A few weeks ago, I spent the morning at a local Food Bank with several dozen of my co-workers to support local charities in our neighbourhood. I am the first to admit that I spent more than a few minutes that morning trying to come up with a reason why I couldn’t participate: because, like everyone, I am busy. I have reports overdue and even more deadlines looming. It meant I’d have to make alternative arrangements to get my little person to and from his daycare and meant I’d need to be subjected to horrific rush hour traffic getting downtown which I normally avoid like the plague. It meant stressing over parking, coming home later than normal and still needing to have dinner ready. In short, I had an entire list of reasons why I didn’t want to go. But I did.
Arriving at the food bank, I was in a pretty bad mood. Remember that rush hour traffic I mentioned above? It was spectacularly bad that morning. I’d had a rough night with very little sleep from my son who has discovered a new “fear of the dark” and several e-mails which needed urgent replies. Plus, when I got there (late, that traffic was really really bad) there were only small shirts left which were, to say the least, unflattering with my jeans and bulky shirt I had underneath. Grrr.
As I was listening to the volunteer coordinator explain all the good things the food bank did in our community, I remember being astounded when they told us our local food bank, in a pretty wealthy country, served 28,000 people food every week. Every week? They paused for a moment and confirmed again – every week. The anger I had when I walked in was quickly turning to guilt… The half-eaten bowl of cereal I had thrown out that morning because I was in a rush running out the door loomed large in my mind. The piles of produce I had recently thrown into my green bin for recycling because we had forgotten to eat them at the bottom of our refrigerator, the leftovers I didn’t feel like eating and threw out, the lunch I left out on my desk when I went out to lunch with some co-workers to the new trendy spot near our office….
We were assigned our tasks and quickly got to them – mine involved sorting through the piles of donated food and putting it into easy to package categories and throwing out garbage or spilled food which was not able to be salvaged. There were all kinds of bins to be sorted through, which warmed my heart as so many people were obviously donating to this worthy cause. But what I realized as I got gradually more and more covered in the dirt from the warehouse was that the people who used this service were really no different than you or I – they needed food to survive and they did not have the financial resources to get it. They were perhaps only one or two life choices away from mine and had wound up needing to use this service. What if, heaven forbid, I needed to one day use this service? What if my son did? What if my parents did? My issues suddenly seemed small, insignificant and petty.
As I drove home, I realized that the value of my time at the food bank was not in the fruit of my manual labour. The value of my time was actually more significant for me than it was for the charity. I actually felt really good about having done something productive that helped those in my community who need help. I didn’t drive through a fast food restaurant on my way home (although tempted, staring at food for hours on end can do that to a person) but I came home and dug through my fridge to make a meal from what I already had. I hugged my son tighter when he got home that night and fed him fresh vegetables. I didn’t yell at the dog when he ran into the new screen door later that evening, I didn’t curse at my husband when realizing he forgot to take out the trash. My few short hours at the food bank made me in turn a better wife, a better mother and a slightly better overall person. And that’s why giving back is just as much in giving of your time, energy and talents to worthwhile causes as it is in getting something out of it for you.
So how can you get involved in your local community? Check out your local food bank to help sort through donations like I did. Volunteer to read at a local library to kids whose parents aren’t able. Stop by a senior’s home to visit with some lonely elders. Whip up your famous gravy at a local shelter. Do it for your community, but do it also for yourself.