment of energy drinks, bottled iced coffees and bags of chips and other snacks. As volunteers pack coolers to distribute among police and emergency crews in the area, more donations keep coming in. Fattore said he’s had heartbreaking conversations with loved ones of those dead and missing. Some members of his church have friends still unaccounted for but the outpouring of donations reaffirms his faith.

Members of the community and businesses have been steadily dropping off large orders of food to crews and some line the nearby streets handing out water and snacks to police, fire and rescue crews as they pass by. Nicolette and Patrick Daniel and her husband traveled from Texas to Florida to offer whatever assistance they could to victims’ families and emergency workers. They hired a food truck to cook 350 meals that were distributed in a parking lot of another nearby church. Daniel said she felt compelled to give back after the outpouring of support she received when her mother died suddenly a year ago. “It was the doorbell that kept ringing and the people who kept calling that kept me going,” she said.

The outpouring from the community has also been for families and victims affected by the collapse. The Shul, a community center located blocks from the scene, created a central fund to disperse money to families and victims affected by the collapse. The organization said they are overwhelmed with emergency supplies for families and has asked those who would like to support survivors to make a monetary donation. The American Red Cross is helping displaced residents find shelter and is providing them with food. The Miami Heat and several local organizations have launched a hardship fund for the victims: https://supportsurfside.org/ Neighbors 4 Neighbors along with the City of Surfside and F.R.I.E.N.D. Miami-Dade’s Long Term Disaster Recovery Group has set up a fund to assist the victims in the long term with unforeseen costs and things not covered by insurance. https://neighbors4neighbors.org/surfsidefund

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5 months ago · by · Comments Off on Michigan Community Saves Couple’s Wedding Day

Michigan Community Saves Couple’s Wedding Day

A couple’s wedding was like a fairytale until tragedy struck. Elizabeth and Jake Landuyt’s reception was interrupted just minutes after Elizabeth’s father began giving his speech because the cottage next to their wedding venue caught fire on Mackinac Island, Michigan. The newlyweds had to abandon their reception and without a plan of where to go, headed back toward the church they had just married in.

Guests piled back into the church and began to pray for everyone’s health and safety. While they were in the church praying, unbeknownst to them, angels were at work trying to save the day. Mission Point Resort and other nearby businesses saw everything unfold and immediately sprang into action to save the wedding. The resort staff immediately started getting tables and chairs set up to host the reception.

The chef at the venue took all 120 meals — which were only partially prepared — and instructed the staff to bring them to safety at the restaurant next door. What they didn’t have, another restaurant provided. Other obstacles that were overcome were that Mackinac Island doesn’t have cars, so the migration of the wedding had to be done manually. From catering and supplies by the Island House Hotel kitchen and the Pink Pony, bartending led by Mission Point’s head bellman, late evening ferry services by Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry to entourage assistance, it was all taken care of.

Word spread of the effort to save the wedding and powered by the kindness of strangers, they achieved their goal. . A bellhop volunteered to bartend and a stranger on the street carried the flowers to the new location. In under an hour, the community had banded together and relocated the reception, all while the newly married couple and guests prayed.

“As if this island was not already special enough to us to want to have our wedding there. After what we saw, the ‘Magic of Mackinac’ and its people are so real and we are forever grateful,” Mrs. Landuyt said. To top off their special day, their prayers for those involved in the fire were answered. In the end, no one was hurt and even the building was saved.

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6 months ago · by · Comments Off on Jaden Smith to Expand on Initiative to Feed Homeless

Jaden Smith to Expand on Initiative to Feed Homeless

Two years ago, to commemorate his 21st birthday, actor Jaden Smith launched the I Love You Restaurant, a vegan food truck initiative to combat food insecurity for Los Angeles’ homeless. Smith’s vegan meals found their way to 8,000 of L.A. ‘s Skid Row residents. Eventually, I Love You’s efforts were expanded to serve at-risk residents in Harlem, New York City.

“Our mission is to spread love to communities experiencing food and/or housing insecurity by offering water along with fresh, high-quality, and delicious sustainable meal options,” his food website explains. When the pandemic hit Smith’s organization continued to donate vegan food but also distributed masks, clothes, hand sanitizer, and other essential items.

Smith is now pivoting his I Love You concept yet again with plans for a more permanent version of his restaurant on the table, bringing the success of his past efforts into the next phase. The “pay as you can” philosophy welcomes anyone to partake of the yet-to-be-announced location’s fare. Those who can afford the suggested menu prices will be in effect subsidizing meals for those who can’t.

