Community Combats Hunger with Little Free Pantries

A few months ago, I read a story about someone who took the initiative to build a Little Free Pantry. The idea came out of the Little Free Library concept: “Take a Book; Leave a Book.”

The Little Free Pantry’s goal is the same, but with non-perishable food items instead of books.

The Little Free Library began with the goal to promote literacy, while the Little Free Pantry was born to not only to help those in need, but to raise awareness about the hungry some people face on a daily basis.

Kid-Powered Kindness is the organization behind the Little Free Pantries in the Hiawatha and Cedar Rapids communities. According to the Hiawatha Library website, it was created in 2014 after 4 year old Annabelle opened her Christmas presents and looked around at all of her new toys.

Alicia Mangin, Youth Services Librarian for the Hiawatha Library, said Annabelle told her Mom, “We have so many toys and there are kids who don’t have enough.” Annabelle reached out to her friends, gathered toys they no longer played with and donated them to kids in need.

“Kid-Powered Kindness is driven by the philosophy that kids can make the world a better place. Annabelle’s belief in this simple but mighty premise led the group to their newest world-bettering project.”

Hiawatha Public Library is just one of four sites that will be home to a Little Free Pantry.  Other sites include Hy-Vees on Edgewood, Collins, and Mt. Vernon roads.

The ribbon-cutting will take place at 2 pm today at the Hiawatha Library, 150 W. Willman Street in Hiawatha.   Lemonade and cookies will provided by Hy-Vee.

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Tommy’s West Restaurant Believes in Traditions

Tommy’s West Restaurant, 393 Edgewood Road NW, has been a mainstay in the Edgewood Plaza in Cedar Rapids for many years, but tucked in the corner of the strip mall, it sometimes gets overlooked.

adam

Chef Adam Mykris

But it shouldn’t. Tommy’s employees not only believes in good dining traditions, the amazing kitchen staff dish up home-cooking style cuisine that is comparable only to Mom’s.

Tommy’s dishes include Broasted Chicken, Meatloaf, and Chicken-Fried Steak, as well as Tenderloins, Philly Cheese Steak and Hot Beef sandwiches. They also offer a variety of traditional breakfast items and homemade pie.

And even though the folks at Tommy’s provide their customers with the best food and service possible, they are stepping up their game even more. There is a new chef at Tommy’s, who not only loves to create new dishes, he also believes in the value of traditions.

Adam Mykris started at Tommy’s earlier this year. He is the mastermind behind the restaurant’s current special, Summer Salads, which he created uniquely with Tommy’s customers in mind; a fresh twist to healthier eating.

The Spring Salad is made with fresh spinach, candied walnuts, fresh strawberries, and dried cranberries, with Chef Adam’s special poppy-seed dressing.

The Teriyaki Chicken Salad starts with shredded lettuce and is topped with a chicken breast marinated in teriyaki sauce. It also includes mandarin oranges and almond slivers, and is topped with Chef Adam’s Ginger Dressing.

The Fruit Nut and Cheese bowl is a variety of fruits, feta cheese, and candied walnuts with a raspberry vinaigrette.

The Creamy BLT Salad is an old favorite with a new twist; a Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato, without the bread. It is also topped with cheddar cheese and croutons.

The Greek Salad begins with fresh spinach, Kalamate olives, feta cheese, and croutons, and tossed with Caesar dressing. You can add a grilled chicken breast for an even better flavor.

The salads are available for a limited time, so come in soon and experience one for yourself!

About the Chef

Chef Adam grew up in the Marion area and graduated from Linn-Mar High School in 1999.

“I’ve been interested in cooking most of my life,” he said. “I started helping my mother when I was little. As I grew older she let me help a little more, making pasta, cutting vegetables, things like that. I just really enjoyed it.”

After graduation, Adam said he took some time to figure out what he wanted to do with his life and realized his passion was with cooking.  He looked into the program at Kirkwood and knew that’s what he wanted to do.

Chef Adam worked at the Doubletree Hotel for two years before coming to Tommy’s. He started as a line cook, and was promoted a few months later as a sous chef, or assistant to the head chef. He has also held positions at Granite City and New Pioneer Co-op.

Besides creating the Summer Salads, Chef Adam recently introduced a homemade strawberry lemonade pie, which is made with a lemon meringue base and fresh strawberries.

“Tart and sweet; the best of both worlds.”

