Tag Archives: volunteer

How the Hungry Fed Me

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.

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Why Do Calls for Volunteers Go Unanswered?

When I lost my job, I knew I did not want to waste my time on the couch, watching TV and regretting that I didn’t do more with my time off. I had been unemployed before and regretted not taking advantaged of the time that I had when not  looking for a job or taking care of things I otherwise didn’t have time to while I was working.

Immediately, I decided to volunteer. After working at a non-profit, especially one that depended so heavily on volunteers, I knew that there was a great need at so many organizations for people like myself. I could do more than just answer phones and stuff envelopes, I could help develop strategic plans, write press releases, build media lists, create collateral materials; the list was hefty with communications and public relations experience. And I would even stuff envelopes and answer phones. I just knew that I could and wanted to give back.

I began by applying at places that I interested me; places that I would like to work if I had chance, but since I couldn’t, at least could be a part of the team in a voluntary role. My interests varied, so there was a lot to choose from. Unfortunately, no one was answering my calls, emails or applications.

I must have applied to at least 10 non-profits in the last five months. I applied at the YMCA, the Jubliee Center, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, the Innocence Project, Hoboken University Medical Center, and others, throughout Hoboken, Manhattan and surrounding northern New Jersey towns, but no one got back to me. My husband even applied to a non-profit or two and no one got back to him either.

I understand that many non-profits are probably bogged down with unemployed people who are interested in giving back while they are looking for their next career move, but what I don’t get is how these organizations advertise and beg for volunteers yet don’t answer when people heed their call.  I know that some volunteers only want to do something related to their field, but at least call them back. Maybe they’d be willing to do something else or contribute in another way that you never thought possible. Non-profits are losing many valuable people by not returning calls and emails of those who are willing to help. It creates a false sense of urgency for your causes and your needs. And by not developing these relationships, non-profits are losing more than just those who can help, but those who can help foster their mission.