I really can’t recall the first time I volunteered my time, it just seems to be a part of my childhood. I would go with my dad to his Lions Club events and help at the breakfast counter, or I’d join my mom in her classroom and read with her students. The first time I realized though what it really meant to help others was the first time I helped my mom and her Kiwanis Club pass out and deliver food to families. I must have been about 9 or 10, but that day sticks in my head like it was yesterday. What struck me the most was when we delivered the food baskets to some of the homes. The families didn’t have cars so we drove to about a dozen homes. Seeing a large family living in a one bedroom house that had a dirt floor (yes, there are still dirt floor homes in California) left me speechless. But the smiles on their faces when we brought them a turkey and enough food for a proper Christmas dinner plus more is what made me smile. I knew that I was helping kids my own age have a meal that I always took for granted.
As I grew up I continued to serve the communities I call home. The Three Rivers Lion Club members watched me grow up (literally), from sitting on the counter learning to count change with my dad to standing behind it on a milk carton calling out the orders, then finally standing all on my own as a young woman. The teachers my mom worked with for 20+ years at Farmersville Unified School District love to recall me sitting in their classrooms during the summer and reading to their students and as I got older being an extra TA so students could get more 1 on 1 attention. When I was 12 I joined an organization that opened me to a new world of volunteering and what it meant to be a leader and a young woman. The International Order of the Rainbow for Girls was a game changer for me. My cousin invited me and at first I just liked the beautiful dresses they wore and the chance to meet other girls. Rainbow is the embodiment of learning how to serve your community and transitioning into a young woman. I served dinners, raised money for various charities around the state, volunteered at assisted living homes, cleaned parks, ran toy drives and so much more. In college I joined a sorority, Sigma Kappa, and I continued to serve others, raising money for Alzheimer’s research and serving the college community.
So after being away from Rainbow and college for a few years and just trying to get my footing in Los Angeles, the one thing I hadn’t really been able to do was serve my community. Yes, I work for a non-profit theatre company and I volunteer at a couple of theatres in town. Yes, I’ve donated a few dollars to various charities, but I hadn’t actually gone out and done what I grew up doing, helping others. So last week I searched for the Glendale food bank and found it at our local Salvation Army. I emailed them and I told him I wanted to come in and help so we settled on a day that I could come in and help sort out the food donations.
I arrived and was shown into a large room with shelves full of food and boxes along one side and a couple of tables set up with empty boxes laid out. Next to the tables were those large bins you see around the holidays for food donations. There were six of them filled to the brim plus a shopping cart full of food. He asked me to sort out the food into various categories: vegetables, pasta/rice, soup, fruit, etc. Before I started he asked if I was doing this for school credit (aw, he thinks I’m still in school! Ego boost!), I said no, just wanted to come help out. He was a little surprised, but happy I was there. It saddens me that more of us don’t take an hour or two of our time, even just once a month, to volunteer our time just for the heck of it. It always seems to be a requirement when someone is volunteering.
I turned on Pandora to my Christmas radio station and got to work. At one point I thought I might fall into one of the barrels it was that tall (and yes, I’m that short). Ultimately I had to put it on its side so I could reach everything. At the end of two hours I had got through the shopping cart and three barrels (one more barrel was brought in while I was working) and my own stomach was starting to growl, definitely lunch time for me. I thought this was a good stopping point so I told my supervisor I was done and I’d be back another day. He thanked me and said I was welcome any time.
This holiday season I challenge everyone to two things: 1) Donate food to your local food bank or drive (but please, no canned corn or peas, I filled up 3 boxes of nothing but that, lol). Might I suggest canned fruit or breakfast items? and 2) Find an hour or two in your busy schedule and volunteer. Help your local food bank, or drop by an assisted living home to sit with the residents, call the children’s wing of your local hospital and see if you can go and read to the patients. It’s amazing what one hour of your busy day can mean to others. I’m looking forward to returning to the food bank soon. Do you have a favorite charity?