The I Love You Restaurant is just one of Smith’s philanthropic projects. In 2019, through his company JUST Goods Inc., he led an initiative centered on bringing a water filtration system to Flint, Michigan. The company joined forces with Flint’s First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church to implement a system called “The Water Box” which helped reduce lead and other toxic chemicals in contaminated water.

In 2018, he also led an effort to donate water each month to the city’s schools until the water was safe to drink which led to thousands of bottles being donated to Flint schools. “I want to have something I can feel good about that I can feel like it’s changing the world. I’m not only being neutral with the world, I’m actually making the world a better place. I’ve just always wanted to be an advocate of humanity” Smith said.

Initiatives like Smith’s are instrumental in evoking change. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are over 500,000 people in the United States experiencing homelessness on a given night. Feeding America reported that in 2017 nearly 40 million Americans—including over 12 million youngsters—lacked access to food.

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6 months ago · by · Comments Off on Teacher Who Disarmed Idaho Shooter Praised For Her Compassion

Teacher Who Disarmed Idaho Shooter Praised For Her Compassion

When a student opened fire at an Idaho middle school, teacher Krista Gneiting directed children to safety, rushed to help a wounded victim, and then disarmed the shooter, hugging and consoling the girl until police arrived. The community crediting Gneiting’s display of compassion with saving lives. Police said a sixth-grade girl brought the handgun in her backpack and shot two people inside the school and one outside. All three were wounded in their limbs and released from the hospital within a few days.

Gneiting, a math teacher at Rigby Middle School was preparing her students for their final exams on the morning of May 6 when she said she heard a gunshot from down the hall. She said she looked outside her classroom and saw the school’s janitor lying on the floor at the end of the hallway. She said she shut the door as she heard two more gunshots.

“So I just told my students, ‘We are going to leave, we’re going to run to the high school, you’re going to run hard, you’re not going to look back, and now is the time to get up and go'” Gneiting said. Gneiting said she was trying to help one of the students who had been shot when she saw the girl holding the gun. She told the wounded student to stay still and approached the sixth-grader.

“It was a little girl, and my brain couldn’t quite grasp that. I just knew when I saw that gun, I had to get the gun” Gneiting said. She asked the girl, “Are you the shooter?” and then walked closer, putting her hand on the child’s arm and sliding it down to the gun. “I just slowly pulled the gun out of her hand, and she allowed me to. She didn’t give it to me, but she didn’t fight. After I got the gun, I just pulled her into a hug because I thought, this little girl has a mom somewhere that doesn’t realize she’s having a breakdown and she’s hurting people.”

Gneiting held the girl, consoling her until police arrived. The girl has been charged in the shooting, but because juvenile court proceedings are kept sealed in Idaho, neither her name nor the nature of the charges has been released. Meanwhile, Krista Gneiting hopes people can forgive the girl and help her get the support she needs. “She is just barely starting in life and she just needs some help. Everybody makes mistakes,” she said. “I think we need to make sure we get her help and get her back into where she loves herself so that she can function in society.”

Krista’s brother in law Layne Gneiting posted on his facebook “My sister-in-law, Krista, who took the gun from the little girl who fired it, is more of a hero than I thought. The tender tale is hers to tell but I’ll say this: it’ll break your heart. Krista is a born mother. Mess with her kids she’ll rip you apart. Need a hug she’ll hold you for hours, mingling her tears with yours.
I naively believed the mother bear had raged into action. Not so. Determination pushed her to act, but tenderness and motherly love-not force-lifted the gun from the girl’s hand to hers. I’ve called Krista a hero but the word pales. She’s a guardian angel.”

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7 months ago · by · Comments Off on Missouri Woman Turned Grief Into Hope During Pandemic

Missouri Woman Turned Grief Into Hope During Pandemic

A Missouri woman turned her grief into hope after she lost 11 of her family members and friends to COVID-19.  Shana Jones, of Maplewood, sets up dozens of tables outside her home six days a week with hundreds of free items for those in need.  Jones lost the first eight of her friends and relatives in her home town of  Albany, Georgia, in the week before and after her March 25, 2020 birthday.  “I cried, and I felt weak.  It just became so overwhelming that I became numb” she said.  But soon after, Jones wanted to use her grief to do something good for her community, and she began putting a collection of tables on her front lawn, each one full of food and supplies for anyone to take — free of charge. 

