Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Positively Pittsburgh Live! Pittsburgh Non-Profits Spreading Love Volume II

Positively Pittsburgh Live!
Pittsburgh Non-Profits Spreading Love Volume II

Kristen Holloway, Operation Troop Appreciation
Cynthia Moore, Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank
Debi Arnett, Who’s Your Brother
Heather Mediate, Girls Coalition

Kristen Holloway is the Founder and President of Operation Troop Appreciation (OTA)Kristen founded OTA in 2004 out of a deep sense of patriotism and support of our deployed troops. 

Kristen Holloway
Wanting to support local troops deployed to Iraq in early 2004, Kristen embarked on personal projects to support deployed troops with her specialized care packages and letter writing campaigns. The letters she received from grateful soldiers on the receiving end of her efforts inspired her to create something larger and more enduring so she could offer continuous support to deployed troops.

With the support of the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of business (University of Pittsburgh), and an army of volunteers, Operation Troop Appreciation was up and running as a 501 c3 non-profit charity on July 1, 2004.

Instead of providing care packages for individual soldiers -- which many other organizations were already doing quite well – Kristen wanted OTA to target entire units of troops so that every member of the unit would receive something from her organization. A military unit can be as small as a team of five people, or as large as a battalion of 1,000, and OTA would set out to reach everyone in a unit.

She also quickly learned that receiving something during mail call is an important morale-booster. But, sadly, many soldiers never receive a single letter or package from home during their entire deployment. Low morale can be a huge problem in deployed military units. When soldiers feel that no one remembers or cares about what they are doing, they can lose focus on their missions and make costly, even deadly, mistakes. She wanted OTA to help battle this unfortunate situation.

She wanted OTA to provide specific things that would make the biggest difference to all the soldiers in each particular unit. Each military unit performs specific types of missions, resides in various deployment locations with varying proximity to military exchanges, and has differing access to basic supplies. These factors all contribute to what items are most wanted and needed by the unit. So OTA sends specific “wish list” items requested especially by a point-of-contact on behalf of the entire unit. 

Since its inception in July 2004, OTA has provided “wish list” items to more than 120,000 troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, throughout the Middle East, and Africa. OTA focuses on providing safety and supplemental tactical equipment that keep the troops safer and more mission-effective while in the field, and also items that contribute to over-all well-being and high morale.  

Examples of items that OTA sends include: moisture wicking clothing, fire retardant work gloves, blast and ballistic protective eye wear, multi-tools, gym equipment, hydration packs, video game systems, phone cards, sporting equipment, musical instruments, cold and hot weather gear, snacks, movies, music, personal care items and any other “wish” our soldiers may have.

OTA has received numerous commendations from local politicians, civic groups, and veterans organizations. In March 2006, Kristen received the Volunteer Service Award from President Bush for her work with deployed troops. In September 2008, she was invited to the White House to meet him again and during a speech he gave that day on the importance of volunteering, he praised OTA and the impact the organization has on our military.

Operation Troop Appreciation (OTA) is dedicated to members of our Armed Forces serving and sacrificing for our country. By providing them with “wish list” items that raise their morale and aid in the success and safety of their missions, we present a united front to our deployed military by supporting them as individuals, for every one of them

Donations: With limited overhead and no paid staff, since our inception, 98.5 cents of every dollar we spend goes to directly fund troop projects. As a non-governmental, non-profit agency, 

OTA relies solely on private donations to provide for our troops.

All donations are tax-deductible and can be sent to: Operation Troop Appreciation, PO Box 14550, Pittsburgh, PA 15234 or made securely on-line at www.OperationTroopAppreciation.org

Upcoming Events:
Support Our Heroes runs from Feb. 24th through March 10th. Sponsors are Pittsburgh Penguins, Dunkin Donuts, First Niagra and ATI. Zamboni banks will be available at all Dunkin Donuts and First Niagra banks for people to make donations. Sponsors will match all money and proceeds will be split among 3 charities, including OTA.

Kidapalooza is Feb 23rd  and at the Home and Garden Show March 1-3 and Mar 8-10.at the Convention Center. OTA will have a table where people can stop by to sign a greeting card for our troops which will be included in care packages going overseas.

