Hunger Games?

bread

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I’ve done spring and fall fundraisers for a couple of charities: The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and Pets of the Homeless.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t help but know that our political world here in the US has been turned upside down since November. Part of the upheaval is the appointment of Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education – a woman who has zero, absolutely zero idea of the role public schools play in the lives of ordinary people. Not only do public schools serve one of our founders’ primary goals in having a literate, educated electorate but, for a long time, they’ve provided free breakfasts and lunches to kids of low income families. She’s playing games with the lives of millions of kids, especially poor kids.

We’ve long had a large portion of our population that is “food insecure” – the term used when families don’t know where their next meal is coming from. The problem has been worse since the 2008 recession. You can learn more about that and what you can to do help HERE. And you can go HERE to learn more about hunger world-wide.

When I was a kid, summers were wondrous times of reading all day or disappearing into the woods near our house to play all day. I always had food for snacks and lunches. I’ve never known a day with real hunger. That isn’t true for lots of people.

Summers are an overwhelming time for many food banks and soup kitchens, when families have to try and figure out how to make up for those breakfasts and lunches not being served by schools during those months.

In an effort to make a difference locally, I’m pledging 100% of my May royalties to The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. Any books you purchase – from Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, B&N, Kobo, Bella, or Ylva – they’ll all go toward the check I’ll write.

So, if you’ve been thinking about buying any of my books you might not have read, this is a great time to do so! If you’ve already bought all of my books, THANK YOU! If you’re in a position to do something in your community, I’m sure your local food bank could use any amount you can afford to give.

Thank you for your help with this project.

H in sun

(Hermione is always hungry, but that’s just because she’s a corgi…)

Peace and full bellies to all,

Caren

Hungry All the Years

bread

(photo courtesy of wisegeek.org)

“I had been hungry all the years;

my noon had come to dine;

I, trembling, drew the table near,

and touched the curious wine.”

-emily dickinson

That poem by Emily Dickinson is chock full of beautiful, poignant imagery of not belonging, of being an outsider. Obviously, I am not the only one to take a book’s title from this poem.

For the purpose of this blog, I am taking a more literal interpretation of her words.

Over the next month, the school year will be ending here in the US, and more than just academics will end. So, too, will the free breakfasts and lunches our public schools provide for children of low-income families.

It’s a sad irony that summer, a time of plenty, is actually a time of greater need for families already struggling to pay bills and put food on the table.

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I’ve been doing a spring and fall fundraiser for my local food bank, The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. To date, I have been able to donate over $1000 to them, thanks to your support!

I have a new book coming out June 1, The Beast That Never Was. So this is a great time to combine the fundraiser with a giveaway!

TBTNWfrontflat5

Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll donate 50% of my May & June royalties. That’s been my standard spring donation.

Here’s what you do: Buy Books! Add a comment to this blog or e-mail me at the address at the end of this blog and tell me which book(s) you bought during the months of May and June.

For those why buy books in May, I’ll enter you in a giveaway for five (5) e-books of The Beast That Never Was. You’ll be among the first to read this new novel.

For those who continue to buy through June, I’ll offer three signed paperbacks of The Beast, open to anyone anywhere in the world.

This is a great opportunity for you to get some great reads and help a fantastic cause. If you already have all of my books and are in the position to do so, consider donating to your local food bank. I’m sure they could use your support.

My e-mail: cjwerlingerbooks AT yahoo DOT com

As always, thank you for reading and for supporting this fundraiser.

Pax,

Caren

Am I a Racist?

Am I a racist?

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t privately asked herself that question over the past year? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve started to write this blog and then put it away, telling myself that it’s too controversial; it has nothing to do with my writing; I’m too far removed from the places where these bad things are happening. I’m too white.

But isn’t that a form of racism – to feel as if I shouldn’t say anything because I’m white?

If you follow the dictionary definition of racism – “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races” – then, no, I am not a racist. Most of us aren’t.

