Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dumpster Diving

Patrolled the empty streets of Sulphur the other night, cruising along, seeking out any promising looking dumpsters. Dumpster Diving is an art, one that I'm new at, and like any other, there's lots to learn. Like which dumpsters are locked and which are open. Or when trash pickup is. Or which stores have a compactor instead of a dumpster. These are all things I'm learning and the best way to learn is to do.

So the other night, my Adventure Chick and I went out and jumped in. The first dumpster was behind a retail store. Some stores toss out some pretty good items. You can find all sorts of things in a dumpster. This one was full of flattened cardboard boxes. Strike one.

The next dumpster turned out to not be a dumpster at all. I was going to hit up a medium sized grocery store in an attempt to score some free produce. Entire heads of lettuce get tossed if there's not enough room. You can get for free food in such good condition and so far on the good side of the expiration date that you'd pay full price for them. The grocery store we marched behind had a compactor instead of a dumpster. All their trash gets compressed, smashed to a pulp and sealed in a large container that's impossible to access from the outside. Strike two.

Near the Dollar Store was a cop. He was sitting in his car, watching movies. Good thing dumpster diving is not baseball. Strike three.

The dumpster beside another dollar store yielded a battery-powered AM/FM radio. It was about the size of a deck of cards with a collapsable antenna. It works perfectly.

Behind another store, I score about fifteen loaves of bread, most of which have not hit their sell by date. There's also a few packs of hot dog buns, Texas toast and rolls. Some of the packs are damaged, sliced open by a careless stocker who doesn't know how to wield a box cutter. A couple have mold. Those are given to a person who owns ducks. A couple loaves were pressed a little while shipping and have a few slices that are crushed. There's nothing wrong with most of the slices. Most of the loaves are in perfect condition. There's no reason for them to be tossed out. It's more bread than we could use in months, so we give most of it away. We toss three loaves in the freezer, one in the refrigerator along with a whole loaf of Texas toast.

A few other dumpsters are either empty or have only trash. Stuff like empty fast food bags and crumbled paper. Behind a pizza joint we find a pizza box, closed, right on top of all the trash. Most of the trash is damaged boxes. Inside the closed box is an entire pepperoni, olive and mushroom pizza. The crust isn't even stale. It doesn't smell funny. It smells like pepperoni and pizza sauce. It smells like a fresh pizza should. We take it home.

Back at home, my dog is confused at why we went grocery shopping at 3 in the morning. He doesn't understand why we're sorting through dozens of loaves of bread. He can't figure out why we're eating pizza at 5 am, but he's thankful that he gets the crust.

I gave the radio to my brother. He's going to use it at work. The ducks love the bad bread and the people love the dozen plus loaves of good bread. The Adventure Dog, my Adventure Chick and I enjoyed the dumpster pizza.

Someone thought it was all trash. Someone was wrong. And out there, more perfectly good food is thrown away than what it would take to feed every hungry person in the entire world.

Once, a few buddies and I filled the entire trunk of a car with good food taken from one dumpster behind one store. It only took five minutes to find that much. More was left behind because we simply didn't have room.

Do me a favor. I won't ask you to go digging through the trash, but could you not throw away stuff that isn't trash? If it's food, give it to someone who needs it. If it's clothes, drop it off at a Goodwill or similar thrift store. If it's electronics or other items, hold a garage sale so that someone who needs that item can buy it. Don't trash what someone else needs.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hurricane Preparation Part 2

Now that you've purchased some supplies to help you wait out a hurricane, there's a few things you should do just prior to landfall. Preparation doesn't end at the grocery store.

First, fill some containers with water and freeze them. Plastic ice cream buckets, 2 liter coke bottles and milk jugs work great for this. Fill them 2/3 full and freeze them with the tops off. Once frozen solid, mostly fill the gap and freeze again. Attach the lids and store them in the back of the freezer. You should have enough to nearly completely fill the empty space in the freezer. This will keep your food cold once the power goes out.

Second, arrange the junk in your freezer so that you can get to the good stuff easily. Pull meats to the front and shove the frozen bottles to the back. Put meats on one side and vegetables on another. Organize it as best you can and remember where everything is. When you have to remove an item, you can't afford to be digging for two minutes. Open the door, grab it, shot the door. Ten seconds is the longest that door can remain open. And you will only open your freezer once per day.

Third, fill as many waterproof containers with water as possible. Start collecting empty milk jugs and drink containers now. 1 gallon Hawaiian Punch jugs are awesome for this, so are milk jugs, tea jugs, plastic coke bottles, etc. Rinse them out and put them aside in a cabinet or closet. Once the hurricane becomes a certainty, fill them ALL up. Water pressure will fall once the power goes out. A good quantity for drinking water is 10 gallons per person in the household. That should be enough to last a little over 2 weeks, which is plenty. Also, fill large pots for use as cleaning water for dishes. Wash all your dishes and fill up both sinks. If you have large plastic totes or buckets, put them in the bathroom and fill them up. This is how you'll bathe and flush the toilet.

Cook a large meal and have the whole family dig in. This will get rid of some of that frozen food so that nothing goes to waste. The leftovers will keep for a couple days and you won't have to cook or clean pots for a while. If you have an electric stove, this will also be the last well-made meal you'll have for a while.

