Holiday Season Volunteer Opportunities!

Holiday Helpings Logo

Bread for the City’s Holiday Helpings campaign provides low-income DC residents with a turkey and all of the trimmings so that they may enjoy a celebratory holiday meal at home with their families. You can help us meet our goal of providing over 9,000 holiday meals this season by organizing a group of colleagues, family members or friends to volunteer!

Holiday Helpings volunteer groups help us to pre-pack our holiday meal bags so that we can quickly and efficiently distribute them to clients. The activity is fun, fast-paced, and provides the opportunity for volunteers to make a tangible difference.

To learn more or to sign up, please contact a volunteer coordinator at volunteer@breadforthecity.org or call 202-595-7865.

HOLIDAYHELPINGS

 

Guest Post: Applying for low-income housing is a pain. Code for DC is building a hack

This is a crosspost from Lalita Clozel with technical.ly about Code for DC‘s cool project that they are working on with Bread for the City.
Marcus Louie (center, white shirt) enlisted "people who are deeply fascinated about PDFs" at a Code for DC meeting Aug. 13.

Marcus Louie (center, white shirt) enlisted “people who are deeply fascinated about PDFs” at a Code for DC meeting Aug. 13.

Filling out a form. Easy, you say. But imagine this: you have little time and resources to spare, spotty access to the Internet, a tenuous knowledge of English and an avalanche of papers to fill out.

In D.C., the subsidized housing application process can be downright painful.

The 100 or so buildings that provide Section 8 subsidized housing — a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program that can cover up to 70 percent of rent for low-income residents — each require filling out a different form.

The waitlists are sometimes so long that buildings stop accepting applications, which is not indicated on HUD’s list of eligible housing. They may also require applicants to drop off the paperwork in person or fill it out on site.

This situation begged for a hack.

The ‘Mega App’ hopes to save applicants weeks of tedious work.

So, in 2013, a local community group that helps low-income residents pierce through this bureaucratic maze went to Code for DCwith a plan: create a common application that could streamline the process and make life easier for low-income applicants.

“Instead of filling out several applications by hand,” Stacey Johnson, a senior social worker at Bread for the City said in an email, “we’ll be able to enter in the information once and have it pre-populate into several applications at once.”

When Johnson and Matt Leasure, a former Bread for the City housing case manager, presented the idea at a Code for DC meeting in 2013, the civic hackers were soon on board. The project kicked off on the national day of civic hacking, June 1, 2013, said Marcus Louie, who is leading the project.

Enticed by Louie’s offering of “bottomless PDFs,” a core team of half-a-dozen coders and activists came together regularly after work to develop the Mega App.

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It turned out that creating a streamlined program that could populate the applications of even 30 buildings — the number Code for DC is currently working with — was a complex enterprise. “The technology is relatively straightforward to build,” said Louie. “The hard part is coming up with [the] data modeling.”

Johnson herself had taken a stab at streamlining the process in a single PDF to help applicants — who often cannot read or barely speak English — during Bread for the City’s free weekly workshops. But, she said, “I got stuck when it came to coding.” She tried to make her own app, but the maze of forms was too topsy-turvy for Live Cycle.

“Instead of filling out several applications by hand, we’ll be able to enter in the information once and have it pre-populate into several applications at once.”

STACEY JOHNSON, BREAD FOR THE CITY SOCIAL WORKER

“Most people who are applying for these buildings,” she added, “have limited resources in terms of phone use and tech savvy or access to computers.” With the app, they could be able to fill out their forms in one session, sparing them weeks of work.

To push out the app by year’s end, Louie will be using the three-week civic engagement sabbatical awarded by his employer Socrata, an open-data consulting firm.

The work is far from over, Johnson cautioned.

Buildings could make the application process easier and safer, for instance, by streamlining identification procedures which often require applicants to traverse the city carrying precious documents.

