An “Intentional” Community

“Here, we created an intentional community,” says Mandy Cloninger, Executive Director of Trinity Cafe. In a two minute speech at their annual event Stick a Fork in Hunger, Mandy recounts their daily activities and with a grin, she reveals the secret “sauce” in Trinity’s mission. I have to admit, until that moment, I had only a cursory understanding of what I saw in the images posted by my dear friend Shannon, whose work it is to raise awareness and raise funds. It is certainly easy to understand that there are people who need to eat. Anyone can understand that, right? You’d think so.

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Stick a Fork in Hunger, Annual Charity Event

Note that THIS is where this piece changes tone, in case you miss it.

In my last ten years or so on social media, I have noticed a trend that infuriates me. Over and over I read that “they should do something about hunger,” “they should feed and shelter our homeless,” they, them, those people…ad nauseam. When I ask who “they” are, I get a lot of hemming and hawing about the government, the rich, “you know, people who have the money.”

“Really,” I ask. “Who are ‘the people who have the money?'”

***blink, blink***

I already know the answer, anyway. I’ve photographed enough charity events to know where the money comes from and exactly how hard it is for organizations like Trinity to have enough. If you dare to begin this conversation with me, you’d better have your facts straight, and you’d better have a good explanation as to why YOU don’t do anything yourself.

You know what you need to know about feeding the hungry? It is a community responsibility, and it always has been. That means YOU need to look after your neighbors, and not just the ones next door to you. Your neighbors include the small business owners who were devastated by the last recession, the single mom working hard at two jobs to raise three beautiful kids, children who’ve been orphaned and the elderly who cannot afford groceries and medications.

Be careful, as we discuss this topic, not to criticize the people who are actually doing the work you ascribe to they, them and those people. You see, I’ve seen the best. I’ve seen how Chef Benito and his staff focus on managing costs so that they can successfully serve as many as 500 nutritious meals a day, 365 days a year. I’ve seen Mandy and Shannon and their administrative volunteers tirelessly keep the public informed that their efforts are working. I’ve seen men and women whose lights were nearly extinguished by circumstance not only get a good meal, but then find a purpose in helping others.

Most importantly, I’ve seen dignity.

If you really want to do something about hunger, you first have to understand that hunger isn’t just about food. It is also the need for companionship, for kindness, for acceptance, but most of all, it is the need for dignity. THAT is the “secret sauce” at Trinity. Every day, three meals a day: over 500 of them, and every one served with kindness and respect. It is just as much about helping people heal as it is about filling their stomachs.

So, shut up and stop saying they need to fix hunger. They are trying. In the events I photographed this weekend, representatives from AT&T, GTE Financial, local law firms, physicians organizations, wine companies and more all gave personally and through their employers. Now, it’s your turn to roll up your sleeves or get out your checkbook and donateWE have to fix hunger in our community. WE need to stop talking about hunger as though it is not right on our collective doorstep.

By the way, an interesting thing will happen to you while you serve at Trinity, but I’ll let you figure that out for yourselves.

YoaHTs – Thing #71 – “Summers on the Beach”

I have a love/hate relationship with fireworks. I love the color, the noise, the spectacle of fireworks. But every year, I get more and more annoyed the morning of July 5th when I see the ridiculous mess left behind by amateur pyrotechnicians. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg that is “Summers on the Beach” in Florida. 

I wonder, as I stroll down the long stretch that is Central Florida’s gulf beaches, why people come to the beach year after year. I think about why I enjoy it, and then I look around at the miles and miles dotted by tents and umbrellas and think, no, it’s not the same

Somewhere in my DNA is a chain of chromosomes that are part sea water. According to ancestry.com my genome circles the Mediterranean, island hopping from Sicily to Egypt to Menorca in Spain. I find peace in the waves crashing. I am a human solar panel, recharging my psyche in the sun. To me, the beach has a soul, as do all of Earth’s great designs. 

So, imagine how utterly disgusted I am when, the morning after we celebrate how amazing our country is, I see how little its citizens care about their responsibility to her shores. I cannot fathom why, if you enjoy coming to the beach, you don’t feel compelled to keep it clean and safe. (See Figure 1)

Post-fireworks debris on Reddington Beach

Plastic toys, for example, become brittle over time and break into brightly-colored, sharp shards which the birds mistake for food. Necropsies on birds reveal that plastics fill their bellies, causing the birds to starve. Cigarette butts (my favorite pet peeve) are so numerous, that is gives the appearance that the beach is a giant ashtray. I pick up hundreds of them in a week, and it’s worse every year. Styrofoam from cheap coolers break into a million tiny pieces, which look a great deal like shells. My favorite this morning was a squeezed Bud Light cap which was so sharp, that it would do major damage to soft tissue. (See image 2)

Bud Light bottle cap found on Reddington Beach

The beaches here are highly commercialized, with miles and miles of hotels, and little to no flora and fauna remains. It has been replaced by thousands of people with seemingly little regard for the damage they do. Perhaps it’s ignorance. Maybe they don’t realize how, when those water balloons explode, little tiny blue pieces of latex end up in the sand where turtles and birds used to nest. Or maybe they think that one cigarette butt won’t hurt, ignoring the fact that it’s one of thousands buried by others. 

I hate to be THAT person. I prefer to be cheerful, and complimentary. But the human infection has reached a zenith and fixing it wouldn’t take much. In fact, if every person who visited just took five square feet and scanned the sand for plastic, cigarette butts, and styrofoam, we could easily keep it clean. In fact, get your kids involved. They love to hunt for things. There are organizations that help. IS Foundation (Ian Somerhalder of Vampire Diaries) has leveraged social media to keep kids interested in being good stewards. Just five minutes and five yards. I promise, it won’t hurt, and imagine that five minutes can do. 

Year of a Hundred Things – “Thing” # 89 – Blown Glass

Okay, okay, take a minute to titter about the title (but first, forgive my alliteration). (Oh, and thank you Linda G. Hill for reminding me how much I love the word “titter.”)

Alright, now that you’re done…

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Year of a Hundred Things – “Thing” #90 – Afternoon Rains

Each corner of the globe has its own unique weather phenomenon. Florida has a few, the results of its placement in the middle of two major bodies of water. Anyone who has lived here for a few years will have realized that, beginning in about mid-Spring, the afternoon rains begin and with them comes a host of benefits, some even comical. Most of the inland residents of the Tampa Bay area converge on the coastal beaches for at least a few days every summer. It’s a long-standing tradition, documented by boxes and boxes full of images from as far back as the old Brownie days. For the luckier and perhaps more well-to-do among us, there might even be some Super 8 reels of skinny, sun-kissed boys and girls playing cork ball and building sand castles while sand pines, rather than high rises, still lined Gulf Boulevard.

You see, there are things about Florida summers that we know are utterly predictable, the afternoon rains being the most welcomed for us. As a public service, here is a list of things that you should understand about Florida summers, especially on the Gulf coast:

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