A New Volunteer’s Perspective by Donna Shay
Often, throughout my life, I have heard comments such as “Why don’t these people get a job and earn enough to support themselves and their families,” and “No one ever gave me anything; I had to earn it.” What I see on Tuesday nights as our guests filter in one by one into the food distribution room is not a group of “poor” looking for a free handout. In fact, many of them have had to gather their courage to participate in a program they never thought they would ever need.
Working at Feeding Hands has made me aware that no one should ever stereotype a group of diverse individuals about whom background facts are unknown. Since I have worked at Feeding Hands, I have met a mother who has to care for and feed seven children, a daunting task under the best of circumstances; military men who have been unable to sustain a living due to PTSD, or depression, or resulting alcoholism; and just other people whose income is not enough to meet rising rent payments while still trying to put food on their tables. These individuals are struggling to meet basic needs for themselves and their families, but they are not “poor.”
Webster’s dictionary defines “poor” as “substandard” or “inferior,” and although our guests may be lacking in sufficient income, they are not “poor” in moral fiber and spiritual strength. True, life has not been easy for them. Perhaps a lack of a formal higher education has limited job opportunities; perhaps a broken home has left a single mom the sole breadwinner for her family; perhaps a job has been downsized or outsourced. Whatever the reason, a final paycheck has been replaced by fear and despair. Despite their dire situations, our clients usually enter with smiles and warm greetings and even humor and joke telling. Most of them are looking not only for physical sustenance but moral support as well. How we volunteers treat our guests can make the difference that day in how they feel about themselves. KINDNESS MATTERS: a handshake, a hug, a compliment, a caring, helping hand often changes a dour expression into a smile and clients leaving with a smile, a “thank you,” and a “God bless you” on their lips. Many then stop at the prayer room on their way out for a prayer for strength and guidance to help them through the intervening days.
We, as humans, are all in this race, this journey called “life,” together. Some have a head start as they have never had to struggle to meet basic needs. Others need someone to run alongside them to support them in the tough times and to pick them up if they should falter and fall. We at Feeding Hands are here to do what we can to make this journey, this race, a little easier for those in need. We realize that there are no winners and no one finishes last for, in the eyes of God, we are all equals at the finish line.