Week 50: Toys for Tots Drop off and a surprise donation

Project: Toys for Tots and an unexpected donation

Actual Time Taken: 20 minutes

Our Toys for Tots box was soon overflowing with donations, which was awesome to see! I was planning on taking the donations to the local Toys for Tots drop off in my car because there was so many bags full of toys, until one of the cast members told me a hilarious story.

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So many donations! 

My friend had been at the Starbucks around the corner when she saw a Toys for Tots basket by the check out counter. She picked up two toys with the intention of buying them and donating them in our bin at the theater. She was all ready to pay for it when the woman behind the counter explained that Starbucks was also running a donation drive, and my friend was trying to buy other people’s donations!

So sweet, and so funny.

And this is how I learned that I could carry our donations from the theater to the Starbucks on the same block! So convenient!

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(Thanks to leatherndevil for this shot!)

So I did just that. I gathered up the bags and made one trip, and then went back and got the overflowing box and hauled it out of the stage door before I was stopped by a sweet local carpenter that I worked with backstage. He insisted on carrying the box of toys to Starbucks for me, so I took a few toys off the top of the pile and made the short walk to the coffee shop.

It took no time at all, compared to the drive I would have had to make had my friend not tried to buy the donations from Starbucks. Here’s to time saving mistakes!

~ ~ ~

Starbucks image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/leatherndevil/15702014876/

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Week 49: Toys for Tots Box!

Project: Toys for Tots Box

Time Taken: 20 minutes

So this week wasn’t really an hour of work at all, but to be fair, we only have been in town since Wednesday. We had to drive from Milwaukee to San Antonio this week, so they gave us an extra day to get here. (Usually we have to be here on Tuesday morning, but for this 1,900 mile/20 hour drive, they gave us until Wednesday.) So I’ve had a couple fewer days to get my act together for my hour this week.

I did managed, however, to get a Toys for Tots box set up in my theater. I made some cute flyers and put them up, and then wrapped an empty box like I’ve seen them done at the drop off locations, and set it out by our call board where we sign in.

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I had originally wanted us to do an Angel Tree and get specific gifts for specific kids in need, but I couldn’t find one in the area. I actually have a feeling I’m going to be turning the toys from our cast in a few days late (I won’t be able to drop them off until the 23rd of December!) but maybe they can get them to a few families this year, or keep them until next year?

I feel good that I got this going for us this week though. I put the flyers out on a Sunday, which is our last day before our day off when, I’m assuming, a lot of us will be Christmas shopping. Hopefully my cast and crew will throw an extra new toy in their basket this year for our Toys for Tots drive!

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Week 48: Signing for a cure

Project: Broadway Cares Poster Signing 

Actual Time Taken: 1 hour

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Twice a year, Equity theater casts around the country band together to collect money for an awesome cause, Broadway Cares: Actors Equity Fights Aids.

Since 1988, this amazing charity has raised over $250 million for not only AIDS research and charities, but for women’s health, dancers charities, HIV/AIDS education, and so many more. My cast helps out the cause by going out in to the audience after shows with buckets to collect money, as well as a few items for sale, such as beaded animals from South Africa, swatches of costume fabric, and autographed show posters.

But to get these posters to the public to raise money, they first have to be signed…. by everyone.

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A typical poster signing party between shows. 

And there’s TONS of them. We usually sign over 1,000 per season. Talk about hand cramps!

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Posters a go-go!

So this week, I plopped myself down with a sharpie and a stack of blank posters to sign and sign and sign for charity. Granted, we get slightly compensated in that the charity buys us lunch so we don’t have to go out between shows to eat (PF Changs, yum!) but I also make sure to go out and collect, smile, and try to get as many pennies, dollars, and checks for the cause as I can.

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Kendra (Left) and I in our Lioness costumes (My favorite)

I love going out to collect after shows. We usually don’t have much contact with the audience unless they are waiting for us outside the stage door, so when we have a chance to get out there after a show (and in costume no less) it’s always a treat. They are always so nice, telling me how much they enjoyed the show, or how pretty my costume is, or how great it is that we are collecting- all things we don’t get to hear when we are shlepping home after a show out of the back alley stage door.

