Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Give Giving a Try

Last week I did something I've been telling myself to do for a long time. I spent an afternoon at a community center giving food to needy residents in Daly City, CA. It wasn't too labor intensive despite my empty stomach. And in this time of gloom, there's nothing more human than handing food to a family trying to make ends meet.

Volunteering hasn't come easy for me because I find many excuses not to do it. I'm too busy meeting contacts, rushing to prepare for interviews, or wasting time playing video games against my roommate (so lame). A couple weeks ago I decided it was time to stop talking and start doing. I contacted Second Harvest, a Bay Area non-profit that works with local community centers to distribute food to families in need. I found an opportunity and signed up to become a volunteer. Then I bit my tongue and resisted all temptations to bump it off my schedule.

The volunteer gig was located at Lawson Hall in Daly City, a small community center nestled next to the Cow Palace and Candlestick Park. San Mateo County supports centers like Lawson Hall to offer food assistance to residents working low-wage jobs and families affected by unemployment. Once a month, people who qualify for assistance can receive an allotment of food consisting of fruit, veggies, frozen meat, milk, pasta, rice and bread. Residents who volunteer at the center get first dibs at the food, and can take home any leftovers, which seems like a good deal.

When I arrived, an organizer named Jeff assigned me to a stations where I unloaded small cartons of milk and arranged them on a table. That's where I met a volunteer named Ada. She recently got laid off as an office worker with the county's park and recreation department. Losing her job was tough. Being away from her co-workers and the residents she served was tougher.

"I loved, loved, loved, loved that job," she admitted to me.

When we opened our doors at 4:30 I expected a mad rush to the tables and a quick destruction of my milk carton layout. Instead, families filed into the center with boxes and bags to collect their goods. At each station, volunteers handed a set allotment of food. Another volunteer at my station named Maria devised an efficient system where she grabbed the items at my station and loaded peoples' boxes and bags for them. By the time they got to me I just flashed a smile, murmured "los huevos," and handed them a dozen eggs. They got a kick out of hearing a few phrases of Spanish from the Asian guy, but would answer me in perfect English.

Many families that showed up were Asian, most from mainland China. A community organizer at the event named Jacki told me about that the growing number of Asians moving into Daly City has exposed a need for more volunteers with Asian language skills. I figure that might be a calling for me to get more involved.

By the time the last family trickled through the center, I thought of one word to describe the event—gratitude. As a newcomer and an observer, I could tell from the actions of the volunteers and the expressions of the families that gratitude flowed in both directions. The volunteers seemed grateful to give to their community, and the families received their gifts with open hearts. It's a concept that's so elemental to what it means to be a human, and something that affirms why we're here. So if you're sitting at home worried about your future or burdened by the pressures of the present, consider an act of gratitude. It's in your nature.


  1. good post! we must give first in order to receive. :) thanks for the reminder.

  2. This is very inspiring — thanks for sharing.