12 May

Pan Gets Her Ipad. Anger And Worry Plague The Myanmar Refugees. Everyone Has A Missing Relative.

by Jon Katz

It was a great joy to drive to Albany with the brand new Ipad (plus accessories) that Nancy, a member of the Army Of Good, bought for Pan Young, an extraordinarily gifted senior at Bishop Maginn’s going to Sage University’s pre-med biology program on full scholarship.

Pan was described by her long-time teacher, Sue Silverstein, as one of the most remarkable students she has ever encountered.

She graduated with flying colors, but this is a sad and painful time for Pan, her family, and for many of her fellow students, many of whom survived the war, persecution and dangerous refugee camps.

Pam and her family are struggling – as are scores of Bishop Maginn refugee students, many of who are Asian – with the bloodshed and violence in Myanmar after a brutal military coup there.

Nancy Flakes, a blog reader and member of the Army Of Good, decided to send me an Ipad, keyboard, and stylus pen to bring to her as a going away to college gift. I also got Pan a new digital camera.

The horror stories from these refugee families, so many driven out of Burma (Myanmar) in several genocidal purges of dissidents and Karen  Christians dating back to the late 1980’s.

The fighting is much broader now, Myanmar is descending into civil war, but these families are among the most vulnerable.

Many of these children at Bishop Maginn grew up in refugee camps; they hear stories of missing or shot grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, and neighbors every day.

They thought the worst of it was over. It isn’t.

Pan wants to speak for the families under brutal siege. Her relatives told her that they had been forbidden from leaving their homes for any reason, including shopping for food. If they light a fire to try to cook, soldiers fire into the house.

If they use their cell phones to call her or for her, or go on the Internet, soldiers and police monitor Web traffic, and they come and arrest or shoot them in their homes.

Many are shot for going out at night to forage for food or simply for stepping outside in their own yards.

Many of their relatives have fled to the country to seek shelter and hide from the Army. But there is little food in the country either. Some say they are starving and losing hope that the outside world will interview. U.N. observers say hundreds of children have been shot and killed in protests.

Sue Silverstein, the school’s theology and art teacher says many of the Bishop Maginn students are hearing these stories and are angry and upset. I talked to several of them at the school today. Their stories are wrenching; they come pouring in every day, their hearts are breaking.

She works to help and comfort these children every day. Everyone one of them in the senior class is going to college.

“At Bishop Maginn,” Sue told me today, “our students have have a lot of things to adjust to. Routines have been disrupted, and milestones missed”.

She said watching the refugee students struggle to cope not only with COVID but with the danger and unrest in their homeland has been heartbreaking.

Pan’s mother is do devastated by the suffering in their family that she has broken down. Pan decided to go to college in Albany so she can care for her.

The families keep pleading with their families here for help, but there is little they can do.

These refugee students are loving and always grateful,” said Sue, “they meet stress with prayer and positive attitudes. However, the news of relatives in peril has been almost impossible for them to cope with. The stories of destruction and death, of imprisonment and confinement, of loss of freedom, have left their families reeling. It is so important to them that the world hear their stories. They pray that the world will open their hearts and the at that help will come to their people soon.”

Jan hopes to spread this message as far and wide as she can. The Ipad will help.  I thank Nancy Flakes for her generosity and thoughtfulness, Pan was thrilled to get her Ipad.

I am honored to know Pan and hear her call me friend, and to see her honesty, courage, and dedication to America, the country she loves so much.

Bishop Maginn will miss Pan, she has so many friends there.

She hopes to become a U.S. citizen in August. I think we will all be proud to have her. She is dynamic, hard-working, and has a great heart. She is also quite brave.

30 April

Shock And Awe: $12,000 In Grocery Gift Cards For Refugees

by Jon Katz

Sue Silverstein asked me how much the Price Chopper Gift Cards we sent her were worth, and I took a minute to think about it.

I am not great with numbers and I never counted the gift cards, I just rushed over to the Post Office to overnight them to Sue, who wore out a pair of walking shoes delivering them to homes and apartments on foot.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I was thinking maybe $2,000 or $3,000.”

“No,” she said, “you’re not even close. You and the Army Of Good have sent us $12,000 in Price Chopper gift cards, and I can’t begin to tell you what a difference that has made. No Bishop Maginn High School student or a family member has gone hungry for a single day in the worst health and economic crisis in generations. That is awesome, you should be proud.”

I am proud and a little stunned. $12,000. Wow, and I didn’t have a clue. Sue is a much better record keeper than I am.

Thank you all so much, they are talking about us all over Albany. We have protected our friends at Bishop Maginn High School – they are family to me, and some of you – and are protecting our friends at the Mansion assisted care facility.

I am committed to helping them get through this, and we are off to a remarkable start.

