Napa Valley CanDo and Will Do!
By Kathleen Reynolds
In his Inaugural Address on January 21, 2009, President Barack Obama said, “For everywhere we look, there is work to be done…All this we can do. All this we will do.”
These may have been the words that inspired the late Hilary Zunin, Grania Lindberg and a small band of folks from Napa after the 2008 presidential election to begin a group. This group would foster positive change in our community, and they called it Napa Valley CanDo.
The stated goal is, “To connect, inspire and empower neighbors by making it easy to take positive action as volunteers and to learn about our community. All CanDo’s efforts are designed to strengthen and enhance the lives of Napa Valley residents. At our heart, CanDo is about neighbors helping neighbors.”
“I first got involved (with CanDo) in 2011,” says Camille Kaijankoski, CanDo’s CORE president. “I wanted to get involved in the plastic bag ban initiative to introduce an ordinance to the city to ban plastic bags. So, I worked with fact gathering and encouraging the community to get involved. We were successful.”
“What surprised me the most about CanDo, and what still surprises many, is that everyone is a volunteer. There’s no staff, no office. Everyone works hard to make it happen. We call our leadership team the CORE, from the French word ‘Coeur,’ meaning heart.” No one is quite sure how many volunteer members there are in CanDo.
“We have a weekly email blast that goes to hundreds of people,” says Camille. “Everyone works on projects. We may have as few as 20 working in the CanDo gardens for produce that goes to the Food Bank, but for our Green Bag Project, we have over 1000 participants, including organizations. We’re all different cogs on a wheel.”
People in the Napa Valley may most associate CanDo with the annual Give!Guide, highlighting area non-profits.
“This is the Give!Guide’s 10th anniversary. It’s an incredible project. For our 10th anniversary, we expanded the participating non-profits to 73, that’s 18 more than usual. We had so many more organizations apply this year. Since 2013, we have raised $873,144 for the individual non-profits.”
“Our goal this year is to increase the number of donors; we had 1600 donors last year. We believe we can increase that number as we build awareness in the community. The minimum donation is $10, and that amount is accessible to most people.”
Another CanDo project is the Food Rescue Team. This CanDo volunteer group goes to the Saturday Farmer’s Market and collects donated food from the vendors that otherwise might go to waste. In 2016, the first year, they collected 3,018 pounds of produce; the total collected between 2016 and 2021 was 40,277 pounds. All that food is donated to the organization Feeding it Forward Napa Valley, to distribute to the hungry in Napa County.
“There is an increased need for food,” says Camille. “Food insecurity has become more pronounced during the pandemic. We’ve developed a partnership with the CANV Food Bank and started the Gleaning Project.”
The Gleaning Project decreases food waste that home growers may have. Perhaps they grew more tomatoes than they could possibly use.
The gleaners will gather the excess and donate it to the Food Bank. Fruit trees are especially prolific. As of the middle of this year, gleaners had rescued 6,934 pounds of ripe produce to donate to CANV.
“My heart breaks when I think of how much food that goes to waste. Gleaning not only decreases waste, but food waste also impacts the environment. People have fruit trees and maybe go on vacation or just don’t eat enough of the fruit. Volunteers are needed to help take the unwanted fruits or vegetables; volunteers are also needed to let us know if they have excess food. Another easy way to help is to suggest the project to neighbors who may have trees laden with fruit. We make a difference passing on food we don’t need to those who do.”
The newest CanDo project is called “Stow It Don’t Throw It,” whose goal is to keep discarded monofilament fishing line out of our waterways and wetlands. It provides small cylinders (previously used to hold new tennis balls) and tops to store tangled fishing line until proper disposal. CanDo hopes to involve youth groups in collecting the cylinders and making the simple storage containers. So far, a Girl Scout troupe and school groups have volunteered.
“Our motto is. ‘You want to help; we make it easy.’ You can subscribe to our e-newsletter, The CanDo Connection, to learn about non-profits with fun facts and what is needed. Follow us on social media on Facebook and Instagram. One way to get your feet wet is to volunteer for a one-day project.”
It’s difficult for her to choose the CanDo project of which she is most proud, but Camille is partial to the Plastic Bag Ban, the Gleaning Project and Give!Guide.
Camille says anyone can get involved in a CanDo project.
“The upcoming Give!Guide is an easy way to become acquainted with the non-profits in our area. That’s online and runs from December 1 through 31. We’re having a kickoff party on November 29 at Hampton Inn & Suites in Napa. Everyone is invited, but an RSVP is requested.”
More information and sign-ups for volunteer opportunities are available on the CanDo website nvcando.org.
Napa Valley CanDo takes President Obama’s declaration seriously. “All this we can do. All this we will do.” They will do it; you CanDo, too.
Everyone is invited! RSVP @ NVCanDo.org
Kickoff Party November 29 at Hampton Inn & Suites