Public Spirit, December 2017

Happy Holidays from your ICC representatives! Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is coming up on January 15, and we are excited to have different service opportunities for you to do throughout the day. Be on the look out for updates in the coming weeks! 

Giving Green

By Xinci Tan (Green Corps)

First off, a few reminders:

Wrapping paper and tissue are NOT recyclable!

They are not recyclable because of their low-quality fiber. The glitter, foil, and plastic ribbons only further contaminate paper recycling. If you celebrate by gift-giving, consider using these alternative gift wrap options:

  • Old road maps
  • Children's drawings or coloring pages
  • Newspaper (use the comics section for some color!)
  • Old posters
  • Furoshiki/scarf/towel cloth wrap (video)

(Japanese furoshiki wrap. Image: Kaiju Studios)

String lights can NEVER go into your recycling bin!

They are known as “tanglers” because they wrap around sorting equipment in recycling facilities. String lights endangers the lives of workers who must crawl into the machines to cut them out, plus it slows processing lines and costs taxpayers money. Just like plastic bags, string lights must be taken to a drop-off site for recycling. Find one near you here or take the lights to your local scrap metal yard.

It is ILLEGAL to put Christmas trees in the trash!

Just like any other yard waste, trees and wreaths must be taken to your local brush site for disposal. Contact your city’s Solid Waste department for more information.


According to the EPA, Americans increase the volume of their household waste by more than 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day - generating 1 million extra tons. If you celebrate the holidays or show affection through gifts, consider buying your loved ones gifts of experience instead!

Here are some examples:

Be creative! Buy a museum pass, a gym membership, tickets to a concert, subscription to a streaming service, or even flight tickets for a trip together.


By Zayn Saifullah (College Possible)

My mom is a librarian, so maybe I’m biased, but I believe that even in the digital age, brick-and-mortar libraries have a lot to offer the community (and you!) for free. This list includes examples from the St. Paul and Hennepin County public library systems, but many of these resources will also be available even in small libraries in greater Minnesota.

1. Classes and Programs

Children’s story time is usually what we remember when we think of library programming, but many libraries also run some continuing and professional education programs. Of particular interest to service members, both St. Paul and Hennepin County public libraries offer in-person resume proofreading as well as other professional development classes. Interested in learning Adobe creative suite? Both offer occasional in-person classes in addition to free access to classes through (which usually costs $25 per month!) if you don’t have time to make it to a library location. If you’re preparing for graduate school admissions, both libraries also have access to materials from otherwise-paid GRE courses and offer in-person tutoring. What’s the catch to access all of this? Just a library card!

2. Office technology

Given the cost of printers, let alone those pesky ink cartridges, owning and operating a printer isn't always cost-effective or possible. Plus, who even owns a personal scanner anymore? Sure you could go to a print shop, but oftentimes the library offers cheaper rates per page to print or copy and will often let you use a scanner for free.

3. E-book library

An incredible amount of ink has been spilled arguing that, thanks to the rise of e-readers, libraries will be dead within the decade. The reality, however, is that libraries have by and large made concerted efforts to stay up to date with community desires and have purchased subscriptions to e-book libraries that you, noble library card holder, can access for free! All the e-reader convenience without having to pay for the book you stop reading after the first chapter, can you ask for anything more?

4. Meeting space

Coffee shops have become common as a place for meetings, but if you need a quieter place or just want more privacy, most libraries have reservable meeting rooms with free wifi. These can be great for skype or phone interviews or just having a private place to work. If you find yourself in need of a larger space for a group meeting, libraries often have a conference room you can reserve.

5. Discounts for local events and attractions

This is often regarded as the most surprising thing that libraries offer, but especially larger library systems will have some free or discounted tickets for events and museums. For the metro area, the smART pass program will get you into many arts and cultural events for free with just your library card! Find out more here.

6. Traditional media

I’ve saved the most unsurprising item for last, but checking out books and other media for free still stands out as an amazing reason to get a library card. Even with the seemingly limitless material available on the internet, sometimes there’s no substitute for a good physical paperback. The thrill of walking through the aisles being able to pick out whatever you want? Even something as powerful as the internet can’t kill that.


By Zayn Saifullah (College Possible)

One of the hardest parts of living on a strict budget, for me anyway, is keeping variety and spontaneity in your diet. While it’s certainly frugal to survive strictly on a rotation of granola bars, frozen pizza, and ramen, do you really want to do that? In this recurring column, I feature a new recipe every month that is nutritious, worldly, and competitive with processed convenience food for price.

Shakshuka (also spelled shakshouka or chakchouka) is a North-African egg dish that has recently come into vogue among some avid brunchers for its instagrammable appearance and wholesome flavors. It’s also incredibly easy to make and can be improvised in a pinch. I was introduced to it by a friend who studied abroad in Egypt as a tasty way to use up spare vegetables — as long as you cover your sauteed vegetables with tomato and egg, something good will come of it. The following recipe is for a “standard” shakshuka, but feel free to make it your own. Give it a try and hopefully this dish’s vibrant colors will bring a little light to your Minnesota winter.