The tables were stocked with paper products, snacks, canned goods and cleaning supplies — things that a struggling family may have a hard time affording if they have fallen on hard times.  Residents only have to drive by and take what they need from the “Grab-N-Go” tables.  Although she remains heartbroken from the losses, she wanted the tragedy to be a stepping stone and decided to give back to her community.  Since the beginning of the pandemic, she has given away food to more than 300 families a week.

“A lot of people cannot go back to work full time, they’re part-time and they’re still trying to make it, but they are struggling because, you know, they’re home. They can’t work” Jones said.  Jones’ generous actions meant so much to her neighborhood that many left notes expressing their appreciation. “Every time I get a note,I feel that the angel of one of my family members or friends is saying, ‘Well done” Jones said.

I have elderly people who come by and say, ‘I’m scared to go to the store, can I get some cabbage off your table?’ People come by and donate. They just put stuff on the table to help the community. That’s all I’m trying to do,” Jones said.  The St. Louis County Council awarded Shana Jones with a special resolution “for making a difference in Maplewood.”

Lisa Clancy, the Chairperson of the St. Louis County Council said “I see Shana as an inspiration.  “We just wanted to honor her for what she’s doing. I think it’s great.”  While some items are donated, Jones has purchased many of the items herself, costing her hundreds of dollars. “Her main focus is improving the lives of those around her,” according to the GoFundMe page set up to accept donations for the effort.

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8 months ago · by · Comments Off on Atlanta Nonprofit Raised Millions for Eviction Relief Fund

Atlanta Nonprofit Raised Millions for Eviction Relief Fund

Marjy Stagmeier started investing in old affordable apartment communities and quickly realized that many of her renter families were low-income single parents who needed services like after-school programs and playgrounds for their communities.  She launched her own 501c3 nonprofit that provides free on-site services to families living in affordable apartments communities—and Star-C has since changed the lives of many families.

“Many children have come through the Star-C after-school program, who are now doctors, plumbers, and school-teachers, earning good wages that moved them out of poverty,” she said.  “Almost 100 families have elevated from renting to home ownership because we kept rents low so families can save their money.”  A chance meeting in 2017 with Bill and Melinda Gates, Mathew Desmond, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book Evicted—opened her eyes: Even with her rents below market, some of the tenants struggled to pay rent, so she began to build an informal resource network for families to get rental assistance.  Through Star-C, her renters also have access to summer camps for their children, health care, after-school programs, meals for the children and more. 

After COVID-19 struck in March 2020, many of Stagmeier’s tenants were laid off from their jobs or had to manage multiple children that were suddenly at home during the day, which made the need even greater.  In April 2020, Star-C launched a $50,000 GoFundMe campaign for eviction relief.  When the local municipal government of Cobb County found out about the Star-C Eviction Relief Fund, they quickly voted to donate $1.5 million of their federal stimulus funding.  Other municipalities, like Fulton County, followed, and Star-C has now raised over $9 million from governments and foundations, giving the ability to help over 3,000 families avoid eviction.

Marjy’s staff has spoken personally with thousands of Atlanta families through their hotline, and has, so far, partnered with over 330 landlords representing 65,000 apartment units.  “The eviction relief fund works with landlords who offer affordable rents for low-income families.  Our landlords know their neediest tenants and assists them with their applications” Stagmeier said.  The Star-C program has been a game-changer not only for tenants but landlords who have struggled as well.  “So many of our tenants and landlords are simply grateful. Our Star-C staff often receives thank you notes and calls from families who have now found work and can pay their rent.”

The 2021 federal relief package has provided another $4.1 million so they can give even more assistance.  Stagmeier is convinced her property model and brand of caring capitalism can transform communities and still make a profit for its investors.  She believes it’s the logical, profitable, moral thing to do.

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8 months ago · by · Comments Off on Wheel of Fortune Winner Donates 100% of Winnings of Charity

Wheel of Fortune Winner Donates 100% of Winnings of Charity

Scott Kolbrenner of Encino, California, a contestant on Wheel of Fortune, donated his $145,000 in winnings to be split between two charities.  Kolbrenner won approximately $45,000 in cash and prizes during the regular rounds of play, before correctly guessing the bonus puzzle and collecting the $100,000 Grand Prize.  He pledged $72,500 each to Uplift Family Services at Hollygrove and the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.

Kolbrenner has worked with Uplift Family Services, one of the most comprehensive behavioral health treatment providers in California, for the last 20 years.  He currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors and volunteers his time.  The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank sources and acquires food and other essential products to distribute to those experiencing food insecurity.