Chef Adam is also beginning plans for a fall menu, which will feature a few new dishes.

“Most people like to try new things, while others like things the way they are. We want to make sure everyone is happy, so if you have a favorite, we would love to hear from you!”

In his spare time, Chef Adam enjoys spending time at home creating new dishes and experimenting with the recipes he already knows.

“I can take an ordinary recipe, add a few new ingredients, and make them even better than before.

“It’s what I love to do.”

 

Cedar Rapids a Stronger Community

Cedar Rapids is no stranger to floods. For as long as anyone can remember, the Cedar River has wreaked havoc on those who live and work close to its banks.

KCRG Photo

KCRG Photo

When a foot of rain fell in communities in northern Iowa two weeks ago, meteorologists predicted the Cedar River would challenge historic levels, and flood the communities along its banks.

It was apparent that Cedar Rapids was on the verge of another major flood only 8 years after the Cedar River rose 20 feet above flood stage. Many found it hard to believe it could happen again so soon.

(It cost the city over $2 billion to restore the downtown area and took it years to recover.)

But instead of panicking, the entire community sprang into action, filling sandbags and moving items from businesses and homes in the downtown area.

Some located available resources and sought shelters for displaced citizens. Others made meals for those who were hungry. Everyone opened their homes and their hearts to those affected by the flood.

In other words, we did the same thing we did 8 years ago, only better. We knew now what to do, and we did it.

Cedar Rapids held its breath as the river began to rise. Drones and social media kept citizens up-to-date on the areas hardest hit, including Ushers Ferry, Seminole Valley and Ellis parks, and areas southeast of the river.

And as the river crested, Ron Corbett, Cedar Rapids’ mayor, that if the Hesco barriers (which they used to build a wall around the downtown area) held, “they would have saved the city.”

The barriers did hold the flood waters back (though there was some controversy about how the city determined where to place the barriers) and the majority of the downtown area was spared.

But it wasn’t just the barriers, the pumps, and the sandbags that saved our city. It was the countless volunteers who poured positive energy into filling sandbags, moving furniture and equipment; those who brought food and water to the volunteers, and worked around the clock to make sure our homes and businesses were safe; these are the real heroes.

It is because of them that we are emerging from this close-call an even stronger community.

Local band, Four Star Fate, wrote a song to pay tribute to the people in our community: “We Rise Above”

IRS Phone Scams on the Rise

I have received at least a phone call a week within the last month warning me that the Internal Revenue Service was filing a lawsuit against me. 

Of course, the first one shook me up, and I immediately googled it to see if it was legit.  What popped up were dozens of web pages warning consumers of potential scams that might be occurring, including scams about the IRS.

The most current warning was from the IRS itself, stating:

“The Internal Revenue Service today (Aug. 2) warned taxpayers to stay vigilant against an increase of IRS impersonation scams in the form of automated calls and new tactics from scammers demanding tax payments on iTunes and other gift cards.

The IRS has seen an increase in “robo-calls” where scammers leave urgent callback requests through the phone telling taxpayers to call back to settle their “tax bill.” These fake calls generally claim to be the last warning before legal action is taken. Once the victim calls back, the scammers may threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the driver’s license of the victim if they don’t agree to pay.

“It used to be that most of these bogus calls would come from a live-person. Scammers are evolving and using more and more automated calls in an effort to reach the largest number of victims possible,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should remain alert for this summer surge of phone scams, and watch for clear warning signs as these scammers change tactics.”

In the latest trend, IRS impersonators are demanding payments on iTunes and other gift cards. The IRS reminds taxpayers that any request to settle a tax bill by putting money on  any form of gift card is a clear indication of a scam.

Some examples of the varied tactics seen this year are:

  • Demanding payment for a “Federal Student Tax.” See IR-2016-81.
  • Demanding immediate tax payment for taxes owed on an iTunes or other type of gift card
  • Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals. See IR-2016-34.
  • “Verifying” tax return information over the phone. See IR-2016-40.
  • Pretending to be from the tax preparation industry. See IR-2016-28

Since these bogus calls can take many forms and scammers are constantly changing their strategies, knowing the telltale signs is the best way to avoid becoming a victim.  

The IRS will never:

    • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
    • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
    • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
    • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
    • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money and you don’t owe taxes, here’s what you should do:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page or call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes

It’s good to be aware of the scams, but most people can’t help but feel a little violated when they receive a call like this. You could block the calls, but the scammers just keep changing the callback numbers. 

