“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” ― Mary Oliver
My youngest daughter and I spent the evening at the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis serving food for their regular Community Meals program. This was our first time volunteering, but Community Meals have been going on for over 20 years there. The free dinners are hosted on the first and fifth Sunday of each month and serve low-income and homeless people in the area.
You don’t need to be a church member to volunteer (we aren’t), and as this was our first time, I was a little lost when I entered but was quickly greeted and shown the ropes by one of the organizers, Nancy. We felt very welcome and were assigned as waiters (they have table service) so we set the tables, served food, refreshed drink pitchers, and cleared. I figured this would be good since my little one loves to play restaurant and set the table, serve food, etc. at home.
Around five o’clock people started coming, men and women of all ages and ethnicity and a few mothers with children, one of whom made friends with my little girl. The experience was just the kind of volunteering I love — it was busy the whole time, we were put to good use, and we could talk with the guests while serving which kept the chatting easy and natural, not forced. It was clear many people were regulars and knew each other. One group of men at my table had an easy camaraderie that was just like any other group of guys — a reminder that despite whatever life situation had brought them to the dining hall people still need more than food for sustenance. They need to connect, laugh, relax, and feel comfortable.
By the time we left we had probably fed about 25 people at our table. I felt refueled and refocused on what is really important and special during this time of year when it’s so easy to be distracted with busy schedules and stressful to-do lists.
It may be selfish, but I think besides a sense of duty, what keeps me volunteering is the sense of peace and gratitude that follows immediately after – which I assume comes out of gaining perspective and spending a good amount of time focused on others needs instead of my own. But it doesn’t last forever, hence the need to go back. At last, a good habit!
We will definitely be returning as a family (tonight my husband and our older daughter had to be at a prior commitment, but I know they would love it too). If being a waiter/waitress isn’t your thing, they’ve also got some other duties and are always in need of volunteers!
And a bonus, for your listening pleasure… a moving one from Eddie Vedder: