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Volunteers Needed: Festivals of Learning

30 May

Posted May 2016:

Every summer, Festivals of Learning take place in under-resourced communities where children have less access to summer learning activities. For too many kids in the United States, summer break means a lack of access to learning experiences, books and educational games, and even time to hang out with friends. Festivals of Learning bridge this gap by bringing a variety of activities that promote discovery, highlight skills, and encourage creative expression.

They are looking for volunteers to assist their New York City Festivals of Learning this year. Volunteers should love working with children and/or families and have the energy and patience to make each day of the Festivals a memorable experience!

Festivals will be held for 4 different times in 4 different locations. They’re looking for volunteers who can help out during any of these times with an extra day or two for preparations:

#1: June 30th to July 1st, 2016
#2: July 6th to July 8th, 2016
#3: July 14th to 15th, 2016
#4: August 29th to 31st, 2016

Mission Statement: ATD Fourth World is an international anti-poverty nonprofit with a grassroots presence in over 34 countries and consultative status at the United Nations. We work to overcome the injustices of persistent poverty and social exclusion by bringing together people from all walks of life. We have been working alongside communities in poverty in New York for over 50 years.

How to apply: Send e-mail to their New York team at with your full name, availability, and a bit more about your experience with children and/or why you’d be excited to be involved. Must be 18 years of age or older.

Locations: Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens

Time Commitment

Duration: Less than 3 months

Time commitment: Occasional (weekly or monthly) min. 2 hours per day, max. 8 hours per day

Times of day: Afternoons & Evenings

Days of week: Weekdays & Weekends

Schedule: Flexible Schedule

Additional details: Training provided, International volunteers welcome


New Volunteer Opportunities!

11 Dec


Winter 2013: As the holidays approach and people get into the giving spirit, I’ll be posting new volunteer opportunities that pop up around NYC. Feel free to share these with friends and family who might be interested in helping out a local non-profit, whether it’s just for a day or for a few months!


Holiday Help at the Food Bank for NYC

Food Bank procures and distributes food to a network of more than 1,000 community-based member programs citywide, helping to provide 400,000 free meals a day for New Yorkers in need. From Meals on Heels on the Upper West to Souper Saturdays in Park Slope, there are tons of ways to help out the Food Bank  this holiday season. Sign up here:


Mulchfest 2014 with NYRP: Saturday, January 11, 12:00pm–2:00pm

Every year Mulchfest diverts thousands of Christmas trees from landfills and recycles them into wood chips that can be used to protect and nourish trees in our parks, gardens and street tree pits. Help spread fresh Christmas tree chippings to street trees and work on various winter maintenance projects in the Sherman Creek Park.

To register to volunteer or to get more information e-mail


Helpline Volunteer/Intern with the National Eating Disorders Association (Long-Term)

Position Summary: Information and Referral Helpline interns will offer information and referrals to callers and answer basic questions regarding body image and eating disorders in a caring and compassionate manner. The intern will be continually challenged to accept continuing advancement in responsibilities on the Helpline as the intern becomes ready. The Helpline intern may also assist with other duties in the National Eating Disorders Association office as needed (i.e. writing letters, assisting with information distribution, etc.). This position is a great learning opportunity and involves a minimum of 15 hours of training.

Primary Responsibilities:

  •   Information and Referral Services

·        Provide positive, respectful and timely responses regarding eating disorder information requests via incoming phone calls, voicemail messages, emails, forums, instant messages, and social media sites under Helpline responsibility.

·        Ensure the distribution of Helpline information and referral material in a timely manner that fits the needs of the individual and is presented in a professional manner.

·        Compose general letters of response for information requests.

·        Develop skills related to database management.

·        Increase knowledge and understanding concerning eating disorders and how to appropriately support those affected by them.

·        When deemed appropriate by Helpline Supervisor, the intern may assist in the training of new Helpline volunteers and interns.

·        Contribute to the association’s mission of eliminating eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.

  • Program and Administrative Duties:

·        Assist Programs Department staff with ongoing educational and outreach projects.

·        Assist with minor administrative tasks as needed.

Required Qualifications:

·        High energy, positive attitude, and enthusiasm.

·        Meticulous attention to detail and strong organizational skills.

·        Excellent communication skills and demonstrated ability to provide quality customer service.