Everyone should take a good, thorough shower a few hours before the hurricane. It'll be a while before you get another good cleaning, and you don't want to give horrible body odor a head start. Once the bathing is done, fill the bath tub with water.

Unplug electronics and move them away from windows. Power surges could fry them and even start electrical fires. Your phones and laptops should all be charged.

When the storm hits, keep your kids calm. The situation will have them on edge. Getting them to help out with the effort will go a long way to raising their spirits. Have them unplug the electronics. Once that's done, get the kids to play with the dog. Tell them that the dog is scared and playing with the dog will help out the family pet. Giving them something to take care of will turn them into the protectors. Occasionally ask them how the dog is doing. Their response will likely indicate their own feelings rather than those of the dog. Downplay the hurricane. Tell them it's just a storm that takes a little longer to pass than most and that most people evacuate because they're scared of thunder. The kids might even find it silly to be afraid of hurricanes.

Once the power goes out, play a board game or tell ghost stories. Since the TV is off, spend some quality time bonding with your family. You'd be amazed how much fun a Category 3 hurricane can be.

Soon, I'll go over some things to keep in mind for AFTER the storm passes. These things include navigating through a ruined town, finding food when there's no open stores, dealing with the National Guard if the area is declared a Disaster Zone and getting around when the area has been put on lock-down.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hurricane Preparation Part 1

Not everyone will evacuate in the event of a hurricane. Plenty of people stay behind for whatever reason. As with past hurricanes, I will be one of those people who elect to ignore mandatory evacuation orders. Leaving can be dangerous (Hurricane Rita killed 7 people, but 113 died in the evacuation before the storm made landfall), costly (renting hotel rooms in the far north corner of the state that lose power anyway) and frustrating (idling on Highway 27 for 2 days while waiting for the traffic to move 100 yards).

Whatever your reason, should you decide to stay, you need to be prepared, and that means preparing today. Those who wait until the storm is heading for the area will find themselves on a crowded canned goods aisle with 600 other lunatics all fighting over the last can of asparagus. You'll leave the store with only a roll of paper towels to show for your efforts.

What you need is a hurricane box. It's a box full of junk that you'll need during a hurricane. Should one hit, knock out power and communications, you'll be prepared while others will be trying to open a can of beans without their electric can opener.

I have a large Sterilite tote which serves as my kit. You can pick one up at Wal-Mart or the dollar store. Or just get some cardboard boxes and fill them up. Anyway, here's a list of what you can put in there to turn the rough times into an adventure.

Instant brown rice
Campbell's chunky soup
canned chili
canned vegetables
fruit cocktail
peanut butter
peanut butter
trail mix
granola bars
instant mashed potatoes (just add water kind in the small bags)
summer sausage
canned tuna
pre-cooked chicken (preserved in bags)
battery powered radio
wasp spray
toilet paper
paper towels
LED lantern
roll of quarters
paper plates
manual can opener
camp stove with fuel

Now you might be asking why one would need cash and quarters. I have experience in the post-hurricane scenario and having cash is a huge help. When a grocery store finally opens up but because of downed communications the credit card machines don't work, only those with cash can shop. And as soon as you can, you'll want to wash some clothes and the commercial laundromat will have power before you do.

The trick to buying these things is to do your shopping when you go to buy groceries. Each time you make a trip to the store, add a few items from the hurricane list to your shopping list. Start with the items that will go first if a hurricane hits, like the canned goods and batteries. From there, get the radio, candles and more food. Work your way down until you're done. If a hurricane moves into the gulf, speed up your purchases.

Soon I'll post again about what to do just before the hurricane makes landfall.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Beach Cleanup

I snatched a few hours of sleep after getting home from my night job, then headed out to Holly Beach with my girlfriend. There, we joined up with almost 200 other volunteers. Our goal was to clean up as much trash and sea weed as possible so that when/if the massive oil slick reaches that section of the coast, the impact will be lessened, the oil cleanup will go smoother, and less toxic debris will be stuffed in our landfills. Cleaning up sand is one thing, but when you also have tons of sea weed and trash that's also caked in sludge, the whole process grinds to a halt.

Armed with rakes and sun screen we descended upon the beach in scores, rushing to pull the washed up sea weed away from the advancing tide. It was hauled up, bit by bit and then gathered into piles. Those piles were then loaded into trucks and onto trailers where they were hauled away where they will ultimately decay into large mounds of fertile soil.

A few hours later, the line of sea weed that typically adorns the tidal zone was completely gone as far as the eye could see in both directions. It was a very productive day and should the oil hit that section of beach, the cleanup will be much easier. But that's just one beach. The cleanup goes on. Some 90 miles of beach must be prepared for the worst. That preparation will not only make cleanup easier, but will also save the lives of hundreds or even thousands of birds, like the brown pelican.

Please, check out and sign up to be a volunteer. You'll be fed lunch and the sun hats, sun screen, rakes, trash bags, bug spray, gloves, shirts and water are all provided for you. All you have to do is donate some time, which is the one resource that is rapidly running out during this time of crisis.