Kolbrenner has been watching Wheel of Fortune “his whole life” and watches religiously with his wife and kids. He was selected to be a contestant after applying with a video at WheelOfFortune.com and participating in a virtual audition.  When asked he said the COVID-19 pandemic and current economic downturn is why he knew he wanted to help the community if he won.  “It’s been a dark time,” Kolbrenner said. “When I went on the show, I was doing it for the fun of it, and I said to my wife … ‘If I do OK here, anything that I get, let’s give it to charity. We’re very fortunate. Let’s see if we can support some others who aren’t as fortunate as we are.”

He added “I got lucky that day and knew right away that I wanted to share my good fortune. So, I decided to contribute all of my winnings to Uplift Family Services and Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, whose services support thousands of families. The fun and memories from the day will stay with me forever, but the urgent need in our community cannot wait.  My wife was the only person that knew what happened that night of the taping. It was complete and utter shock for everybody in our lives, and they were elated about it.”

Both organizations thanked Kobrenner for his generosity on Facebook.  Uplift Family Services, which helps children and their families manage and recover from trauma and related challenges wrote “We are so honored and grateful that Scott chose to play for us while advocating for our agency’s Los Angeles-based Hollygrove programs!”

The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank said in a Facebook post said “It takes the whole community to fight food insecurity and the critical work that we do is possible with the help of people like Scott Kolbrenner.”

Kolbrenner said that Hollywood, despite being known for its “glitz and glamor,” also has struggling communities that are underrepresented. “What I was hoping with the ‘Wheel’ is to shine a light on them,” Kolbrenner said.  The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank serves more than 300,000 people every month.  They estimate one-quarter of the food they distribute goes to children, and roughly one-fifth to senior citizens in LA County. 

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9 months ago · by · Comments Off on Wisconsin Restaurant Owner Helping Local Restaurants With Gift Card Raffles

Wisconsin Restaurant Owner Helping Local Restaurants With Gift Card Raffles

According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 110,000 restaurants across the country have closed temporarily or for good as a result of the pandemic. One Wisconsin restaurant owner is well aware of the effects the pandemic has had on the restaurants in his community and he decided to help. He is using his own money to help other struggling local restaurants. Adolfo Melendez, owner of a Tex-Mex restaurant El Mezcal in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, has bought more than $2,000 in gift cards to restaurants in his community to raffle off to his customers. “If you help one person and another person helps another-that will help a lot. There’s probably 35% of the restaurants that keep struggling here.”


Melendez said he got the idea to help his fellow restaurant owners after a local realtor company helped his restaurant at the beginning of the pandemic. “They did something where people voted for their favorite restaurant and I got second place so they bought $300 in gift cards from me,” he said. “Right after that I was like I’ll probably do something similar.”


Melendez opened his restaurant just weeks before the pandemic hit so he felt first hand, the devastating effects of the pandemic grinding the restaurant industry to a complete halt. Despite a harsh beginning for his restaurant, the one generous act of another local business sparked his determination to pay it forward when he was able to. He said it’s important to help keep small businesses open during the pandemic because they are the staples of the community. “That’s part of what keeps us alive. You can go to Applebee’s, or you can go to Pizza Hut but it isn’t the same like when you go to this little diner or pizza joint. The whole idea is just to give other opportunities. I think it’s important to support a small business, that’s what makes this little town so strong, you know? Because big companies come and go.”


At the end of 2020, he began to buy gift cards from local restaurants in his community and raffling them off to customers on his restaurant’s Facebook page. Winners received $20 gift card to a local restaurant. The receiving restaurants said they were thankful for Melendez’s generosity and they know that surviving the pandemic means working together. One owner, Pete Ananiadis of Olympia Family Restaurant said “It’s a smart idea, we appreciate what he has done for our community. In these Covid times, it’s very important to eat local, small mom and pop shops. He understands that, and for all of us right now it’s a tough time.”


Selling gift cards and offering food for take-out have been some of the only ways local mom-and-pop restaurants have been able stay in business throughout the past year as the pandemic has limited their opportunities. Even one gift card purchase can help the restaurant and the recipient push through another day of this pandemic. Imagine the effect if others pay it forward and keep this kindness going. Small acts of kindness like this is how communities support each other and get through a crisis. As for Melendez, he plans to have two more gift card giveaways on his restaurants Facebook page because he isn’t done inspiring others that they can help too.