We are about half way through our Broadway Cares ‘season,’ so I’ll be putting in a few more (undocumented, here) hours for the cause… but I’m trying not to repeat too many charities for my One Hour a Week goal… so silently I will sign (and collect) on for the next few weeks!

Week 40: Panera Cares

Project: Panera Cares Cafe

Time Taken: 45 minutes

 

Lunch at Panera Cares Cafe, take two. And…. action!!

 

After a false start, I finally made it to Panera Cares Cafe between a rehearsal and a show this week, thanks to it’s close proximity to the theater.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 2.28.32 PM(Image Courtesy Of RestaurantNews.com)

 

Panera Cares Cafe works is this: There are three levels of payment. One level where you pay the suggested donation rate, or more if you can afford it, to help sustain the cafe’s working costs. The next level is to donate what you feel is a fair share, if you’re struggling a food insecurity. Finally, if you have nothing to give monetarily, the cafe offers a plan where you can donate an hour of volunteering in exchange for a meal.

 2014-10-03 17.22.35How it all works!

I didn’t know any of this when I walked in for a quick bite to eat. From the outside, and even the front counter, it looks exactly like any other Panera. The main difference are the locked plastic donation boxes attached to the front of every cash register, and the signs explaining the different levels of giving you can choose. But if I hadn’t taken the time to read the signs, I may have thought it was just another Panera Cafe.

 2014-10-03 17.22.52Looks familiar, doesn’t it?

I talked to the sweet people that were working, who patiently explained how the system works, and ordered my food, just like any other Panera. I paid a little more more than the suggested donations for each item on the menu, to make sure to cover my costs, and sat down at a small, creme colored table surrounded by the same art that is at any other Panera.

 

The manager delivered my food and retrieved my vibrating disk that told me my food was ready (which actually is above and beyond service wise for a Panera- usually that disk-thing explodes in a buzz of noise and red led lights on the table and scares the crap out of me) and I enjoyed my sandwich and salad combo, just like any other Panera.

 

See the pattern here?

 2014-10-03 17.27.36Yummy. Just like any other Panera.

I guess I wasn’t expecting it to be so… similar. I guess I expected to be more aware of the people in the cafe who were clearly struggling to put food on their table daily. But to see a business man in a suit with a leather briefcase sitting at a table next to a woman wearing four layers of tattered clothing with a bag containing all of her earthly belongings was amazingly refreshing. No one seemed to blink an eye, no one look down their nose at anyone else, and the dream of everyone being able to eat with dignity was suddenly a reality all around me.

 

It’s so easy to forget, in our privileged, comfortable, safe existence how close we are to so many people in need. The idea of ‘food insecurity’ is so foreign to the way most of us think, yet Panera thought of a caring, clever way to address a serious need in the community by involving us- the unaware, the haves- into taking care of the have-nots. All by having a meal, and paying what we can, and hopefully a little bit more.

 

As I noshed away on my turkey sandwich goodness, and finished up my salad, I prepared to get up and go. But looking down at the plate that still had a little bit of food, I realized I still had a bread roll left. Now, usually, I am completely guilty of just throwing this ‘evil carb’ away… but in this cafe, in this new world view… there’s no way you would catch me wasting food in such a place! So I carefully wrapped it up in a napkin, looking forward to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich snack I turned it into after work that night.

2014-10-03 17.22.18-1 “We exist to feed each and every person who walks through our doors with dignity regards of their means”

– Panera Cares Statement of Purpose

So bravo to you, Panera. Thank you for shifting my world-view on food, for thinking of such a beautifully simple initiative, and for allowing others in the community help out in any way we can- even if it was just by paying a bit more for my lunch. It’s amazing how such a small experience can change you for the good.

Photos:

Panera Cafe Exterior: http://www.restaurantnews.com/panera-bread-foundation-brings-panera-cares-community-cafe-to-boston/

All others: Me!

Turning our Grief into Good – In honor of Robin Williams

In the afternoon of August 11th, my Facebook feed exploded with collective grief. Quotes from “Hook,” pictures of a big, blue genie, and personal recollections of what Robin Williams and his work meant to my friends filled my entire feed.

