Edit: This article originally appeared on my first website fierygivingtree.com which I’ve since closed.
So it has been about four months (*gasp*) since my last post and while I’ve been keeping busy with a few activities to benefit others, I haven’t been specifically volunteering with an organization. Luckily (for me), I started working with The Salvation Army in one of their kitchens and have something to write about!
In one of my first posts, I mentioned how I really wanted to volunteer with a soup kitchen but the agency I called didn’t have availability. Recently, VolunteerMatch.org listed such a position at The Salvation Army. My mom had also been interested in working with a soup kitchen so together we went through a (thorough!) orientation process and set off to our first opportunity!
My memory of the soup kitchen from my teen experience was it being chaotic and perhaps a tiny bit grimy, so I was uncertain what to expect. What I found is a head chef running a flawless ship. I’m often begging for something to do because he is so darn efficient. At times we’ve had to wrestle cans away from him so we can open them. (He’s kind and let’s us win.) Our jobs have primarily been simple tasks: getting drinks together, cutting cake for dessert, sweeping, taking tickets from those coming through the line, rinsing dishes, cleaning off tables, and other odds and ends available. Thus, the activities in this well run kitchen have taken a back stage to the people who keep it going.
The people you meet are definitely one of the best benefits of volunteering. It is probably a bit idealist to say but I think volunteering brings an opportunity to be your “best self” and many take that. You can walk into a situation where no one knows you, with no long-term commitments, nor paycheck, and you are there because you choose to be, so you are in charge of making the most out of that experience. I see people stressed out in their daily life go to their volunteer opportunity and find peace there. They are still working, giving their personal time each week and yet it creates a space for them of their choosing. To boot, those you help are so grateful for your assistance that you can’t help but to walk away feeling good about the experience.
We have been working with a regular who has one of the most positive attitudes of anyone I’ve met. He is joyful to be there and quick to dole out praise for your presence and assistance. I am impressed each time how he and the head chef connect with the various people coming through the line. They know the ones who are diabetic or have other food restrictions and take care of them. The head chef has a great personality and keeps an eye out for us and the tasks he gives. The kitchen is definitely run by caring people.
In return, gratitude is given by those coming through the line. They thank us for our service and engage us in snippets of conversation. I think I will forever have the sound of the laughter of one of the people from the line. It is such a joyful sound accompanying her smile. Other faces, especially the children, are sure to be images I will remember in later years.
Volunteering with my mom has also been a fun opportunity to connect with her in another way. I see her interacting with people coming through the line, making quick connections with those she is assisting, and smiling the entire time. It is a new way for us to spend time together doing things we love: her feeding people, me serving people. It is nice as we leave to reflect on the experience and share our thoughts.
It feels like we do not give much (the work is not tiring) but our presence helps. It is proof that taking such small actions can make a difference.
Benefits of volunteering at a soup kitchen –
- Virtually no training necessary, if you can feed yourself, you probably have the skills already
- Weekend hours available
- Solitary work is possible
- Opportunity to connect with many grateful people in a short amount of time
Who you’ll be working with – (definitely will range by location)
- May see various community groups getting involved
- Those doing community service (range of ages)
Level of commitment necessary – (ranges by location)
- My organization required no commitment
What makes you act your ‘best self’?