The best way to handle phone scams is not to answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number. And if they leave a message demanding you call them back, research the information first. Chances are it’s just a scam.

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A Bit of History

Greene Square Park in Cedar Rapids has seen a lot of changes. Once the highlight of the downtown area, it had become a simple walk-thru for years before the city attempted to renovate it, and did their best to breathe life back into it.

And though it took some time for the City to get it the way they wanted, I think they finally managed to give the community what it needs.  Since the city unveiled the new community space in May, scores of people have ventured down to enjoy the colorful fountains, the creative artwork, and relaxing atmosphere.

Green Square Park: "Humans of Cedar Rapids" project. Photo by Cynthia Petersen

Green Square Park: “Humans of Cedar Rapids” project. Photo by Cynthia Petersen

The popularity of Pokemon Go and the cool splash pad have only added to the popularity. On any given night, groups of kids and adults alike can be found wandering the Square or relaxing on one of the many chairs and benches that line the walkways. (Strings of lights light up the center of the Square, and the free wifi are definitely a plus.)

It has taken a few years, but Greene Square has once again become the hub of the downtown community. With the public library on one side of the park and the Mueum of Art on the other, the heart of Cedar Rapids is becoming a meeting place for friends and colleagues, a place for kids to play, and a spot to just relax a few minutes before heading back to work.

Cedar Rapids’ oldest park, now referred to simply as Greene Square (named for Judge George Greene), was once home to a train depot, Union Station, built in 1897. (The depot was torn down in 1961.)

In those days, visitors got their first glimpse of Cedar Rapids as they stepped off the train, with the old Washington High School (now the site of the CR Public Library), the Carnegie Building (home to the CR Museum of Art, which used to be the library).

old washington high school

Old Washington High School Across from Greene Square. Photo Courtsey of Cedar Rapids History Center

According to an article on saveheritage.org, “a fountain with electric lights was one of the park’s early amenities, but it was removed by the 1920s and replaced by a pavilion.”

My mother moved to Cedar Rapids in 1936 when she was 5. The family moved into my great-grandparents on 8th Ave and 8th St. SE, while my grandfather looked for work. On Bank Night, while the grown-ups went to the Strand Theater (eventually the World Theater) to listen for the numbers to be called (she said Bank Night was like the lottery), the kids played in Green Square Park.

green square park before 2014

Greene Square Park, before the recent renovation. Photo Courtesy of the Cedar Rapids History Center.

A old cannon once stood in the square, which of course, was an attraction for kids. She said she remembers getting hurt once or twice on that old cannon, which remained in the park for several decades.

I like the new Greene Square. And as I sat at one of the tables and watched my grandchildren play, I realized how much I had missed it.

For years it had just been a large space in the middle of town, but with the addition of sculptures and other artwork, a colorful fountain, and beautiful landscaping, it can be enjoyed by everyone.

 

 

Go Where Pokemon … Goes

I resisted. I really did. And then my grandson, Thomas, sucked me in. It’s that simple.

But as interesting and fun as Pokemon Go sounds, there is no way I have time to fully commit to the game (because it sounds like you kind of have to). I can just see me shirking all my other duties just to join the teeny-boppers down in Green Square at 3 in the morning. (who, by the way, are displacing the homeless because of the game, according to a recent Gazette article).

My boss was the one who introduced me to the game when she started playing it a few weeks ago. “Have you heard about that new video game? Everyone’s playing!” she told me excitedly. “I even found one here in Czech Village!”

No, I told her. I hadn’t heard. But it wasn’t long before I got tired of hearing about it. I am not a follower, a fad-ist, or whatever you want to call it. I don’t do something just because someone else is doing it. Or I try not to, anyway. But sometimes I find myself, through no fault of myself, being sucked in, just like I did today.

Thomas and I went to the Hiawatha Farmers Market this morning. After we bought some tomatoes and peppers, Thomas looked at his phone and turned to me. “Can we go to the park? It says there some over by the park sign!”

What great luck that the farmers market was in the park’s parking lot!  Thomas tried to explain the game and catch them as we walked through the park, but I could tell it was hard for him to play and explain at the same time, especially since the Pokemon terms were hard to understand if you didn’t know much about the game to begin with.

