A fellow blogger, Steph of Orange Spoken, invited me to volunteer at Metropolitan Ministries today. This is a great organization that provides a number of services to people and families who are homeless or who at risk to becoming homeless in the Tampa Bay area. In addition to their regular services, they put up tents in Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas county to provide some holiday cheer to these folks.
The invite said that we would be putting baskets of Thanksgiving food together for families in need, so I was expecting to interact solely with Steph’s blogging group in the back of a warehouse. (It would have been fun to meet new people in this scenario, but I’m glad things went a bit differently…)
Instead I interacted with Metropolitan Ministries’s wonderful clients, who happen to want their families to have a nice Thanksgiving. One of the Metropolitan Ministry leaders escorted the client to me, and the leader handed me a card that indicated the different amounts of the foods the client was entitled to. As the client approached me I greeted their smiling faces (and almost all of them were smiling! ), shook their hand, and helped them with their grocery shopping. There were approximately 10 identical grocery aisles with the donated food (example of one aisle in photo below) and 20 volunteers providing the same service I was to clients.
As I helped my first client, I was glad to see a decent amount of variety in the donated foods for the people to choose from in the pared-down grocery aisle. I was also glad the various lists included a nice amount of food for the families. A family of 2-3 would get (this is from memory, so I may be a bit off): 1 turkey or chicken, 1 box of cereal, 2 starches (e.g. rice, pasta, etc.), 1 box of stuffing, 1 can of yams, 3 cans of vegetables, 2 cans of beans, 1 can of fruit, 1 can of cranberry sauce, 1 jar of gravy, and 1 sweet (e.g. cake mix). Bigger families got more.
As I escorted them out to pick up their chicken or turkey, I asked them a bit about themselves.
“Are you a Tampa native?” ~ There were a mix of transplants and native Tampa folks. One man was from Cuba. One woman made the distinction that she was from St. Pete.
“How do you cook your turkey?” ~ Some are going to fry them. One woman is going to bake it Creole style. Others are baking them more traditionally.
Before they left, I let them know that it was a pleasure meeting them (and it was, every single time), and I wished them a happy Thanksgiving.
Everyone was pleasant. Everyone was grateful.
One man kept saying “Thank you” after he handed me every item of food so that I could bag it. I felt very awkward as he kept repeating the phrase, because I didn’t really feel that I was doing much. But I also felt like I understood what he was doing. I think he didn’t want to take anything for granted, not even one can of beans.
One woman told me that she was thankful for the food she was receiving, but that she was also embarrassed to be there. She was afraid that she would see someone she knew. I told her that there was nothing at all to be ashamed of, and that we are all doing our best to get by. I also told her that I was glad that she was using the resources provided by MM instead of going without.
Another woman was in scrubs. I asked if she was a nurse, and she replied that she was going to school.
There are stereotypes about poverty, and that’s what they are: stereotypes. The fact is that those in poverty are people. They are human beings who deserve respect and dignity. They are people from all walks of life who have fallen on hard times or are working to get out of their hard times.
I’m glad that there are organizations like Metropolitan Ministries that provide services to our neighbors in need. I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve today, and I’m also thankful to Metropolitan Ministries for making me feel like a valued volunteer. I look forward to working with and for them in the future. Thank you, Metropolitan Ministries.
If you are reading this post I hope you will take time to volunteer for an organization important to you. Or start a canned goods or clothing collection at your work. If you have a skill, perhaps you could use it to help (my aunt crochets hats for cancer patients!). Perhaps your New Year’s resolution could be to volunteer once a month (more? less?). You don’t have to do it alone. Get your friends together and start a new tradition!
I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolution. For me it will be a November 26 resolution to integrate volunteering into my life. From today’s experience, and also from volunteering during the Great American Teach-In, I know that it is an excellent use of my time.
To all of the people I met today and to everyone reading this: Namaste.