Time: ~50 minutes

2 tbsp extra­ virgin olive oil

~$9.00 for 25 oz, ~$0.35 per batch

1 white or yellow onion, sliced

Price varies per pound

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and sliced

Price varies per pound

3 garlic cloves, sliced

Price varies per pound

1 tsp cumin powder

~$2.00 per ounce, ~$0.10 per batch

1 tsp paprika

~$1.50 per ounce, ~$0.05 per batch

⅛ tsp cayenne chili powder

           ~$0.80 per ounce, ~$0.03 per batch

1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes OR 5-6 fresh medium-sized tomatoes, finely chopped

~$1.40 for 1 can

Salt and pepper to taste


3-4 eggs (as many as can fit comfortably in your pan)

~$2.00 per dozen, ~$0.66 per batch

A few sprigs of cilantro, chopped (optional)

~$0.90 per bunch, ~$0.05 per batch

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. (Optional)

  2. Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a large skillet or frying pan (preferably oven-safe) and cook onion and bell pepper slices until very soft, approximately 20 minutes.

  3. Add garlic, cumin, paprika and cayenne, and cook until garlic is tender, about 1 to 2 minutes.

  4. Add canned tomatoes and season with salt and pepper, simmering until the sauce thickens.

  5. Make small depressions in the sauce and crack eggs into them. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until the egg whites become firm, about 7 to 10 minutes OR place a lid on the skillet and simmer until egg whites become firm.

  6. Garnish with cilantro and serve with warm pita or over pasta.

Total cost per batch: ~$3.02

Total cost per serving: ~$.75!

If you have a simple and inexpensive recipe you’d like to share with other AmeriCorps members, please submit to me at!

How to Help 2017 Hurricane Victims

By: Gao Vue (College Possible) 

Here are a couple of best ways you can give back during your service:

1.     First, people directly think of donating clothes, food and supplies. If you’d prefer to donate this way, you can mail supplies to local food banks and charities that are located in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Here is a compiled list of food banks in Texas. The NY Times has a list of charities collecting supplies for victims in Puerto Rico and nearby islands, and World Vision has a website for ways you can donate your supplies to Hurricane Irma victims.

2.     You can contribute monetary donations to relief organizations! This is one of the easiest and most flexible ways to help relief for economic reasons. For more information, here is a guide you can check out to know how it can benefit the victims and everyone else around them and who you can donate to. But if you are unsure which organization is not a scam, you can check out Charity Navigator to identify organizations you can trust. However, here are a few organizations you can donate your money to:

  • United Way
  • American Red Cross
  • Hope for Haiti
  • Direct Relief
  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • Salvation Army

3.     There are also many ways you can help in person. This website from the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster coordinates fully experienced volunteers to assist in the disaster relief.

4.     Last, but not least, people can donate blood since it can run low during emergencies. You can learn here how to donate to American Red Cross and understand how blood donation has saved countless lives.

A Californian Up North

By: Gyan Prayaga (Habitat)

(Top: San Fernando Valley, Bottom: Minneapolis)

A few weeks ago, my Habitat Twin Cities cohort drove up north for our first “retreat”. I was already aware of my status as the token Californian, and so made a mental note to avoid complaining about the weather during the trip. In the end, putting up siding on a house in less than ideal conditions turned out to more of an adventure than a challenge.

Still, there are a plethora of interesting differences between where I’ve grown up and the Twin Cities/northern Minnesota. The obvious contrast is the weather; in the San Fernando Valley, where I’ve spent the majority of my life, summers have reached 120 degrees and winters rarely drop below 60. Furthermore, there aren’t any proper seasons, and we rarely get snow, rain, or hail. This dramatic difference makes an easy conversation starter with many of the volunteers I interact with: “How’d you end up here in Minnesota?” My response is usually a variation of a similar refrain: “Why not?” After spending my whole life in southern California, I figured spending some time in the Midwest/North, in a different city, geographic and climatic region, and “geoculture” would open my mind and broaden my outlook on the world. And so far, in many ways, it has.

So, I’d like to dedicate this brief essay to a few of the differences I’ve noticed in Minnesota. Coming in, I expected Fargo-like accents whenever I ventured outside of the cosmopolitan Twin Cities. I was quite disappointed to find people talking standard Americana even on the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. That said, there seem to be subtle variations in Minnesota talk compared to California drawl (“come with”, for example).

Perhaps a more interesting and noticeable difference is a general approach to welfare and well-being. Perhaps this is the Scandinavian root of the place, but I’ve noticed both a well-maintained human services bureaucracy as well as an excellent urban transportation system. One can’t discount the wealth of Minnesota (and the Twin Cities, for that matter), but the quality of government and municipal services continues to impress me, from the carpool entrance on freeways to the regularity of the light-rail. I have yet to find any California cities with the same quality of public services and infrastructure. As a service member with Habitat, the dedication of return volunteers on my site continues to inspire me. I do think that this spirit of generosity and public service is a core tenet of being a Minnesotan.

Although I remain a Californian at heart, I’m proud and grateful to make Minneapolis my adopted home. In doing so, I join the many transplants who happily occupy this frigid state, often leaving warmer locales for the many other benefits (often initially unseen) that Minnesotans enjoy.

Communications Committee