The Gift Card Program is like the Amazon Wish Lists, it transforms the way we interact with non-profit organizations. They are revolutionary. We get to spend what we want on what we chose, and that is revolutionary in the non-profit world.

I think we have done some pioneering work when it comes to supporting the needy and the vulnerable. I am so proud of the gift card program. This story will have a happy ending.

The Gift Cards are for groceries, they can’t be used for anything else, and each of us decides what to buy, how much to spend. Sue Silverstein makes sure they go to the needy.

I want to say that I hope this program continues, in the Bishop Maginn Family (other schools are jealous of us), we have identified 30 to 40 families that are in need of food support. It looks like they will need some help for a while, a few months at least.

Their already fragile lives were upended by the coronavirus, they found themselves completely vulnerable and without resources.

The food pantries are overwhelmed now, and a lot of the refugees are too proud to be told what to eat, or their cultures don’t always mesh with American ideas about food. The gift card programs protect their dignity and their own cultural preferences.

We have kept them all fed and spared them additional stress, fear, and shame. A lot of them have lost their jobs, and some have lost benefits as the state and local systems have been overwhelmed.

It is wonderful to know we are feeding these families, and that there are so many people out there with good hearts and compassion. If you wish to participate in the Gift Card program, you can go here and purchase gift cards in any amount.

They will need to be sent to me since gift cards can’t be sent to post office boxes and the school is closed. My address is Jon Katz, 2502 State Route 22, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. If you spend more than $300 on a single purchase, you might be asked to activate the card by e-mail (quite simple) a day or two later.

Twelve thousand dollars is a lot of money, and it has gone a long way. No one should put themselves in jeopardy, but I can’t think of a more vital way to help people who really need help right now. They are overwhelmed with gratitude and relief.

Yesterday, Sue sent me this message of thanks. I want to share it again here. You can see and purchase the gift cards here. Blessings, blessings, blessings.

Surely 6 months ago, no one expected the world would be as it is. These are difficult times for all of us. Many have been impacted by illness, economic hardship, isolation, and so much more.
Each story is different.
So many of our families live on the edge during normal times.
Hard-working, loving, generous people, they are now facing tremendous loss. They are the first to offer help to another and the last to ask for help.
I can’t thank the Army of Good enough for all that you have done. You have allowed us to make sure no child goes hungry, no family is unassisted.
Most important though, you have let our families know that no person in our Bishop Maginn Family will be forgotten! Bless you, all, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
With much gratitude,
Sue Silverstein and the BMHS Family”
20 March

Low On Food: First Gift Cards Shipped Out To Refugees

by Jon Katz

I’m told that food is already becoming a problem for the refugee students (and some inner-city students)  Bishop Maginn High) and their parents because of the school’s closing and the business shutdown regarding the virus.

They are going through the care packages we sent them last week. More and more of their parents are losing their jobs and salaries. We are trying to help them by distributing Price Chopper (their local store) Gift Cards.

Many of the refugee parents are hourly wage workers – they clean floors in office buildings, hospitals, and hotels, most often for minimum wage. The lucky ones get to work at Wal-Mart.

They are losing their jobs, and money was already tight or non-existent.

These are people who lost everything in a series of genocides, civil wars, and religious persecutions. The federal subsidies that use to help them transition have mostly all be slashed.

If you visit their homes you see families sleeping on blankets on the floor because they can’t afford heating oil. And some of the kids were skipping breakfast and lunch.

And they have little money for food or groceries.

Their children depend on the school for many things – friendship, learning, shelter, warmth, and the snacks and meals the teachers give them and that we have sent.

It is very hard on them to be confined at home (we are buying as many laptops as we can to help those students with no computers), especially without computers.

We are running out of food for care packages, and they can’t come into the school at all now. And probably not for weeks.

So today, I overnighted a package of about $1,000 worth of Price Chopper Gift Cards, Price Chopper is the supermarket closest to the refugee families. More cards are on the way to me,  we can use all the cards we can get, this situation is only going to get worse as the coronavirus crisis continues.

Thanks for your generosity.

You can see and buy the gift cards here. Since the school mail is unpredictable right now, and gift cards cannot be sent to a post office box, they need to be sent to me, and I’ll get them to Sue Silverstein and the teachers.

We can’t buy food for everybody in need, but we can keep these Bishop Maginn students eating healthy and nutritious food during this very difficult time.  We can help their families too.

The virus crisis is about the worst thing that could happen to these students and their parents right now. Thanks for helping.

The gift cards sell for $25, $50, $75, $100 or any larger amount. But they need to be sent to me at Jon Katz, 2502 State Route 22, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. Sue Silverstein and Maria teamed up to forbid me to drive into Albany, so I mailed them overnight. I’ll do the same as they come in.

If you wish to support the laptop program, you can also contribute via Paypal, [email protected] or by check, Jon Katz, Refugee Computers, P.O.Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. I’m buying Acer 15″ Chrome laptops with Blue Tooth and Wi-Fi for $238.