Cynthia Moore
Cynthia Moore is the Education and Community Engagement Director at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and has had twenty-three years of service with the Food Bank spearheading the development and expansion of many of the Food Bank’s programs aimed at increasing access to food assistance for families in need including the Summer Food Service Program, SNAP, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program and the Produce to People Program throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. 

In addition to her work with the Food Bank she volunteers her time through serving on a number of boards and committees including Allegheny County’s Community Services Advisory Council and Exceptional Adventures. She is a 2005 graduate of Leadership Pittsburgh and was recently selected to the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) Block Grant Advisory Board.

Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is a nonprofit organization committed to providing food assistance in eleven counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, and to the higher purpose of ending hunger in America. The recipient of numerous awards for excellence in nonprofit management and a 4-star Charity Navigator rating, the Food Bank attracts support from major corporations and foundations, and is grateful for the donated hours of more than 10,000 volunteers. The Food Bank has also been cited for several model program awards, resides in an award-winning “green” warehouse, and has been called “the conscience of the network” (a member of America’s Second Harvest – the Nation’s Food Bank Network).  Nearly 80 staff members gather and distribute food to 380 member agencies which in turn serve 120,000 people. Beginning its 27th year of service, the Food Bank is respected equally for best practices and compassionate service. 

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is part of the Feeding America National Network of Food Banks of which they are one of 200 serving the United States. The Food Bank differs from a food pantry in that they concentrate on supporting 501 (c) 3 organizations (like food pantries, soup kitchens, after-school program, etc) with food and other grocery items and a food pantry provides direct services to individuals needing assistance.

In 2012 itself, GPCFB last year distributed more than 27.4 million pounds of food throughout its service area of Southwestern PA. The Food Bank serves the 11 counties that make up southwestern Pennsylvania.

Food insecurity in our Region continues to grow as is evident through the increased number of families seeking assistance for the first time each month (a little more than 2,500 a month throughout our region). They provide service to 120,000 individuals every month and see trends occurring where individuals that have not needed to ask for help in the past are now seeking support. People needing help don’t have to be embarrassed about asking!

Food Insecurity negatively impacts all of us and continues to have a profound impact on our most vulnerable population the elderly and children. Everyone in our community can play a role in helping their neighbors---either as volunteers, conducting food drives, through advocacy, or making financial donations (they can grow a $1 donation into $5 in resources).

We can all play a part in helping to alleviate the impact of food insecurity in our community!  Connecting with the Food Bank is easy—visit their website at www.pittsburghfoodbank.org or call them at 412-460-3663. To GET or GIVE HELP, friend them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.  

Debi Arnett
Debi Arnett is the Business Development Representative for Who’s Your Brother (WYB). Their mission is to encourage people everywhere to build up their communities as they build up each other, sharing their talents and resources with one another to promote a peace and a brotherhood among our fellow neighbors that we have not yet known.

Watch a video from the WYB founder hereWYB offers the opportunity to use your talent, your resources, and a small amount of your time to brighten someone else's day by meeting a need without the exchange of money. Likewise you too can be contacted by someone in your community who would appreciate the honor of meeting your need. Whether you are local electrician who is volunteering a few hours to help a family with your expertise, or a stay-at-home mom who extends a little help to a local family whose father was recently laid off from work, collectively we can solve a number of challenges together in the spirit of brotherhood.

WYB makes it easy to locate people who need assistance in the areas you are prepared to give through the use of their search engine which lists each post by category, city, zip code and even key phases.

So whether you have a need that can be fulfilled or you are eager to build up your community as you help your neighbor, let's get started. It's easy and best of all it's free.

WYB does not support any political party or any candidate running for political office. In addition, WYB does not support nor is it supported by any single religious organization. Their goal is to bridge gaps and create connections across all divides, including those found in the political and religious arenas.

Furnish for Free is open to the public and hosted by WYB. At Furnish for Free, WYB promotes the re-use of gently used items by giving these items to a neighbor or a friend who is in need. In addition, they also collect and disburse furniture to those who have needs on an ongoing basis. Their warehouse location is currently open Wednesdays and Saturdays from noon-4pm if you have a donation or a need.