And there is still a long way to go to reach Bread for the City’s ultimate goal. “People need living wages, affordable rents, and for public-benefit amounts to adjust for the real cost of living,” she wrote. “I would be ecstatic if we can use technology to help push any of that forward.”

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Guest Post: Volunteers Rocking it at City Orchard

This is a guest post from volunteers from xScion Solutions. We thank them for their service, and their writing!
Volunteers from xScion harvest fruit at City Orchard

Volunteers from xScion Solutions harvest fruit at City Orchard

Last week our team ventured out to Beltsville, MD for a unique volunteering opportunity with an organization called Bread for the City. Bread for the City provides food, medical care and other services to those less fortunate in the DC area. They have a 2.75 acre organic orchard called City Orchard that produces over 45,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables. All of the crops that are harvested are distributed to DC residents in need through two different food pantries.

We arrived at City Orchard not quite sure what to expect. After learning a little more about the organization, we got right to work. Our first project: apples. We quickly learned the difference between a good and bad apple (not as simple as one might think). The produce is all organic and therefore looks different than the fruits and veggies you might find at the grocery store. After we were finished with the apple trees, we moved on to harvesting strawberries, pears, peppers and eggplant.

After all of the harvesting was complete, we weighed the fruits of our labor (see what I did there?) and the bins were loaded up to be taken to Bread for the City’s two pantry locations in DC. We had a great time supporting such a fantastic cause. All of the employees from Bread for the City were extremely helpful and it was clear that they are passionate about what they do.

Bread for the City is a truly inspirational organization and it was an honor to spend the day with them. They offer many ways for individuals and groups to get involved. You can check out their volunteering opportunities here.

 

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Now Hiring: Communications Manager

Do you like this blog? Do you like to see posts? We do too! That’s why we’re hiring a Communications Manager. Apply! Help us write stuff!

Position Profile:
Bread for the City seeks a full-time Communications Manager to lead the communications arm of the Development Department. This is a new position at Bread for the City, and one that the qualified candidate will enjoy molding into their own.

The Communications Manager is a fundraising position that strategically plans and executes BFC’s mail program, email and online fundraising program, social media strategy, and all engagement with traditional and nontraditional media. This position will work closely with both the development and executive team to raise funds and increase Bread for the City’s local and national profile through these communications platforms.

The ideal candidate has five years of proven experience, is creative, and is a self-starter. He or she will be able to work in a fast-paced — yet casual — environment, will be flexible, and will excel at managing up. The Communications Manager will be based at our Northwest Center and report to the Chief Development Officer and Associate Director of Development.

Responsibilities:
• Lead the organization’s strategic thinking, planning and execution on marketing and fundraising communications;
• Increase the visibility of the Chief Executive Officer in local and national media as Bread for the City’s leader, spokesperson, and industry thought leader;
• Manage all online communications;
• Manage BFC’s robust mail program;
• Work with the Board of Directors’ Branding Committee to meet communications’ goals as identified in the organization’s strategic plan;
• Other duties as assigned.

Qualifications:
Bread for the City seeks candidates who are creative, results-oriented, and have strong project management skills. The Communications Manager will have:
• 3-5 years of media and PR experience;
• A strategic mindset about communications and marketing;
• Experience working with WordPress;
• Outstanding written and oral communication skills;
• Excellent attention to detail and organizational skills;
• Ability to think strategically, meet deadlines, and to work within a team;
• A clear, intelligent and playful voice able to convey our vision and culture in communications;
• A demonstrated commitment to social justice.

Bread for the City is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, sexual orientation, family responsibility, physical or mental disability, medical condition, status as a veteran, or any other category protected by applicable federal, state, or local law, except where a bona fide occupational qualification applies.

Compensation:
Salary will be commensurate with experience and overall qualifications and competitive in the non-profit sector of Washington, DC. Bread for the City offers full benefits, health & dental insurance, 403(b) plan, 15 paid vacation days, 2 personal days, and federal holidays.

