To this day, I remember what it was like. The walk to the door seemed endless and I still couldn’t believe what I was about to do. But it wasn’t about me – it was never about me. The pain and humiliation I felt was something that needed to be endured…for the sake of my children. So with a sense of shame and shaking hands, I entered the building and stated why I was there, barely able to may eye contact. After answering multiple questions and proving my need, the intake person started a file on me. I can still see that file and remember thinking why was it necessary when I planned to only do this once. I don’t know why, but that file bothered me. Such was my first experience as a food shelf recipient when I was a young parent.
It hurt because I was raised to work hard and be self-sufficient. And I was. Even though I held full-time jobs since the age of 18, often working a second job to make ends meet, there was a time during a particularly rough patch where that wasn’t enough, but I was too proud and ashamed to ask anyone I knew for help. It hurt because I couldn’t provide a basic need for my kids. As I took that walk of shame (it’s what it felt like to me), I told myself that I would pay it forward when I was able. And I do. My kids have long since grown and those days are well behind me. But I have never forgotten and that’s why I’m passionate about community outreach involvement. People from all walks of life and in various circumstances need a helping hand now and then, and there is no shame in that. Let me repeat that – there is no shame in needing or asking for help. I don’t want people to feel like I did.
Currently, I coordinate our food shelf program at church, participate on the Minnesota Chapter of Legal Administrator’s (ALAMN) community service committee, and lead a community service committee at work. It’s a big time commitment, and I’m not a saint by any means. But as we know, we always find time to do things we’re passionate about, and I want and need to keep paying it forward. ALAMN’s most recent event was cooking and serving a hearty meal to Simpson Shelter guests earlier this week. Simpson shelter relies on volunteers 365 days a year to provide an evening meal for about 110 people. There’s no better way to get to know people than working together to serve others, and we had a great time serving appreciative people. Sometimes people will chat and tell a bit of their story. One time a veteran told me he never dreamed he’d be in a shelter, but a job loss was all it took. Many people are a job loss away from homelessness.
HR professionals – many employees would love to volunteer but don’t know where to start. If you don’t already have a community service team in place, start one with interested employees wanting to make a difference. Plan an on or off-site event and ask for volunteers. Arrange for carpooling if needed so that those taking public transportation to work can participate. Give people time off for this (many organizations give employees a volunteer day a year to participate in community service activities). No budget? No problem – plan opportunities where people can give of their time, goods or money. Make it easy for people to volunteer and they will. Need ideas? Check out https://www.volunteermatch.org/.
Volunteering matters. Volunteering without judgment matters even more. Volunteers are needed everywhere. You are needed everywhere….to show genuine caring for others and give hope.