Thursday, January 1, 2009

Generation Change - From Obama HQ Blog

Now more than ever, we must rededicate ourselves to the notion that we share a common destiny as Americans – that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper. -- President-elect Barack Obama

On the morning of Christmas Eve, President-elect Obama encouraged Americans to use this season of giving as "a time to renew a sense of common purpose and shared citizenship." Later that afternoon in Huntington Beach, California a group of grassroots organizers gathered outside a local grocery store to help collect food for a local food bank.

They call themselves "Generation Change," and this wasn't their time here.

Across the country, food banks are facing severe shortages. Demand has increased significantly, wholesalers and retailers have less surplus food to donate and government assistance has decreased. Orange County Generation Change has been working with the OC Food Bank to make up a 100,000 pound shortfall. The group started in early December, and in their first outing they collected over 20,000 pounds of food.

The first food drive was so well received by shoppers at the local grocery store that the store management asked the group to return on Christmas Eve, their busiest day of the year.

This group of over 50 active organizers has adopted not just the message of Barack Obama's presidential campaign -- it's adopted the methods as well. Together they've found ways to adapt the skills and techniques learned from campaigning to community service work.

Kathryn Barrett, the group's Data Coordinator, explained:

We call our group Generation Change and we have two primary chapters -- North Orange County and South Orange County. There is a Central Orange County team forming as well. The South OC team stayed together after the campaign and the North team came together as a result of the recent Change is Coming meetings, although many of us were involved in the campaign and primaries before.

Led by Abraham Jankins (AJ), Generation Change developed a structure similar to the one used during the campaign - with AJ as the RFO (Regional Field Organzier), and Alisa Risso, Marion Schmitz and Marcelo Reyes as the RFOs coordinating activities. The group also has a Volunteer Coordinator, Store Coordinator, Team Coordinator and Logistics Coordinator.

AJ added:

Teams from North and South County volunteered over 50 hours at grocery store food drives, collecting over 100 packages of diapers, hundreds of pounds of baby formula and over 1,000 boxes of dry goods and canned food.

The group organizes through house parties, Facebook, MyBO and phonebank recruiting - using a spreadsheet of volunteers that they created during the campaign. Their second phonebank for volunteer recruitment is scheduled for this Saturday, January 3rd.

Though "100% of the group are strong Obama supporters," they don't go out of their way to identify themselves as such unless someone asks what Generation Change is. As Kathryn explained:

When asked, I like to say we're a political action group working to create the change we voted for.

On Christmas Eve, the organizers set up outside the grocery store and handed out fliers with a list of needed items to interested shoppers on their way into the store. One of the volunteers who participated in the food drive described shoppers who appeared to barely have enough for themselves who donated a jar of peanut butter or a can of tuna, how one young man took the "shopping list" and came back 40 minutes later with an entire shopping cart filled with food for the the food bank, and how some people gave cash donations of $5, $20, and even $100.

One man who spoke to me on his way in said that he was one of the original founders of the food bank. When he came out, he left us his shopping cart with several bags in it and walked away, carrying nothing for himself!

Kathryn finished:

This food-drive has had a wonderful effect on our community and on the volunteers who wanted to have something meaningful to do during the transition to our newly elected Obama Administration. The outpouring of hard work and generosity, camaraderie and fellowship has been amazing. We are all big believers in change from the ground up and this effort has shown us that there is so much good in people.

Across the country, grassroots groups are using the tools, the skills, and the networks created during the campaign to continue to work for change in their own communities. If you helped participate in a community service effort over the holidays or are planning one in the near future, let us know about it in the comments below or by emailing blog@barackobama.com.

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