WYB will accept gently used furniture, books, electronics, clothing, kitchenware, appliances, etc. Donations will be accepted during their open hours: Wednesdays and Saturdays from noon until 4 pm. If you need to make special arrangements, contact us either at furnishforfree@whosyourbrother.com or 412-328-2197.

Those in need of particular items can also contact us. If we cannot meet your need, we will do our best to contact you when and if new items collected match what you seek.
Volunteers are always needed to help with collections, organizing the warehouse, and helping with deliveries. If you own a pick-up truck or van, you can assist us with the collection of donations.

If you have any other questions or would like to help with an upcoming Furnish for Free event, contact us. All Furnish For Free Events are held at 201 N. Braddock Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA.

How to become a member of WYB: Go to www.whosyourbrother.com
Go to the link for “sign up to get or give help.” Fill out your information and then on the second page you will see a captcha code box next to it is a Referral code box please enter Z2Z07Y7KW and submit.

You will receive an email shortly that you must confirm and then complete your profile.  Please do it the same day that you sign up, as these do expire and would require you to start over if not confirmed in time. 

You can post a need or a gift. You can list “I want to be a volunteer” and your phone number there or skip that part for now and go back later – Don’t forget your password.
Press save and you are a member. Questions about WYB or how to get more involved call Debi Arnett during the week at 412 328-2310. Please leave your number for a return call if I am not in the office. Or email me at debi.arnett@whosyourbrother.com.

Heather Mediate
Heather Mediate is the Program Director for the Girl's Coalition and has been working in the Pittsburgh nonprofit community since 2004. During this time, she has worked regionally and nationally to promote the importance of inclusive play opportunities, to support the integration of social enterprise into nonprofit business models, and to bring together the individuals and organizations who serve, support, and advocate for girls in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Heather is a University of Pittsburgh graduate, where she studied political science and communication.  She has completed graduate work in gerontology and medical ethics, as well as research on artists as political activists. Heather has volunteered with numerous area organizations and events, such as MDA, Autism Speaks, Run Around the Square, Walk for a Healthy Community, and currently serves on the board at Union Project.

The Girl’s Coalition exists to address strategic gaps in the region, meeting a need for staff and leaders of girl-serving agencies to share information about programs, new research, or training opportunities in a more formal way. By connecting these powerful and creative programs to each other, the Girls Coalition makes it easier for girls and families to identify and take advantage of all the amazing opportunities that exist in the region. They aspire to help youth serving agencies serve girls better--more thoughtfully and more effectively.

The Girls Coalition exists to bring together the individuals and organizations that support women and girls in southwestern PA.There is still a long way to go in order to achieve gender equity in youth programming and services, and to promote economic empowerment for girls and women.By bringing together the people and organizations who serve, support, and advocate for girls, the Girls Coalition, we can elevate these issues and work together to create wide spread, long term change.

They provides networking, professional development, and strategic partnerships to members, and to the greater youth serving community.They maintain regular email and direct mail communications to keep the community better informed about their work, as well as the work being done by their partners.

The Girls Coalition looks for meaningful ways to incorporate girls voices into their work and to best represent those voices in the information and opportunities they develop for professionals. The event on February 23 and the MLK essay contests are recent examples of these efforts.

The Girls Coalition, with support from Fisa Foundation, The Ellis School, and Spark is bringing Julia Bluhm and Izzy Labbe to Pittsburgh in order to showcase their story, and to use that story to feature local girls who are taking a stand. They hope to inspire a wave of new girl -led activism in the region.

This was reported as a reproduction of PositvelyPittsburghLive news done by Joanne Quinn-Smith. (c) Joanne Quinn-Smith and PositivelyPittsburghLive(TM) 2013 All rights reserved.

Tara Darazio is a Positively Pittsburgh Live reporter, an independent copywriter, blogger, article writer, and social media strategist. If you are in need of writing assistance, or need help with your social media efforts connect with Tara on LinkedIn here.

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