·        Strong computer skills, data and word-processing ability.

·        Must be dependable and self-motivated.

·        Able to work effectively as an individual and as part of a team.

·        Must be able to work in New York office.

Time Frame and Commitment:

·        Completion of 15-20 hour Helpline training taking place during the intern’s scheduled shift.

·        Minimum of 8 hours per week for a minimum of 4 months

·        Participation in one activity taking place outside of the main office.

·        Monthly reflections to be submitted and reviewed with Helpline Supervisor to set continuing advancement objectives.

·        Must be able to work at the NEDA headquarters, in New York City, during Helpline hours.

Contact Erin Brekke, Volunteer Coordinator at to apply.

Finishing up the SNAP Challenge: Days 5,6,7

25 Jun

As I write this, my stomach is full of Indian take-out and chocolate. My first day off the SNAP Challenge and I’ve already spent about $25 on food in one day, compared to last week when I spent just as much for five days. Did I learn anything from this experience? 100% yes. Have I touched a dish today or set foot in the kitchen? Absolutely not.

Let’s backtrack a little to Day 5: Friday. By this point I was tired of being in the kitchen, and my usual fervor for making every meal special was waning. I boiled some pasta and tossed it with the last of my red sauce from earlier in the week, and to top it off, I added some corn. Yes, corn. I have no idea why.

The morning of Day 6, the corn pasta made a repeat appearance as my breakfast. For lunch I packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich which I ate at an outdoor cafe, as Paul had a blue cheese burger. Speaking of Paul, did I mention he is no longer doing the Challenge at this point? He tapped out on Day 3 due to a misunderstanding of the rules; if iced coffees weren’t allowed, he wanted out. But I digress.. On our way home from a walk in the park, I stopped at Western Beef to see what else I could buy with my remaining budget. I wound up leaving with two apples and a sweet potato and $0.21 left in my #SNAPChallenge wallet.

Inspired by Chef Cowan’s chorizo hash and disgusted by my previous dinner, I made a sweet potato hash with swiss chard, corn, and garlic scapes, topped with an egg. It was delicious and reinvigorated my determination for the last day, whereby I woke up and headed straight to the kitchen to make pancakes. Realizing I had no milk, I decided to power through and use water instead, resulting in the grossest-but-best-looking pancakes I’ve ever had.

These pancakes=gross.

These pancakes=gross but edible.

For lunch I had another peanut butter and jelly in the park, and an apple with peanut butter later in the day. By dinner on Day 7 I was out of everything except bread and pasta (and peanut butter and jelly, but I’d had my fill of peanut butter for the day), so I wound up eating spaghetti with butter, garlic powder, and basil grown in my apartment.Last dinner



So what did the SNAP Challenge teach me?

For one, having a limited budget for food is scary. This isn’t the same as saying “I’ll set aside $30 for food this week, and $30 for other necessities.” This is “I have $31.50, and once all my food is gone, it’s gone until my EBT card gets refilled.”

It’s also a pain in the ass. I spent more time cooking, and washing dishes and tupperware this week than I have in a long time. It’s not an impossible task, but it requires more effort and is likely undertaken by people with disabilities or the elderly, who make up a large percentage of SNAP recipients, in addition to low-income families with children to feed. In other words, people who legitimately have a harder time cooking and cleaning every day than I do.

Resources and Farm Bill Shpeel

My daily musings about nutritional shopping and cooking programs were quelled by some research: ESNY (Eat Smart New York! SNAP-Ed) is New York State’s SNAP nutrition education program. Cornell University Cooperative Extension delivers SNAP supported nutrition education in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. Here, eligible participants learn about MyPyramid/MyPlate, Menu Planning, Food Preparation, Nutrition, Fitness, Food Budgeting, Food Shopping, Food Safety, and Physical Activity. I’m unable to find the percentage of SNAP recipients who participate, but the program is available for participation, and that’s obviously a step in the right direction.

I also found some additional resources, including “Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables” which as the name implies, provides recipes and shopping tips for eating healthy veg & fruit snacks and meals. In addition, SNAP recipients can visit and see which farmer’s markets in their area accept EBT/WIC.

