This morning was the last "volunteer-visit" of the academic year to Metro CareRing. When I first thought of taking folks to MCR in March 2011, I had no idea what would eventuate. Somehow word got out to a class that I was taking volunteers to a food pantry, and, if students wanted to fulfill the community service requirement for that class, they should go! Ummm. No-one talked with me about that! But we ended up with over a dozen volunteers! In many respects it was more than MCR could handle at one time (without advance notice). It was, however, a great morning . . . and an auspicious beginning.
Over the last couple of years, about 15 - 20 folks have joined me off-and-on in serving the less-fortunate of our community. That number includes students (international students seem particularly interested!), staff, faculty and faculty spouses and children. We have off-loaded trucks, sorted lemons, stocked shelves, and assisted participant/clients with their "shopping" needs (there is no charge for the food, but the participants are helped through the market where they pick their own food). We have seen the faces of hungry people, and we've learned that we could look in the mirror and see the same kinds of faces. We've heard languages as diverse as Spanish, Arabic, Vietnamese, and, of course, English.
The volunteers in general are as varied as the participant/clients. Some are retired. Others are folks serving out their mandatory "community service" hours. Some are veterans. Some are students. Some speak English only haltingly, having just recently immigrated to the US. Some are students: middle school, high school and college.
We have learned how much food is thrown away, but, also, how much food is donated to places like Metro CareRing (they get a wonderful variety from stores as varied as Whole Foods and Target). But not only does food arrive at MCR from stores. Much is delivered out of the trunks and back seats of car and SUVs (the small boxes in the lower center of the photo above came out of an individual's car this morning). Some comes from churches; some from the goodness of individual donors. When we unload those vehicles, we always say "Thank you." And, more often than not, the response is not "You're welcome," but rather, "No, THANK YOU!".
And we all work hard -- not just physically (although that is the case); we work hard to ensure that the folks who come through the doors are treated with dignity and care. For many of those folks, the strangers who are serving them (i.e., us) are the only ones who may treat them that way on that day, or during that week. It is remarkable, however, that the kindness that we show often melts the icy, suspicious, reserve that accompanies the participants as they enter. And their stories emerge . . . as well as their own inner kindness.
When we leave, we know we have been blessed. The kindness of strangers, I suppose, is reciprocal. The truth found in the New Testament book of Hebrews becomes manifest: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it" (Heb 13.2). The angels are out there!
I close here with a newsletter article that Metro CareRing has prepared for congregational bulletins and newsletters.
Be a Hunger Relief Agent!
Metro CareRing has been blessed with a wonderful team of volunteers. Last year, more than 1200 people served at MCR, completing the equivalent hours of almost 16 full-time staff. Thank you to everyone who currently shares their time and passion with the families receiving assistance from Metro CareRing. Your efforts allow us to address hunger issues and guide these families toward self-sufficiency. As the summer months approach, we need more dedicated volunteers, like you. Please encourage your family and friends to get involved.
Metro CareRing needs volunteers to serve in a variety of rewarding ways. Volunteers help to greet participants, complete intake and offer resources, shop with families in the Metro CareRing Market, and keep our pantry organized and stocked. Additionally, volunteers lead classes on nutrition, budgeting and gardening. Schedules are flexible and fall within the hours of 9am-4pm Monday through Friday and Tuesday evenings from 6pm-8pm. Especially needed, are persons with administrative, teaching, or counseling experience. Visit us at www.metrocarering.org or contact Ellie Agar at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-350-3699 to get started.
My next visit to MCR will be on June 21st. Let me know if you'd like to join me.