Making a Difference One Meal at a Time
About a year and half ago, around the same time we went through our second miscarriage, I decided to do something I had always wanted to do, but had never made an effort to do. Nothing earth shattering, but still something I had always wanted to do – volunteer at a homeless shelter to provide a meal service. Now, this is not a major life accomplishment or great event in and of itself. The entire commitment per meal service is 2 hours of my life. There was no reason that I had not volunteered earlier in my life other than pure laziness. So, when I finally decided to call a local homeless shelter to learn the details, I made a commitment in my typical fashion – go big or go home – do it right or don’t bother.
So, I volunteered to organize a group of 12 people to do a meal service, which is the number of people required per meal service. I could have been lazy and just had them partner me with others, but what fun is that? So, I had to find 11 people who were interested in volunteering with me. And why not volunteer my company to do it? This meant, in an office of 70 people, I had to find/convince 11 other people to join me.
I should point out that we live in a rather wealthy city, and we also live in a city which doesn’t place a lot of value on helping the less fortunate. My city is more about the mentality that you get what you earn. Now, I’m not saying everyone is like this, I most definitely am not, but many are. So I thought finding 11 people in a corporate culture might be a bit of a challenge.
So, I started by asking my husband. In his typical fashion he teased me about trying to save the world and said since I do enough volunteering for our family, he doesn’t need to help out. (FYI, he is now one of our regular volunteers). And, the next day I did a mass email to everyone in the office. I succeeded, as I always do. Within a few days of my email, I had 12 people, including the head of the company! I actually had to start a waiting list and turn away people. Turns out, I didn’t have enough faith in my fellow city folk!
So, with the mass interest, I scheduled another evening a few months later. Same thing happened. I once again had too many volunteers!
So, now a year and half later, our evening last week is the 6th meal service I have organized. My husband and one of my closest friends always come with me, because they too enjoy the evening. We have a great time. Funny enough, now, I’m not even employed by that company (more on that here), but I needed to make sure I/we fulfilled our commitment for this meal service. And, since it’s been such a big hit in the office and the company fully supports the initiative, I asked someone else to continue the program once I resigned. The company even supports this initiative so much so that everyone is now all decked out in lovely company shirts.
So, why am I doing this?
- I firmly believe that it’s important to give back to our community and I really wanted to do something that was not work related or baby/miscarriage related. I had no interest in pro-bono volunteer work that is just the exact same as what I do on a daily basis. I figured helping with a meal service would be distinctly different form my office job and would have an immediate benefit for the community.
- It makes a very real and immediate difference in these people’s lives.
- The people are so incredibly grateful for the meal and our efforts. It is truly rewarding. I don’t think I have ever been thanked by so many complete strangers in such a short period of time.
- It’s easy. It seriously takes 2 hours of my time. And, even if I count the hours of organizing volunteers, it would take a total of maybe 4 hours per evening. Really, that’s nothing when you consider that we feed between 300 and 550 people each time (the number of depends on the weather).
- We have fun. We always have a good time. We work during the meal service, but then we also have some fun with each other. We chat. We laugh. We smile.
- I meet new people. I get to meet my colleagues’ spouses and teenage children. And, I also get to meet a bunch of wonderful people who are down on their luck.
- Volunteering at a homeless shelter shows you how the other people live. Their daily worries are about where they will sleep, if they will eat, and if they will be warm. When you feed 500 people in one evening, you really get to understand that many people are struggling and are leading a much different life. Some may be there due to addictions, some to poor mental health, others due to bad choices, and others due to bad luck. But regardless of why they are there, you really get an appreciation for how hard daily life is for these individuals. This really puts my life and my struggles into perspective. Yes, my life is not perfect and we are currently going through some pretty big challenges, but I never have to worry about where my next meal is coming from or where I will sleep. I am fortunate. A little bit of perspective is never a bad thing to remind us that while our problems completely suck, it could be worse. It could be so much worse.
- Every single volunteer has a life altering memory. In 2 hours, something will occur that you will never forget. My moment, was a young women and her boyfriend or husband (I have no idea the details of their relationship). She must have been at least 8 months pregnant. I don’t know the story as to why they were on the street, but I do know, that no 8 month pregnant lady should be sleeping on a 1 inch think mat on the floor in a large open gym and no pregnant lady should be worried about where her next meal will come from. Yet, she smiled. She thanked us profusely. Her partner hugged her. He thanked us. He gave her most of his meal. They were a family, trying to find a way to live under what I assume was excruciatingly difficult circumstances.
- I know I made an impact. I know my 2 hours positively affected the lives of many others. I know that these people may not remember me specifically, but they sure are thankful for their meal and for our support.
Ultimately, it’s an eye opening experience, and I would recommend it to anyone with a few hours to spare. It costs you nothing other than a few hours.
I’m sure no-matter where you live, there is an organization that needs volunteers to help serve meals to homeless people or need help with countless other activities. I encourage everyone to do a quick Google search, pick up the phone and make a positive contribution to your community!