Volunteering can be a bitch, especially when you forget who you’re there to help.
Mood music for this post: “My Way” by Limp Bizkit:
Once a month, I spend a couple hours on a Saturday volunteering in the food pantry run by our church. It can be a frustrating endeavor.
Part of the frustration is my own fault. I should be there more often, but I’m only there once a month because I’m spread so thin these days between family, work and sponsoring people in my 12-Step program.
A lot of new people are working the pantry these days. They’re not that new, mind you. They just seem new to me because I’m not there enough to be used to them. They’re good folks, but in my head — when the rush of people come in for their food — I pick apart how they do things. I’ll get annoyed if they try to process multiple orders at once because the bags of food get mixed up and chaos ensues. One guy is very serious and doesn’t laugh at my jokes.
The Saturday crew is always bitching about the Tuesday crew leaving a mess. The Tuesday crew is always bitching about the Saturday crew for the same reason.
And there I am, on my own perch, picking apart how everyone does things because I want everyone to do it my way. I am a control freak, after all. Not that I have a right to be.
These people are there every Tuesday and Saturday. I show up once a month.
If anything, they should be annoyed by me, and they probably are.
Clashing egos is pretty common among those who do service. On the recovering addict side, everyone in the room suffers from compulsive behavior. People like us usually have bloated egos. Mine is especially bloated. This makes me an asshole at times.
But I press on and do what I need to do, and things always work out.
The friction that’s always present among the volunteers at the start of a shift always eases off and we’re all getting along midway through. You can pick on how different people do things, but they’re all giving up their time to make something work.
And once I get out of my own way, things start to fall into place.
At some point in the shift, it hits me. The people in line are there because they can’t afford groceries. They’re down on their luck and doing the best they can.
And when you hand them the bags of donated food, they are GRATEFUL.
And they help me as much as I help them. When I see people who need to live on donated food standing tall, helping each other carry bags to their cars, picking up food for someone who may live at the other end of town from where they live, enjoying time with the children they have in tow, they bring me back to Earth and remind me what life’s all about.
The other volunteers — the ones who are there practically every week while I just breeze in once a month — help me too.
When I see how dedicated they are, it makes me work harder at being a better man.