This month we interviewed Betsy Toll of Living Earth Gatherings on their inspiring Brown Bag Project, proof that anyone can make a difference and activism doesn’t have to be huge to make a difference in one person’s day.
FApdx: How was Living Earth founded?
Betsy: Living Earth was founded in 1998, and became a non-profit 501.c.3 in 2002. Our mission is to cultivate peace, justice, beauty, and balance in our lives and in our world. To that end, we offer programs that nurture awareness of our deepest nature, and ways to express that awareness in service, celebration, and community.
FApdx: What is the Brow Bag Project?
Betsy: The Brown Bag Project provides food for folks on the streets, and offers our volunteers a means to connect with people whose paths might not otherwise intersect closely with ours. It offers us a vehicle for reflecting on deeper questions about our own humanity, and the humanity of others. Our small action will never end hunger, but each bag we prepare ensures at least one person doesn’t go hungry that day. Each bag means one person will get a bow or a hug, have someone to listen to them for a few minutes, have food to share with a friend.
The Project gives us the opportunity to work together, to connect with our own deep compassion, our fears, laughter, frustration, sadness, goodness, and gratitude. In the process, we are becoming a full-hearted community of praxis (aka a karma yoga team). The process serves our volunteer group every bit as much as it serves the folks to whom we provide food.
FApdx: What are your biggest challenges with this project?
Betsy: The Brown Bag Project is small, and the primary (almost ONLY) obstacle is funding and accessing food. And volunteer time. It’s the ongoing dilemma of most all-volunteer nonprofit or community benefit groups: HOW to make things happen when there is very little in the way of budget. In some ways it’s a good challenge, as it keeps things honest, simple, and small, keeps us mindful of our limitations and capacity, and very much encourages creativity.
FApdx: How can someone get involved with the Brown Bag Project?
Betsy: Anyone who wants to jump in can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 503-771-1940. We welcome help making food and giving it away and we’d LOVE creative ideas about fundraising – house concerts, yard sales, a movie night, a yoga-thon — who knows???? Any ideas that anyone wants to work on, we’d love to know about. Help soliciting food donations from local grocers would also be excellent.
FApdx: What would you say to someone wanting to start a grassroots project of their own but is feeling overwhelmed?
Betsy: Breathe. Breathe deep and keep it manageable. Burnout and implosion happens so much, and mostly when the scale of the project and scale of the resources available (talent, time, skill, funds, space, etc.) are out of sync. Keep those in balance and know that even a small project can be like a tiny luminous shimmering pearl. It will change the world simply by changing you.
FApdx: Do you have anything special coming up we should know about?
Betsy: In August, we’ll be doing an Ice Cream & Berries Bhandara in Old Town — giving ice cream cones and home made good stuff to everyone who comes by. We NEED help on this one for sure! Anyone who wants to make a crisp or a pie or cobbler, who wants to help in any way, email us or give us a call.