To Apply:
Please email your resume with a cover letter that speaks to your interest and qualifications to: work@breadforthecity.org with “Communications Manager” in the subject line. Only qualified candidates will be contacted. No phone calls, please.

Welcoming Su Sie Ju as BFC’s Legal Clinic Director

It is with great pleasure that I can announce that Su Sie Ju has accepted the position of Legal Clinic Director for Bread for the City!

Su SieSu Sie’s first contact with Bread for the City came in the previous century when she was a summer law clerk here while she was a law student at the University of Virginia. Following graduation, Su Sie clerked for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and was then a NAPIL (now Equal Justice Works) fellow at the National Partnership for Women and Families.  She accepted the position of Family Law Attorney in 2000 and became our Northwest Legal Clinic Supervisor in 2007.  In addition to ably providing legal representation to our clients and supervision to our staff attorneys, Su Sie provided wise counsel to Vytas and me as our little legal clinic grew over the past decade.

In addition to all her work internally, Su Sie has been on numerous committees of the Superior Court of District of Columbia designed to improve the workings of the Family Court. She has also served on the Access to Justice Commission.  Su Sie is the recipient of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association Educational Fund Community Service Award and the District of Columbia Bar Foundation Jerrold Scoutt Prize.

Su Sie is excited to take on her new role. She says, “Bread for the City is a special place, and it’s an honor and privilege to serve as its Legal Director. Vytas has left big cowboy boots to fill, but Bread for the City has a great group of smart and dedicated attorneys who will help make that boot filling a lot easier.”

We could not be more fortunate to have someone of Su Sie’s caliber and experience ready and willing to take the helm.  Please join me in congratulating Su Sie!

Society of Heroes: How Jack gives back

Our donors come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes the smallest of them all can show us how easy it is to help out in a big way. Today I’d like to introduce you to one special donor named Jack. Two years ago, at just 12 years old, Jack created his very own comic book series, Society of Heroes, and since then, has sold copies at a local gallery and school events to raise money for Bread for the City. This creative fundraising idea came about as part of Jack’s school project called a “Profile of Passion,” or POP. Students are asked to choose a project based on their interests, while considering their personal identity and how that fits into the identity of their greater community. Since Jack has always had an interest in helping others, it was a no-brainer for him to come up with a project with a philanthropic angle. The result? Jack raised $400 for Bread for the City by selling Part I and Part II of his comic, and Part III is being drafted as I blog. Find out more about Jack’s awesome project below:

Why did you want to write a comic book series to benefit Bread for the City?

Jack and his comic book standI have always loved to draw and create comic books since I was little. I have also been concerned about homelessness since I was young. When we were deciding what we wanted to do for the POP project, I decided to combine the two. I wanted to help Bread for the City because I really wished I could help people who were starving and without homes, and I wanted to find a way my art could help them.

How did you come up with the idea for Society of Heroes?

I came up with the idea of the Society of Heroes from teams such as the Avengers and Justice League. I took my favorite of the superheroes that I have created in the past and put them together as a team: Super Lad, Hawk Man, Wind Woman, Electric, Moon Ninja, and Brick Thrasher and made them a team.

Why do you think it’s important to support your community?

It is important to support the community because many people right now are starving in the United States alone, many of them children. With Bread for the City, I can help make sure fewer people go to bed hungry and show that people who have more should help those with less.

What would you tell other people your age about giving back to your community?

I would tell them how important it is that we help others, no matter what our circumstances, because it gives people hope and makes them feel less alone and shows that other people care about them.

How’s Part Three coming?

I have finished the rough draft, and I’m about to start the final draft!

If you’re interested in purchasing this comic series, please email me at eschneider(at)breadforthecity.org and I’ll put you in touch with Jack. Get ‘em before they’re sold out!

What’s happening at City Orchard?

