This evening my son and I took part in one of our seasonal activities, helping out at a local Food Pantry. For a couple of hours we jumped into the hustle and bustle to stock and re-stock shelves while those in need waited in line to get food to feed their families on Thanksgiving.
I think it is important for my son to learn how he can help others by giving his time and effort, and to understand how truly fortunate we are. And yet, as much as I believe this is an essential part of growth and development, I am embarrassed to admit that we are not frequent “volunteerers”. We fall into that excuse and rut of being “too busy” or not finding the “right” opportunities to get involved with on a regular basis. Ironically, when we do finally carve out the time to help out a cause or charity, I am struck by not only how easy it is to do, but I walk away no doubt more profoundly affected than the people we served.
In this particular situation, I’m humbled for several reasons. First, I recognized a few faces from years past… the folks who do the volunteer coordination and management are there without fail, every year, putting in many hours, tirelessly trying to make lives of others a bit better. And no matter if some of us can only come in for an hour or two, they are welcoming and appreciative of the help.
Next of course I’m struck by the length of the line of people, waiting in the cold for their turn to come inside to gather what goods they are able to obtain. I think about how that could so easily be me and my family. In this economy, with the instability of job markets, the expense of health care, and so many other scary variables, I often feel like many of us are standing on the very edge, clinging on with our toes to our jobs and homes. Real Women filed past me, reaching for their allowance of canned goods to take home to cook a meal for their kids. This is just one Food Pantry in one town…multiply it by so many others in other communities across the country, and then so many other people who never make it to a food resource and end up going hungry, and it is just mind-boggling.
In an effort to provide for as many people as possible, the Food Pantry organizers had to place limits on each section of food stuffs. For example, in the area we loosely categorized as “condiments”, we had everything from ketchup and mustard to salad dressings to bread crumbs to mayonnaise. The limit was 2 per family. I watched people carefully consider and select their items, and I thought about my refrigerator full of so many of these things. A blatant example of how we can’t take even small things for granted.
Finally, what hit home the most to me tonight was that for the most part, the attitude and outlook of the people coming through the Pantry was….festive. Even through their struggles, even after waiting in 20 degree weather, even in crowded thin aisles, and even with potentially limited options, they were cheerful and appreciative. They thanked us volunteers, they joked with us a bit while in line. They wished each other Happy Thanksgiving. One woman paused and said to me “wow, people donated all this? That is so nice.” Yes, it is nice, and thank the Lord that people are generous enough to donate food, because we went through a lot of it in a very short amount of time tonight, and it was only the beginning of the week. Yet to hear the appreciation from this woman somehow surprised me. I kept thinking it is the least we can do to help each other out. It is what we are supposed to do, isn’t it?
I’m not sure my son gets as much out of these experiences yet as I do. After all, he’s 13, so just getting him to think about someone other than himself for 5 minutes and do any form of manual labor is an achievement in itself. But I can tell that he enjoyed it, and perhaps at the very least has more of an appreciation of the need that is out there, and how easy it is to help out, even just a little bit.
And perhaps this year he will be a little extra Thankful.