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10 months ago · by · Comments Off on Americorps Youths Deployed During Pandemic

Americorps Youths Deployed During Pandemic

National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), or AmeriCorps NCCC is an AmeriCorps program that engages 18- to 24-year-olds in team-based national and community service in the United States.  They recently they deployed 230 energetic young adults from across the nation in 24 teams across the country, assisting community groups that are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic or implementing wildfire management in the West.

The youths piled into vans to begin a new adventure serving others through the NCCC.  The training for AmeriCorps began in October and emphasized Covid-19 safety, teamwork, leadership development, and communication.  From tackling food insecurity to providing affordable housing, these youth are bridging the gap by providing much-needed volunteers to areas in need.

Habitat for Humanity is one of the groups that is benefitting from the ten week deployments. Two of the teams are wielding hammers and power tools assisting with affordable home construction in Sacramento.  Another team traveled to Stockton, California to help with food distribution and another group is in California assisting with fire management.

One team arrived in Oregon to work on similar projects and upkeep the environment while another is serving Salt Lake City, Utah.  Bode Anderson-Brown discovered the most impactful aspect was getting out of his comfort zone.   “It was so rewarding to talk to homeowners and know that because of the work I was doing, they are going to be safer and more protected from wildfires. I know that this is an experience I will take with me for the rest of my life.  Talking to people on the phone and getting them the assistance they need… I previously considered this to be out of my wheelhouse, but have now discovered that I have a talent for it!”

Other groups are assisting the Health Department by supporting coronavirus testing sites and delivering hygiene supplies to residents.  They each will graduate from NCCC on July 14th, after completing 3-5 long-term service projects investing over 1,700 hours. In exchange, members receive $6,395 to help pay for college or pay back existing student loans.  The 10-month residential program funded by the U.S. government engages around 2,100 young people every year between the ages of 18 and 24. It was originally envisioned by a bipartisan group of Senators and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

The NCCC program was loosely based on the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  In some respects, NCCC teams resemble their CCC predecessors, who were also required to function under rugged conditions for prolonged periods and engage in strenuous conservation and wildfire-fighting projects, flood control, and disaster relief.  The main difference between the two is unlike the original CCC, the NCCC was not created to be a public work relief program, but rather was designed to help communities meet self-identified needs through service projects and develop leadership skills in its participants.

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10 months ago · by · Comments Off on San Antonio Community Rallies To Repair WWII Veteran’s Home

San Antonio Community Rallies To Repair WWII Veteran’s Home

A San Antonio TX community has rallied behind a 94 year old veteran, Alfred Guerra, after his home fell into disrepair.  Guerra’s son and daughter had been able to keep up with home repairs but it became uninhabitable after his son, who had torn out much of the interior during the remodel, suddenly passed away from cancer last summer.  Hoping to harness the power of social media, his daughter, Maria, reached out via Facebook to ask for help. It wasn’t long before a variety of veterans groups heard about the man who had earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for acts of bravery in World War II. 

First to answer the call was the Military Order of the Purple Heart, followed soon after by Broken Warriors’ Angels, a local nonprofit serving San Antonio veterans and their families, along with the VFW Post 76, and the city’s Department of Human Services and Department of Military Affairs.  “As combat warriors, we leave nobody behind. And as veterans, we leave no veteran behind,” Tony Roman, of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Mr. Guerra had moved in with Maria and was thrilled that the repairs were underway once again—but then the COVID-19 lockdown put the project on hold.  Thankfully, this month, work on the house has resumed.  Veteran volunteers who had served in three foreign conflicts—Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam—arrived on the scene and worked as a team to gut the home’s interior and prep it for the next phase of the home makeover.

A new roof had been donated by the SRS Raise the Roof Foundation, and the electrical and plumbing systems are on their way to being updated.  They are still in need of an HVAC system and the family is hoping for another guardian angel to come through there as well.  They’ve set up a GoFundMe page with a modest $5,000 goal to help finance the much-needed repairs.

It may take another month or so to complete the project but more than anything else, Guerra yearns to move back into his home. He longs to tend the roses he named in honor of his late wife, Emma, in their garden.  “It’s a wonderful thing,” said Maria Guerra, his daughter. “It’s a mission of mercy.”  She said her father, who has been living with her for the past several months, has missed his home so much that at times, he cries.

Tony Roman said what’s been done has taken the generosity of all those who donated their time and skills to the effort, and he hopes that a company will do the same by donating heating and air conditioning for the small home. 

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