There’s a lot going on at City Orchard this month as our first harvest kicks into full swing! As of the end of July, we’ve harvested 1,306 pints of fruit from City Orchard and 2,094 pounds of veggies from UDC’s Muirkirk Research Farm. Many thanks to our sustainable ag crew, the food program staff, and the hundreds of volunteers who made this possible.

Misson Continues - BFCI also want to acknowledge and celebrate some recent collaborative rainmaking on the part of our development department and other City Orchard stakeholders. We were recently awarded a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant to continue the management of City Orchard in Beltsville for another two years! We are grateful for this vote of confidence from our hosts at UDC. Additionally, one of our key partners, Purple Mountain Organics, was awarded the same grant to grow an unbelievable amount of sweet potatoes for our pantry next year. Get ready for a delicious Holiday Helpings Season in 2015! We’ll have a lot to be thankful for!

Here are some of the ways that you can get involved in City Orchard over the next month:

Volunteer at City Orchard!

Every Wednesday, we head out to the Orchard, leaving from the NW Center at 9:30am. We invite you to join us. Groups welcome. Contact volunteer@breadforthecity.org if you’re interested in getting your hands dirty!

Crop Mobs Rock!

Here are the pictures and tweets from our latest Crop Mob! We get lots of work done and have fun, too. The next Crop Mob is Sunday, September 14th. Will you be there? Sign up here!

Party at City Orchard!

Get your party on after September’s Crop Mob! Please join us as we celebrate our first full harvest at the City Orchard Ribbon Cutting Event on Sunday, September 14th from 3:00-5:00 pm. RSVP by emailing events@breadforthecity.org.

Lots is happening this August! Stay tuned for more.

New bill can help DC’s disabled and elderly residents save for a rainy day

As the benefits coordinator for the Representative Payee Program (RPP) here at Bread, I witness firsthand how difficult it is to live on Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a program for low-income people who are either disabled or elderly. Recipients cannot have resources of more than $2,000 or their benefits will be cut off. This rule hasn’t been updated since 1989. Even more striking, the income exclusion amount (portion of a person’s income that is not counted against SSI eligibility) hasn’t been updated since the inception of the SSI program in 1972 — over 40 years ago!

But an exciting bill has been proposed in the House and Senate that would greatly impact and improve the lives of many of DC’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Restoration Act of 2014 aims to bring about some significant changes to the outdated rules and regulations that SSI recipients must adhere to in order to maintain their benefit eligibility.

It may seem impossible that SSI beneficiaries could even manage to have savings when the monthly SSI benefit in 2014 is only $721. While it is very difficult, some of our clients are able to set aside a small amount each month toward savings. One RPP client who has been in our program since 2004 has always budgeted to save about $40 per month. Unfortunately, after working hard for many years to save this money, she is now over the SSI resource limit. She will need to spend down under $2,000 or be penalized her entire SSI check. She will have to spend this money on something she may not need right now, and therefore will not have access to it if she needs it in the future.  In addition, many clients receive large lump sums of back payments when they are first awarded SSI benefits. The SSI approval process can take months or even years, but once approved beneficiaries are owed the monthly amount going back to the month after their initial application date. SSI awardees are given only 9 months to spend down these back payments, and after that the money is considered a countable resource against the $2,000 limit.

Knowing that your benefits will be cut off if you save more than $2,000 is a tremendous burden. The costs of everyday living and unforeseen emergencies have increased dramatically since the creation of the SSI program in 1972. Raising the resource limit would help our clients save up for a “rainy day,” such as a family emergency or a move. One RPP client has recently used his savings to travel to another country to visit his very ill mother. And think about how much it costs you to move — the application fees, security deposit, transportation, supplies — it all adds up. If the SSI resource limit was increased as this bill proposes, our clients would have more access to stable housing because they would have the resources to move in when the opportunity arises.

Being able to save would also greatly benefit SSI recipients who want to return to work, by allowing them to save up for a car for transportation, continuing education classes, or certification programs.