As I was scrolling though the virtual memorial that suddenly populated the internet, I felt so disappointed that such a brilliant man passed away in such a tragic, and ultimately preventable way. I started researching suicide prevention, mental illness stigma in society, and was beginning to feel inspired enough to try and make a difference for this cause.

I thought about all of my friends on Facebook who seemed to share my sadness, and began to formulate the idea for an article about how we could all help people with mental illness or suicidal thoughts in our community. Research ensued, and as I was talking to one of my friends about it, he quipped that the people on Facebook didn’t actually care. “Did any of them know him personally? No. They aren’t really that broken up about it, so they probably aren’t going to do anything about it either.”

This struck me as a strange, and possibly true statement. Yet somehow, I was deeply affected by Robin Williams’ passing, and I have to say, I do believe that my friends posting status updates of the deep emotional connection they had to the movie “Toys” were deeply affected too.

So I say: let’s prove my friend wrong. I believe… no I KNOW that there are those out there that were affected enough by his unexpected death and inspired enough to take one, five, even twenty minutes to make a difference in honor of one of our favorite fallen stars.

Robin Williams’ legacy of comedic genius will always remain, but now we have a chance to create another legacy- a legacy of good for the mental illness community to help prevent similar tragedies in the future. In fact, his wife released a beautiful statement just today stating that “Robin spent so much of his life helping others… It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid.”

So let’s honor the memory of this amazing man and do our part to make the world a little bit better. Let me know what you chose to do with your moment of good in the comments, and I’ll try to capture the look of shock on my friends’ face when I tell him how much good we all got done in Robin William’s honor.

Got just One Minute?

– Post something uplifting to your Facebook wall. You never know who is having a bad day (or worse) and the joy it may bring. Let your friends know that you are a safe place to come to if they are in need emotionally. (And if you aren’t, you know where to send them…)

– Send someone a quick, happy, loving text. Even if you haven’t spoken in years. (all the better!) Let them know they’re on your mind, that they’re special, that they smell good… whatever you think would spread some happiness. The more joy that is out there, the more good can be in the world as a whole.

Got Five Minutes? 

– Make a donation to one of the not-for-profit numerous charities that help people struggling with suicidal thoughts. Even a dollar makes a difference, and if you’re on a budget, I the good karma you get for your donation will help you live without your Starbucks fix for one day.

– Sign a pledge to stop stigmatizing mental disorders. Make a promise to yourself to help create a more open and inviting environment for people to come forward for the treatment of mental illnesses.

Got Twenty Minutes?

 Educate yourself about mental illness. Here’s a wonderful article on increasing the awareness of mental illness in the wake of this tragedy. The more you know and understand, the more you can help and stop ostracizing people (even unwittingly!) struggling with mental illness. (Cue shooting star with a rainbow tail to race above my head.)

– Gather supplies for a care package for the elderly. Depression among the elderly, especially in nursing homes, can be upwards of 50%. A Meals-on-Wheels chapter in San Diego combats this by collecting care packages for their clients’ birthdays and holidays. (Here’s some cool care package theme ideas!) You can send a small package to them, or find a local nursing home to drop off a sweet surprise. (Or better yet, go in and spend twenty minutes visiting! I promise the hilarious stories you will get in return will make it worth the visit!)

Got an Hour?

– Put up flyers around the neighborhood for iFred. This not-for-profit (whose full name is the International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression.) is all about sharing a new, more positive perspective on depression to help eliminate the stigma associated with the disease.

– Garden for a Good Cause. Plant a sunflower, or an entire garden, and put up a sign in support of iFred. They use sunflowers as a symbol of a symbol of support for mental illness and depression, so plant your flower and signage in a nice, visible spot!

Ready to commit to the cause?

– Volunteer for a crisis center. This is not for the faint of heart or for the inconsistent. If you feel truly passionate about making a difference for the prevention of suicide, this is the most direct and immediate way to do so. There are so many places that are looking for volunteers, so find a center near you, and make a difference!