But a few weeks ago, when I went for a walk and saw a black man just standing on a corner in my neighborhood, he immediately caught my attention. And as I walked on, turning to look back at him, I asked myself if I noticed him because he was black in a mostly white neighborhood, or was it because I’ve lived in this neighborhood for almost twenty-five years and I know he doesn’t live here and it’s not on the way to anywhere and nobody just hangs out on street corners here.

I’m reasonably certain I would have paid just as much attention to any guy I didn’t recognize, standing idly on a corner when he didn’t seem to have any reason to be here.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Trying to distinguish between race and all the other things. When they blend together, everyone points to race as the reason someone is profiled.

I believe police and other people sometimes make incorrect assumptions about people based on race, and I empathize with the stories of people of color who have been stopped unjustly and questioned simply because they happened to be the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time.

I can’t know what it’s like to be black just as a straight person can’t know what it’s like to be gay, or a man know what it’s like to be a woman. But I actually know a bit of how it feels to stand out because of my color.

I lived for a year in an almost all-black section of Pittsburgh. I know first-hand what it feels like to stand in a store or a bank and be the only person of your color in the entire place, to have people stop to watch as you walk down the street. When people peer at you, they’re not necessarily being hostile, but it does make you feel hyper-vigilant at standing out so in the crowd. People notice you. That’s an experience most Caucasians in the US have probably not had.

But I also have relatives who have been police officers and I empathize with the fact that they never know what they’re going to walk into when they respond to a call, or stop someone who is acting suspiciously. After all, it’s their job to notice people acting suspiciously. That shouldn’t extend to harassing someone simply because of the color of his skin, but we all know that happens.

So, am I a racist? If we change our definition to being aware of race, I would argue that we all are, unless we’re totally blind and literally cannot see differences in skin color. I notice race, just as I notice gender, hair color, eye color, scars, limps. I’ve been a physical therapist for over twenty-five years. Part of who I am is a noticer of physical characteristics.

Maybe a better, more pertinent question is, does race change how I interact with people? And the answer to that is… no, it doesn’t. But other things do. I don’t use the same language with a factory worker who has no medical background as I do with a corpsman or EMT who knows something about his anatomy. I speak with women differently than I speak with men. I speak with highly educated people differently than I speak with those who barely finished high school.

This topic was first prompted by a review I got a couple of years ago for my novel, Miserere, in which the reviewer thought I copped out for having the “white savior” come to the rescue of one of my characters, a black man named Abraham. That comment really made me think.

When I wrote the character of Abraham, I saw him only as a man in need of healing, after losing the woman he loved and nearly losing his life because of the color of his skin. He wasn’t sitting around waiting to be saved. What he did need was time and friendship.

In my story, he is saved by my main character, a young white girl, but then he nearly sacrifices himself saving her life in return. Those were acts based on their friendship, not a hierarchy of color. I guess some would argue I should have written him standing up for himself without having to wait for an enlightened white family to befriend him, but I beg to differ.

When I moved to West Virginia in 1983, the town I moved to was small, white and closed. There were people who wouldn’t rent to me because I was Catholic, and yes, they asked. At the time, a local court case was raging in which a white kindergarten teacher was fighting the loss of her job because she’d been accused of being transgendered (though they didn’t use that word back then). I never met her. I don’t know if she was trans, or just a butch dyke. What I do remember very well is the feeling of paranoia as people openly and very hostilely stared at me as I walked down the street. There was very much a witch-hunt atmosphere at the time.

What those experiences have taught me is that there comes a time when members of a minority have to stand up for their rights, but the opinion of the majority is not going to change until a few members of the majority cross the line to stand with the minority and say, “This isn’t right and we’re not going to pretend it is.” And until that happens, the mob mentality of the majority is not going to be altered by the protests of the minority. This is true no matter what the struggle: women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s and, more recently, the fight for marriage equality. The fight only gained momentum and wider acceptance once the members of the minority weren’t the only ones speaking out.

I recently served on a grand jury. As I listened to the police officers present their cases, I found myself listening and was a bit surprised that, with the exception of the cases with Latino-sounding names, I had absolutely no mental image of the suspects. Race didn’t enter into my thought process at all. What was very clear, and it reinforced what I have long believed, is that the vast majority of the crimes in question took place in poor parts of town – parts I would never want to be caught in.

