- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Parked somewhere in the Greater Washington-Baltimore area today is a well-traveled Winnebago recreational vehicle belonging to Consumers Union that is finishing up its timely mission to document the experiences of nearly 100 Americans and their struggles to obtain affordable health care.

The interviews being videotaped by the nonprofit organization’s three-person crew have been posted regularly on a Web site - www.CoverAmericaTour.org - named for the title of the trip. The team began its work in late May in Yonkers, N.Y., and since has been to all of the lower 48 states, clocking more than 12,000 miles in the process. (In addition to ConsumerReports.org, CU publishes Consumer Reports magazine and two newsletters - Consumer Reports on Health and Consumer Reports Money Adviser.)

“The biggest thing that has struck us is people are going to such extreme lengths to get health care coverage,” says Megen Bohne, 31, a CU advocacy specialist who is one of the interviewers. “We’re asked, ‘Are you telling the story of the uninsured?’ But it is also people trying to get it or use it. What we realized is the extreme measures involved in their efforts and what they are giving up in their lives to get it or not lose what they have.”

She cites as “one jaw-dropping example of how bad things are” the case of a Chicago doctor, a 34-year-old kidney specialist, who she says has diabetes and can’t get insurance because of a pre-existing condition.

The organization, which claims to have the country’s largest subscription Web site - 3.2 million, plus 4.3 million magazine subscribers and newsstand sales of 170,000 - earlier issued appeals to readers inviting them to take part in the project. Out of some 4,000 responses, 100 were chosen for the interviews.

The cross-country venture to get up close and personal on the issue was inspired by the most recent U.S. Census Bureau report, which estimates the number of uninsured Americans at 45.7 million.

The idea behind the tour - instigated largely at the suggestion of CU President Jim Guest - was to put faces on just such statistics, according to CU spokesman Douglas Love. The organization wanted to try an approach different from most such surveys, Ms. Bohne notes.

“We pull up in our RV to [interviewees’] homes, [going] from the metropolis to the cornfields.”

Another role for violinist

You likely know Midori Goto best by her reputation as one of the world’s most acclaimed violinists, whose next Washington-area performance will be Nov. 2 at Strathmore under the auspices of the Washington Performing Arts Society.

After Friday, however, she will bear a more formal title as a United Nations Messenger of Peace, an honor being bestowed on her in New York in a ceremony that day by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as part of the International Day of Peace at the United Nations.

The ethereal title is very grand, but its implications are not unusual for this Japanese-born artist, who lives and teaches in Los Angeles. She long has been active in community-minded initiatives to promote music education and participation for children and adults of all ages and backgrounds. Midori & Friends, for instance (www.midoriand friends.org) which began in 1992, has a number of projects specifically designed to encourage underserved New York City children.

The label of peace messenger, she says, “brings a more enlightened global element to my artist identity. The role of a performing artist today goes beyond giving concerts.”

— Ann Geracimos

Eat to help the hungry

Eating to stamp out hunger. Sound like a slight contradiction?

Not to Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit aimed at ending childhood hunger, estimated to affect 12.6 million children in the United States. The organization invites people across the nation to join its cause Sunday through Sept. 28 by dining out at one of 3,700 participating restaurants, which plan to donate part of their proceeds during the week to Share Our Strength. (For information, visit www.greatamericandine out.org.)

In Greater Washington, 35 restaurants are participating, including Peacock Grand Cafe in Georgetown and Foggy Bottom.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” says Peacock chef Maziar Farivar. “I can’t think of a more noble cause,” he says.

Among the best-sellers at Peacock, an American contemporary restaurant that specializes in organic meats and sustainable fish, are the seared peppered tuna and crab cakes.

Mr. Farivar says he’s excited not only to show off the innovative menu, but also to educate guests on childhood hunger. He adds that the restaurant will provide brochures on the topic for interested guests.

“Whether you’re here as part of your regular routine or as a special occasion, you can enjoy a meal while helping a great cause. … It’s easy.”

— Gabriella Boston

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