This week I volunteered at a food pantry. My company organized a full week of donating your time to a charity of your choice or one of many they are affiliated with. I thought it was pretty cool that I was getting paid to do something that helped others on my company’s dime. More companies should allow their employees to do that.
So me and a bunch of other people assisted with food distribution and organization at a New York City church downtown. It was sweltering hot, it smelled funny, and some of it was a bit unorganized. Having worked for a non-profit, I accepted it. I was there to help, not complain.
My experience humbled me, as volunteering always does. I listened as our team leader spoke of only being able to help 35 people during each opening; the heartbreak of turning so many others away; how her clients could only come once a month for food and had to turn elsewhere for meals while they waited for the calendar to turn. Suddenly, my bullshit didn’t seem so big and important.
Hearing all of this impacted me, but nothing prepared me for the people who walked through that tiny door. They had waited for hours on a line to be one of the 35 “lucky ones” and stood again to actually receive their groceries. It was over 90 degrees. These people were standing in the hot, beating sun, patiently waiting for us to help them. They were so gracious and appreciative that we could give them some cereal, juice, a few vegetables. And then they had to schlep their food home, some ill, some frail, all poor and hungry.
As I handed out food, engaged with clients, and bonded with co-workers I barely knew, I felt so thankful. I never truly realized how many people didn’t have food. Sure, I’d participated in food drives and made monetary donations to charities in need, but I had never really gotten my hands dirty in this way.
When I got home, I made the most of what I had in my cupboards and refrigerator. I begged my husband to work with me not to waste food, and to try and curb our impulse purchases that usually end up in the trash by week’s end. Leftovers will now last a little longer in our home.
If you get the opportunity, give back. It’s better than the delicious meal you’ll have tonight, the tasty martini that will wet your lips this weekend, and the new shoes you just got on sale. It’ll make you feel warm and grateful inside, and you might just change your everyday routine in a way that helps others.