My city and the surrounding county doesn’t have a huge African-American population, but it does have a lot of what would be called “white trash” and we have a large Latino population. I firmly believe that socioeconomic status – not race – is the common ingredient when talking about crime and drugs and lack of family stability. Obviously, that’s not universal. Kids from affluent families can get into trouble, but not with the same frequency.

I think the question of racism must reach beyond pretending we don’t notice those differences in color, because they influence too much of who we are. It’s a matter of pride to me that I’m Irish, just as I know that being black is a matter of pride for most African-Americans, and people of Latino ancestry are proud of their roots. Experiencing different cultures, cuisines and customs is an exciting thing. The differences can’t be washed into homogeneity without erasing that sense of pride in where we come from.

What we can do is try not to let how we treat others be determined by things like race or gender or sexual orientation or religion. And speaking of religion, please excuse this blog for not extending into the anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic aspects of bigotry, but this already felt big enough to make my head explode.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, thank you. I sincerely hope I haven’t offended anyone, but if we don’t talk about this, we can’t fix it. If you decide to offer a comment, please be courteous. It’s my blog and I will delete any inappropriate comments.

Pax

Buy Books! Feed Kids!

For those of you who have followed my blog, you know it’s time for my annual summer fundraiser for my local food bank.

We’re slowly crawling out of this recession, but there are still so many families that are struggling. HERE are some of the latest statistics on Hunger and Poverty in the U.S. There has been a lot of news coverage in recent months about the struggle for families to make a living wage if they only earn minimum wage.

Summers are an especially tough time as public schools are no longer in session, providing free breakfasts and lunches to kids from low-income families. They turn to food banks for extra help. And it’s not just families with kids. So many of our older folks are getting by, or trying to, on only Social Security, which doesn’t always stretch far enough to cover rent/mortgage, utilities, gas and food.

Since I started Corgyn Publishing, I’ve done these fundraisers twice a year. To date, we’ve raised $750 for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.

So here’s the deal: I will donate 50% of my royalties for all book sales from May and June to the food bank!

Your role: buy books! I promise you, they’re actually good stories, with characters that will stay with you long after you finish reading. You might need to invest in an extra box or two of tissues for some of them, but it’s worth it. Books make great gifts, too. You can gift an e-book as easily as a paperback now with just an e-mail address. Share the love with your friends!

As a thank-you, if you e-mail me at cjwerlingerbooksATyahooDOTcom, tell me which title you bought and from which vendor, I’ll be happy to send you a personalized bookmark or postcard ( but you may have to take potluck on which you get).

If you’ve read all of my books, thank you – from the top of my stomach (which is near the bottom of my heart), because I’ve been blessed enough to never truly know hunger.

Peace and full bellies to all,

Caren

bread

photo courtesy of wisegeek.org

 

The Cost of Being Poor

It’s no secret that there are a lot of poor and hungry people, here in the U.S. and around the world. The impact of the recession and the political climate in the U.S. have made day to day existence tough for a lot of people. Even with the jobs market improving and the economy slowly recovering from the collapse left as Bush 43’s greatest legacy, it can be hard for someone, or a family, to pull themselves up out of poverty. Part of the reason is that it literally costs more to be poor.

I live in a smallish town that does have a bus system so that those without cars have a way to get around, and they spend a lot of time waiting for the buses. But at least here, they can get to a Walmart without too much trouble. In urban low-income neighborhoods, folks either travel quite a distance – an hour or more via multiple buses/trains – to get to discount stores or, more likely, they buy from the corner market which charges a lot more for everything from a loaf of bread to a gallon of milk.

The poor pay higher interest rates for loans. They pay larger deposits for utilities and security deposits on apartments. There is some justification for that. If you are a lender or a landlord, dealing with a client or tenant base with a high rate of default and nonpayment, you have to protect yourself from lost revenues. That’s understandable.

But, from the standpoint of someone faced with a choice of making a car payment on a car that is eating up gas and insurance money, or paying rent or buying food or paying for heat, which would you choose to let go? When there’s not enough money for all of those things, hard choices have to be made.