In this regard, the increase in the income exclusion amount is also key. Right now, only $20 of an SSI recipient’s unearned income and $65 from earned income is not counted against their monthly SSI amount. This bill aims to increase that amount to $110 for unearned income and $357 for earned income, which would be a great relief especially to those recipients who are trying to go back to work.

SSI recipients are people who are disabled and elderly; therefore, it makes sense that many choose to live with a family member or friend. Unfortunately, under the current rules, an SSI recipient could be penalized up to a third of their income for living in another person’s household if the other person is responsible for paying rent and other household expenses. This is called “in-kind support and maintenance,” and in 2014 the maximum reduction in an SSI recipient’s monthly benefit is from $721 down to $480.67. The amount that their benefit is reduced depends on the portion of the rent and household expenses that the SSI beneficiary contributes. The SSI Restoration Act proposes to do away with this provision, opening up the possibility for low-income disabled and elderly recipients to have a trusted person at home to provide help and support without the fear of SSI penalties.

Bread for the City feels strongly that the SSI Restoration Act of 2014 is an important bill that would help bring dignity and justice to some of the most vulnerable residents of our city. Please consider supporting the bill by contacting your U.S. Representative or Senator to express your support! You can learn more about this important bill through the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the National Senior Citizens Law Center.

A Toast to the Start of August

Toast is delightful, filling and easy. But first you have to chose what type of bread you are going to use. I would recommend a hearty slice of whole grain bread so that you have plenty of flavor and fiber — or, for our recipe today, we are using sliced scones. You can put a lot on toast from the simple butter and jam or mashed avocado and salt to the intricate, collard greens and black eyed peas. It is perfect for a light dinner alone or to serve to your family as a fun change. And it is so fast and easy for those nights where you have lost track of time. So read on and enjoy a few amazing recipes packed with protein and flavor, our toast, Whole-Wheat Jalapeño Cheddar Scones and our toast topping, Mashed Avocado with Shrimp.

Whole-Wheat Jalapeño Cheddar Scones

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup applesauce
  • 2½ cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Jalapeno-Cheddar-Scones4 oz sharp cheddar, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, finely diced
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup milk

Egg Wash:

  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Turn the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or lightly grease the pan if you don’t have the paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Prepare your jalapeño and cheese. Cutting the cheese into cubes rather than grating it will  have pockets of gooey cheese that contrast nicely with the scone. If you want the spice of the jalapeño, leave the seeds and membrane; if you like it milder, remove them and chop up only the pepper itself.
  4. Using your hands, gently squish the applesauce into the flour until everything is incorporated but not smooth. The chunks of applesauce will create flaky scones. Add the jalapeño, cheese, eggs, and milk to the bowl, then use your hands to gently mix everything until it just comes together.
  5. Sprinkle flour on a clean countertop and dump the dough onto it. Gently shape the dough into a disc about 1½” thick. Cut the dough into six triangles like a pizza, and move them to the cookie sheet.
  6. In a small bowl, gently beat the egg for the egg wash. Brush it over the scones, then sprinkle salt and pepper over each one. Bake for 25 minutes or until the scones are golden brown.
  7. For this recipe, slice the scones in half lengthwise.

Spiced Shrimp and Avocado

Ingredients:

  • 16 large shrimp (about 1/2 lb.), peeled, deveined, rinsed, and patted dry
  • shrimp-crostini-whippedbakingKosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. chili powder; more to taste
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 small ripe avocados (about 12 oz. total)
  • 1 Tbs. fresh lime juice; more for sprinkling
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Season the shrimp with salt, pepper, and chili powder. Set a heavy 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add the oil and shrimp and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are opaque and firm to the touch, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board.
  2. Pit the avocados and scoop the flesh into a small bowl. Add lime juice, chopped cilantro, and a pinch of chili powder. Mash with a fork until relatively smooth and season with a heaping 1/2 tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper. Slice the shrimp in half lengthwise.
  3. To assemble, spread the mashed avocado over the slice of scone.  Top each with shrimp and sprinkle with lime juice and salt, and serve.