The game does have a good side; it gets people out walking. We covered the entire park in less than 20 minutes, and it’s a good-size park. But still, I didn’t think I would get anything else done if I started playing.

Pokemon Go reminds me of Farmville, where you had to visit the farm every day and feed your animals or tend your garden. If you missed a few days, your crops died and you missed out on the rewards.

I have a feeling that’s what happens in Pokemon Go, too.

 

 

 

CR Cold Cases Hit Too Close to Home

Matt Pusateri seemed like a nice kid. He was tall, and had nice eyes, black wavy hair, and shoulders so broad they belonged on a man, not a 13-year-old kid. Matt and I went to school together at Johnson Elementary and McKinley Junior High, and Washington High  schools.  

What I remember most about Matt is his shyness. He hardly said two words to me while we were in school together. The only time he did speak was because we were in a group for an assignment, and I asked him a few questions about what we were doing.

I sometimes passed him walking to and from school, his eyes focused on the ground as he moved onto the grass to let me have the sidewalk.

Matt was murdered in 1988, 7 years after graduating from Washington High School. A driver for Yellow Cab, Matt was shot in the head while sitting in his cab about 3 a.m. Nov. 12, in a parking lot in the 800 block of Sixth Street SW in Cedar Rapids. Matt was 26 years old.

I heard about the murder on the evening news, finding it hard to believe that something like that could happen to someone I knew. I didn’t know Matt personally, but what I remember of him, he was quiet, didn’t make trouble, an all-around good guy.

I have a hard time understanding why how someone could do that to another human being, with no regard to human life. Do they even have remorse for what they did? Unfortunately, the world may never know. Matt’s file is among 38 other Cedar Rapids Cold Cases, unsolved murders or missing person reports, since 1959.

Michelle Martinko is another unsolved Cedar Rapids murder. Michelle was in the class ahead of me at Kennedy High School. She was shopping at the newly opened Westdale Mall in December 1980, and when she went to her car, someone was waiting for her. 

Several witnesses were interviewed and though there were one or two suspects, the murder remains unsolved.

I didn’t know Michelle personally, but she was a friend of a friend. The day after the murder, the entire student body walked around in a stupor, trying to get our heads wrapped around what had happened. It could have been any one of us. I think that was the first time I really thought about how precious life is.

Other cold cases include Paula Jean Oberbroeckling, who was killed in 1970.  A book was written about her, (by her friend, Susan Taylor Chehak) that includes details about the murder and the people involved.

I was only 7 when the murder happened, but I have heard about the cold case throughout the years and decided read her story, which is interesting, but sad, at the same time.

Another cold case involves a boy named Guy Heckle. He was 11 when he disappeared February 3, 1973, during a Boy Scout camping trip near the Duane Arnold Nuclear Energy Plant (now Next Era Energy) in Palo, just a few miles to the west of Cedar Rapids.

Guy’s parka was found, snagged on a log on the banks of the Cedar River, but Guy’s body was never recovered.

I remember when the Kum & Go store on Mt. Vernon Road was robbed, and the cashier, Brian Lee Shappert, was shot and killed. Brian had just started his senior year at Coe College and was working the last shift alone that night. He had been promoted to assistant manager only two weeks before.

A customer came in at 3:15 am  to buy some gas and found Brian’s body.

In the early ’70s, we moved to 30th Street Drive. I heard about Lynn Schuller, who lived further up the road, in a scary story told to me by my older brother. He said that Lynn’s husband killed her and chopped her up in little pieces, and then fed them to their pet alligator.

I was 9, and I believed it!  Every time we passed the Schuller house, and I saw the pond sitting just a few yards from the house, I thought about that well-fed alligator.

Over the years, I forgot about the story, until I read about Lynn on the cold cases page. How ironic that the “urban legend” would have materialized into a true accusation? Could someone really do something like that in Cedar Rapids?

The article states:

“When Keith Schuller reported his wife Lynn Schuller missing in August 1972, police suspected murder from the beginning.

More than four decades later, they still believe Schuller is responsible for her death, but don’t ever expect to find her body. Why? The suspicions surrounding her disappearance sounded so much like that of local folklore that even police were reluctant to acknowledge Keith Schuller could have committed such an abhorrent act.”

It is a sad thing to see so many victims, whose killers are still walking around free, and the saddest part is, they may never be caught.

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