I hear the argument that there’s no good reason for poor people to be stinky and fat. It doesn’t cost much, people say, to buy a bar of soap and they shouldn’t be eating junk food all the time. But you know what? It does cost a lot of money for a water deposit in many cities, and the electricity to heat the water, and if you can’t afford a washer and dryer, that means trips to the laundromat, which gobbles up quarters by the sleeve. As for food, the junk is way less expensive than the healthy stuff.

Don’t even get me started on the paycheck-loan and car title-loan places. Those lenders are predatory and should be shut down, in my opinion. Years ago, one of my employees got caught in paycheck-loan cycle he couldn’t get himself out of – that’s how those places work. Every time you borrow and pre-pay the interest, your next paycheck is smaller and then you have to borrow again to get by until the next payday. I paid off his loan. It wasn’t a gift. He paid me back, $10 or $15 a paycheck, interest-free, until we were square. But a lot of folks caught in that cycle don’t have anyone to help them out.

All of these issues contribute to increased health risks, particularly for children and seniors. The medical costs of just one hospitalization can cripple a family.

The growing problem of poverty and hunger feels absolutely overwhelming when you start looking at it. Trying to fix it feels impossible. But we can make dents.

I am pledging 50% of all of my book royalties for the month of November to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, my local food bank. If you are in a position to donate or volunteer at your local food bank or Meals on Wheels or soup kitchen, please do so.

If you’d like to read more about these issues, the Washington Post did an excellent story on the High Cost of Poverty HERE.

HERE are some statistics on hunger among our seniors, along with some ways you can help.

And HERE is an interesting article on hunger in America.

Thank you for reading.

Summertime Is Awesome!

Summertime IS awesome – cookouts, late night games of tag, catching fireflies, lazy evenings swinging on the porch swing. I could go on and on about my favorite childhood memories of summer, but for a lot of kids from low-income families, summer is a time of being hungry. For their parents, it’s a time of worry and stress. Those kids receive free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches during the school year, and as soon as school is out for the summer, POOF! No more breakfasts or lunches.

Last year, I did a fundraiser for our local food bank, donating a percentage of my June royalties to them. I repeated the fundraiser in December and between the two, was able to donate $400 to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. It went so well, I’ve decided to make this an annual thing. SO, for the month of June, 50% of my royalties – Amazon, Smashwords, Bella, Winchester Book Gallery – all sources of sales will be included in the donation.

PLEASE, if you’ve been thinking about buying my books, or if there are one or two you haven’t purchased yet, OR if you have birthdays or other gift-giving occasions coming up, this would be a wonderful time to buy! You not only get a great story to keep you happy, but you get to do a really cool thing for some folks who could use a little help now.

If you’ve already purchased all of my books, I THANK YOU! Please consider making a donation to your local food bank, wherever you live. I know they’re all in the same boat. And just in case you didn’t take my word for it, check out the Kid President’s take on the issue.

I hope you all have a wonderful summer full of fun and laughter and time with loved ones.

Peace and full bellies to all,

Caren

‘Tis the Season…Again

It seems like it was just a few weeks ago that I was writing about the increased summer demand for help in feeding hungry families whose kids were no longer getting free breakfasts and lunches at school. Now, we’re full swing into the holiday season. Many of us are blessed enough to have more than enough to eat, warm houses and enough money left over after all that to buy gifts and celebrate the season.

I know many families struggle to provide a nice Christmas for their kids, but there are a lot of worthy groups helping with those efforts. Children tug on our hearts at Christmas, but the poverty rate among our seniors is also very high. Many elderly people in the U.S. have only Social Security as their retirement income. I often have patients who tell me they can’t afford to come to their physical therapy appointments because they don’t have enough gas in the car to get them through until their next check.

In an effort to make a tiny dent in the need our local elderly face, I will donate 50% of my royalties for the month of December to our local food bank. All e-book and paperback sales will figure into the donation.

Wishing everyone a warm someone to hug and a joyful holiday season!

New puppy