Every day without computers for some of these children is a day without learning, a day of falling behind.

Thanks for your support.

19 March

Hamsa: Food For Refugees, Dinner And Art For the Mansion

by Jon Katz

My friend Eve Marko brought me a Hamsa from the Arab quarter of Jerusalem. Depicting the right hand, it’s a palm-shaped amulet or artwork used as a sign of peace and protection throughout the Middle East. It is believed to date back to Ancient Egypt or Carthage.

I’m putting it to work warding off evil spirits. Today, our work with the refugees and the Mansion over the next few weeks is coming into focus.

As you can see in the picture, a big fat bunch of gift cards arrived from the Price Chopper grocery chain in Albany today, more are coming in next week.

I haven’t counted them all, but I believe there are $2,000 worth, purchased in small denominations from the Army Of Good for the refugee students and their families, many of whom are short of food now and skipping meals.

That will only get worse, and soon.

You can buy Price Chopper Gift Cards for the refugee families here.  You can buy a card that fits your budget. They need to be shipped to me, as mail is uncertain at the school right now: Jon Katz, 2502 State Route 22, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

I will bring them to the teachers, who will distribute them to the families as needed.

Bishop Maginn is closed and will perhaps be closed for a good long while, and we are sending care packages, but need these gift cards to give to Sue Silverstein and the teachers.

I’m also raising funds to purchase 20 laptops for the students in the school’s mobile classroom, they are scarce right now, I’m hunting around for them.

Many of the school’s students have no computers or any experience with social media. If you wish to contribute, you can do so via Paypal, [email protected] or by check, Jon Katz, Mansion/Refugee Fund, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

These families had little, to begin with, many are losing their jobs already.

I’ve also been talking to the Mansion about perking up the stir-crazy and closeted residents (no visitors allowed.) Monday, I’m sponsoring a special soup, sandwich and dessert lunch to be catered by Jean’s Place. Next Friday, I’m organizing a cookies, cupcakes and dessert treats after lunch.

On April 3, I’m sponsoring a Chinese dinner, always a favorite at the Mansion, for 43 people. In addition, the Mansion will soon post an arts and movie Wish List, we’re looking to offer as lively a range of activities as we can.

I’ll keep everyone posted about that. The residents really need some stimulation now.

Food is important at the Mansion, meals define the day and can lift the spirits.

The Mansion has also asked if Maria and I will do some videos from the farm and send them to the Mansion to broadcast. We’re doing that for Bishop Maginn’s Mobile Classroom as well.

So we’ll be broadcasting regular from her as the coronavirus does it’s thing and hopefully, moves on.

We are going to be busy during this time, and there is no reason the virus can halt small acts of great kindness. I can’t go to any one of them, but it’s exciting to figure out how I can help.

I think the Hamsa is bringing some good karma.

Your assistance in carrying out this work is welcome. You can donate via Paypal, [email protected], or by check, Jon Katz, Mansion/Refugee Fund, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.


16 October

Today: Sheep, Class, Stage Sets, Refugees

by Jon Katz

I love each morning, life goes on and the world is full of possibilities. We are always moving forward here, never back. It is just the way we are.

Maria and I have had numerous talks about getting two more wool sheep, I was uneasy about it but she has persuaded me it’s a good thing for us to do. She is excited about the sheep being an important part of our lives, and her art, and her future selling yarn and roving, which she very much wants to do.

She has a lot of interesting ideas about her wool and yarn program.  She got me excited. The sheep belong here, and we lost one this year, and will probably lose a few more in the next few years. Liz is bringing two young wethers.

As Maria wrote, I sometimes worry about how she will handle this farm after I’m gone. I don’t expect to die in the immediate future, but the odds are it will be sometime within the next 10 years. I don’t want to wear her down with animals and responsibilities, I will not be able to leave her much money.

I know she can take care of herself, but I can’t help it. I do think about it.

I think Red’s death left me feeling unsure about having more sheep, but Maria is right, they are an important farm of the farm, and the farm is an important part of our lives. So two more sheep coming Sunday, when Liz comes to shear the sheep we have.

I’ve also decided to get a pink collar for Zinnia. I will meet her on Tuesday and she’ll come home on November 12.

Today, I’m going to teach my Writing Workshop at Bishop Maginn High School. I have a feeling this class will go on a lot longer than eight weeks. We will get a book out of it, a great group of students, 50 percent refugees.

I very much love teaching this class, there are some wonderful people in it.

I will be bringing a check for $1,000 for the new Bishop Maginn Drama Class, which is producing a play for the first time in 20 years. They need money for a stage set for their Christmas Play, Happy Hollandaise. I’m going to meet them all next Tuesday at one of their rehearsals.

Thanks for your support.

I hope to get some portraits today.

Bedlam Farm