One small act really can make a difference, and no matter what you choose to do, let us know in the comments below so I can brag to my friend about how amazing our readers are!

Weeks 26-28: Off we go, into the wild, blue yonder…

Project: Care Packages for AnySoldier.com

 

Actual Time: 120 minutes

 

Once again, I’ve managed to Tom Sawyer people into doing my volunteering for me.

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The first week (Week 26) of my Soldier Care Package project, I thought that I would just buy all of the supplies myself and outsource the thank you cards to the kids of the cast, a la Letters of Love, back in February.

 

But after one quick CVS trip, I realized that it may be a bit more cost prohibitive than I originally imagined.

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ouch.

 

At first, I thought I would go to the dollar store and pick up the supplies, but the specter of guilt, with whom I often hang out with, reared it’s uncomfortable head.

 

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“These people are out there, risking their LIVES for the protection of your freedom and in service to your country, and you are going to buy them stuff at a dollar store to save money?!?”

 

So I went to Plan B.

 

Guilting my friends into helping.

Cards

Ensemble Member/Simba Cover Extraordinaire Blaine Krauss, hard at work between scenes

 

(Actually, I work with such lovely, generous people, it took little to no guilting whatsoever!)

 

In Week 27, (which was, serendipitously the week of July 4th, so playing up the patriotism card was natural for me!) I set up a card table to make thank you cards in the hallway outside of our dressing rooms. As usual, the cubs were there every show, diligently cranking out tank-shaped thank you cards and multi colored flags of appreciation.

 

I also put up a flyer outlining the specific platoon’s needs, which I found though AnySolder.org. I had two wonderful cast members drop off gobs of supplies, and when I finally got it into a box for shipping, along with my original CVS purchases, it was almost too heavy to lift up to the post office desk!

 

Life Lesson: Chocolate bars are heavy!

 

Week 28 was my vacation week, so I spent the day before departing for Panama City Beach rushing around cleaning the house, packing my suitcases, and shipping huge boxes of our care package items off to our platoon.

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That’s a whole-lotta love!

It felt great to send that box of teamwork off into the blue. (I’m not sure exactly where they are stationed, but I’m assuming it is Afghanistan. The website is very confidential about the movements of platoons. Loose lips sink ships, and whatnot.)

 

So thank you to everyone I polled on Facebook for care package recommendations (I never would have thought to get them drink mixes! Brilliant!) and to everyone at work who helped color a card or buy some supplies.

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My friends are a wealth of knowledge!

Now, what can I trick my cast into helping me do next….

Week Two: Goodwill Drive for another place of good-will!

Project: Donating Clothes

Actual Time Taken: 30 Minutes

Well three weeks into the new year and I’ve already missed a blog post.

Selena of 2013 is so disappointed in herself.

Selena of 2014 is understanding that she just moved from LA to Hawaii in the last two weeks, so anyone would be a bit behind.

But fear not. For at least my committment of volunteering was accomplished. (Just not the full hour. Sigh.)

This week was our last week in LA before our tour moves to Hawaii. At the end of every city we go through the ritual of packing up our stuff and realizing that we accumulated more junk than we meant to during the course of the city. This ritual is almost always accompanied with mild surprise and consternation at having to downsize quickly before leaving town.

Enter the Lion King’s “Goodwill Bin.” At the end of a city, we sometimes try to accumulate all of our gently used, unwanted goods to donate to the local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or in LA’s case, the local “Out of the Closet.

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This non-profit chain (who even has locations as far away as Florida and Amsterdam!) uses the revenues from donated items to provide free HIV/AIDS and STD testing. Some locations even provide counseling. educational resources, and medical services for HIV/AIDS positive patients.

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I got the word out at the theater on Friday and collected five completely full garbage and paper shopping bags by Sunday.

Goodwill LA 002

It’s not pretty, but it’s good.

I dropped them off at the Sunset Blvd location of Out of the Closet before packing up the rest of my life in my Prius and watching my boyfriend drive it away.

So the irony in this week was I had more than enough time to give my bit of volunteering, but the project didn’t take the full hour, and I couldn’t find the to write this quick little blog. The learning curve continues…