Sunday afternoon was spent in the local Family Food Center, washing and squeezing fruit into fresh and natural strawberry lemonade.
This is not a “Look-at-this-good-deed-I-did-I’m-such-a-good-person” post. It’s meant to be a “Wow-I-needed-a-reminder-to-get-out-and-do-something-maybe-I-should-remember-to-do-this-more-often” kind of post. In reality, I didn’t even come up with the idea to volunteer this weekend on my own. An email was sent to all students at my university informing us of various Caesar Chavez Day of Service Activities that were available. It’s similar to how Thanksgiving and Christmas are major days for volunteering; we remember the less fortunate when we are reminded. I, too, needed to be reminded.
Sunday afternoon, a friend and I met at the Family Food Center to volunteer our time. We’d never been to this facility before and weren’t sure exactly how we could help. Immediately after dawning new white aprons, we were put on “strawberry duty.” We went through dozens of cartons of donated strawberries, weeded out the best strawberries, rinsed and chopped the tops off. Next we pureed the berries, along with other raspberries and blackberries. We combined the bright red berry sauce with fresh lemonade, made from scratch with real lemons. It was so thick with fruit and sprinkled with seeds. Some people looked questioningly at the jug, but most came back for refills.
Once the doors opened for the public to enjoy a hot free meal, I was at the drink station. We had milk, nondairy milk, water, hot tea, sweet tea, and our freshly made strawberry lemonade to offer. Next they went into a cafeteria-style line for their dinner which was BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, roasted potatoes and veggies, cantelope, and assorted pastries from coffee shops and grocery stores.
The facility is only open for 90 minutes, and there was a continuous steady line of people for the entire time. Some people came alone, other came in full families, some just mothers and children. Every person said thank you to each of the volunteers and I think they were truly appreciative. When I saw children come in, I was happy that we had so much food to offer them. But I also felt incredibly sad for a family that relies on a shelter to provide their nightly meal.
Out of the 20,000+ recipients of the email, with the address and volunteer information for this center, there were 4 other students who showed up to volunteer. This just shows that the mentality “Oh, there will be plenty of other people who go. It won’t make a difference if I do or don’t go.” COMPLETE AND TOTAL CRAP. It’s like on American Idol when the clear favorite and most talented contestant is eliminated in week 2 because all of his “fans” thought, There will be so many votes, mine won’t even matter. The majority of people have this same logic, and guess what? It did matter.
Like my dad says: “Did YOU vote?” No. “Then you can’t complain about it.”
That’s what I gathered from volunteering on the day of service. I need to nix the thinking, “There will be plenty of other people to do it.” We can’t control any other people and we get no credit for passing the baton on the rest of society. We have the capability to really help someone who is hungry, homeless, and struggling. Would you really rather hit “Next Episode” on Netflix?
My second take-away is that we can never ever make judgments or assumptions on other people based on one or two interactions. We have absolutely no idea what goes on in their lives the other 23 hours of the day.
I think anybody who comes into a shelter and asks for food is pretty damn courageous. If I were in that situation, I would be too self-conscious for a while. I would feel ashamed, like the staff was judging me. Or worse, pitying me. We greeted everyone with a big smile, and I tried to avoid looking in the dining room because I didn’t want anyone to feel like I was watching them eat.
Honestly, it made me feel pretty low before it made me feel good. The “feel good” comes from knowing that I used my time and energy to serve others. The low comes from knowing that I am horribly picky, too judgmental, and sometimes entitled. I walk into Sprout’s a couple times a week because nothing in my fridge or cupboards look good. I turn up my nose at any apple that has a bruise.
The fruit that is offered at the shelter is not in its prime. It is donated from grocery stores because it can no longer be sold. Rather than serving it as is, we pureed the berries and squeezed the citrus into a lemonade. People who are struggling and rely on shelters to provide food do not have the luxury of being picky. They take what we hand them and they say thank you.
I’m excited to return to the center again soon, this time to prepare sack lunches for families to pick up. Once we volunteer one time, it’s a good idea to hurry and schedule your return visit so it isn’t until Thanksgiving that we remember again. :)