Enjoy!!!

Goodbye (for now), V3.

“Nice boots,” I commented as we waited in the Mayor’s office for Lord High Legal Director Vytas V. Vergeer to be honored with a mayoral proclamation for providing twenty years of free legal services to the District’s low-income residents.

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“There’s so much you don’t know about me,” Vytas replied. Apparently, this Bread for the City fixture and leading affordable housing advocate wears cowboy boots to every court appearance. He’s also been known to sport a cloak and dons a real tattoo of the Bread for the City logo — which he coined “the snowman” — on his arm. He never really considered himself someone who’d get a tattoo because nothing in his life seemed permanent enough to engrave on his body, but with this place, it seemed different, I learned.Purple Thursday selife

As Bread for the City’s communications lady, my interactions with Vytas have mostly been limited to encouraging him to send me courthouse selfies. But now that he’s leaving us behind for some appointment as “Administrative Law Judge” at the “Office of Administrative Hearings” or whatever, I rushed to find out all I could about this mysterious lawyer who I could always count on for witty one-liners in his responses to emails asking for legal stats. I now share some of what I learned with you:

When a young, less hairfree Vytas V. Vergeer walked into Bread for the City back in 1994, he was planning to meet with Jeannine Sanford — our then-legal director and current Chief Operating Officer — to find out how he could put his legal skills to work for DC’s residents living in poverty. “I wanted to do direct services and wanted to go wherever I thought my services were needed most,” he says, “This just seemed like a cool place.”

Jeannine was late to the meeting because she was dealing with a difficult client, but she eventually got around to meeting the young lawyer and agreed to accept his help in the growing legal clinic. His first assignment? “Jeannine gave me the difficult client.”

She continued to assign him cases, and within months, Vytas was brought on board as Bread for the City’s first contract attorney. “It was the way he just jumped in and tried to make himself useful, the way he cared about what was happening to our clients, the way he spoke with clients — no condescension, providing information that would help them navigate a difficult system to an outcome that was their best option under the circumstances,” says Jeannine. She knew right off the bat that he would be an asset to what was becoming Bread for the City’s legal clinic.

He started out by taking mostly housing cases until he later asked if he could start taking disability cases. “Vytas worked hard — maybe too hard,” Jeannine recalls, “and he left us briefly in the early aughts to work in a policy position at a national nonprofit. But he was kind enough to let us woo him back in the fall of 2002 to help us get the Southeast Center’s legal clinic off the ground.”

Under his leadership, Bread for the City’s legal clinic has grown from 3 attorneys in 1999 to 15 attorneys in 2014 — serving more than 13,000 of DC’s low-income residents over the last 15 years. Our lawyers now specialize in the areas of housing, disability, and family law. He has played a key role in positioning Bread for the City as a leader in the fight for affordable housing in DC, and he has been an important advocate for tenants’ rights. “We’re always on our client’s side,” he says, “We may not always be able to fix it, but we’re always on their side.”

One of his greatest accomplishments was the launch of the Court-Based Representation project in which staff attorneys from Bread for the City and the Legal Aid Society take on landlord-tenant cases on the spot — providing full representation to people in need of legal aid, right at the courthouse.

Now, Vytas is leaving us…again. In his role as Administrative Law Judge, he will hear a wide variety of administrative law cases, ranging from rent level issues to unemployment compensation cases. He says, “My hope is that I can bring some of the humanity from Bread for the City into the judicial system.”

It’s bittersweet, but in the form of about 17 happy hours and going away parties, we say congratulations and good luck to Lord High Legal Clinic Director Vytas V. Vergeer! But in Jeannine’s words, “He’s come back once before.” Just sayin’.

And we think the departure is bittersweet for Vytas, too. He says, “Over almost 20 years, through clients, colleagues, and even appearances at court, this place has given me more happy memories than any person deserves.” Awww, right in the feels, V3.