The purpose of doing the SNAP Challenge was to raise awareness of the program itself, and the dangers it faced on the House floor, as Congress voted on it’s fate and potentially cutting $20 billion. It would’ve meant $3.9 billion dollars cut over the course of ten years, and 2 Million people losing their access to SNAP (As of March 2013, there were 48 Million people enrolled). The Farm Bill is a somewhat confusing piece of legislation that touches on a whole slew of issues, from agriculture to environmental and wildlife protection; it’s comprised mainly of SNAP funding (about 75%) in addition to farm policy, making it hard to decide on it’s fate without being able to view the two separately as individual bills. That said, here’s an interesting read on why it failed to pass, and why that’s a good thing that it did. For something a little easier on the eyes, here’s a neat infographic about the House cuts versus the Senate.

The House will have to get their partisan ‘ish together and create something that works before December. I  hope that the SNAP Challenge helped prove, at least a tiny bit, that every penny counts.

Day 4 of the SNAP Challenge

21 Jun

Well, beans, we had a good run together. You fulfilled my carnivorous urges for 4 days, but your time is through. After tomorrow I’ll be left with a few eggs, some pasta, a solid number of PB&J sandwiches, and a drawer full of produce.

Nothing exciting to report today. Instead, I’d like to share what two other SNAP Challenge participants have been up to. One inspiring, one laughable. The contrast between the two, which I found almost simultaneously, is mind-boggling.

From Chef Madison Cowan's Facebook Page: "Southern fried chicken, sweet potato mash & cucumber/tomato salad. Trader Joe's Brooklyn offered 5 free range drumsticks for $2 & after searching a bit I was able to find a packet of 6! 2 leftover sweet potatoes at $0.49 each, $1.49 for a large English cucumber & $2.45 for a packet of 6 organic tomatoes on the vine (I used 2.)"

From Chef Madison Cowan’s Facebook Page: “Southern fried chicken, sweet potato mash & cucumber/tomato salad. Trader Joe’s Brooklyn offered 5 free range drumsticks for $2 & after searching a bit I was able to find a packet of 6! 2 leftover sweet potatoes at $0.49 each, $1.49 for a large English cucumber & $2.45 for a packet of 6 organic tomatoes on the vine (I used 2.)”

First, I came across the twitter feed for Chef Madison Cowan from Iron Chef America and Chopped. He and his family participated in the SNAP Challenge; the average amount given to 2 adults and 1 child is $94.50. The food he churned out of his kitchen on that budget was astounding. Fried chicken. Blueberry pancakes. Sweet potato and chorizo hash. Everything I found on his Facebook page made me slap my forehead and say “Why didn’t I think of that?” I quickly realized that I didn’t think of any of those things because I’m not a trained chef with years of experience in a professional kitchen. So the conclusion: it’s not impossible to make nutritious, delicious meals with a limited budget. Again it makes me think about what kind of support SNAP participants are given when it comes to healthy cooking and picking the right items when they go shopping. Or maybe I just don’t know because this isn’t the way I typically think about food shopping. Finding out what sort of programs are available has become my weekend assignment (though I’d love to hear some people chime in in the comments section). I applaud Chef Cowan and hope that he publishes some sort of budget recipe and shopping guide.

Shortly after closing out of Chef Cowan’s page, I stumbled across NYC Comptroller John Liu’s twitter feed, where he posted a photo of himself eating beans straight out of the can. Really? Also, you happened to have a can opener in the back of your limo? I tried not to judge, as he was further along in the challenge than me and god only knows what I’ll be eating by Sunday night, but come on. Beans out of the can? It felt exploitative and I was offended, but I shrugged it off.

John Liu doesn't have time for bowls.

J Liu doesn’t have time for bowls.


Stacks on stacks on stacks like a boss.

Stacks on stacks on stacks like a boss.

Really? Half a loaf of bread? You really ate that? You are in charge of this city’s finances and you couldn’t manage to make $31.50 work for week? It’s troublesome. Moreover, it’s a mockery of the Challenge itself and draws attention away from the issue at hand by creating a backlash of hilarious but disappointing coverage.

The official SNAP Challenge ended yesterday for most (if not all) participants, and today the Farm Bill was REJECTED in Congress. I’ll consider the last 3 days of my SNAP Challenge a victory lap for everyone that helped raise awareness for the bill, and spend some time tomorrow recapping what went down on the House floor…

For now, it’s a late-night peanut butter snack for me and then off to bed.