The staff thought it would be a good idea to take the dollars usually spent on gifts, that sometimes end up re-gifted, and use them toward a volunteer project for charity. We wanted to be able to serve a meal and it was important to support one of our accredited charities. The Share-A-Meal volunteer program of City Union Mission filled the bill. The $20 each staff member normally spent for the gift exchange was donated to cover the cost of a meal for 100 people. The online volunteer application was submitted and we promptly received thorough instruction and information as to the when, where and how of our service.
On Tuesday, December 18, 2012, our staff piled in two cars headed for the Family Life Center, a residential facility for homeless families or single women. We stepped in the door to receive a warm welcome as we signed in.
The short trek through the hallway landed us in a spacious, clean kitchen where Beryl was expecting us. In her apron and hairnet, she graciously welcomed us and began to explain what needed to be done. Beryl’s manner was kind and easy-going, the perfect match for us.
Even though there were guidelines in place for our service, we had some options, like deciding who was going to do what. There were the responsibilities of making punch, getting ice and wrapping utensils in napkins. Only four were allowed to work in the kitchen which was not an issue for us since we have a few people not in love with culinary arts except for consumption! The rest of us assumed duty in the dining area. We also had the option to serve the residents or make it cafeteria style. We chose to be waiters and waitresses, thinking of it as a nice expression of our service.
Once we got over how dreadful we looked in hairnets, we could focus on the tasks at hand, the first of which was to get the food items arranged for serving plates. First was lettuce, tomato, meat, bread and chips. Apples and chocolate chip cookies took up residence at the end of the line. With punch made, ice, cups and utensils in place, and a few trays ready, we waited for hungry people.
At first we were probably a little clumsy, just like at a brand new restaurant where the ordering, cooking and service might be a little out of sync! But, we were able to get in our groove with the mechanics of it. The experience then evolved into a labor of love as we tried to make sure everyone got what they needed with a smile, something that may not happen often for these folks outside the care of City Union Mission.
The Family Life Center houses 75 to 80 people a night who, for whatever reason, are homeless. The center provides a 30 day stay and 3 meals a day, as well as educational classes in the morning. After 30 days, room must be made for others to come in and there is a 60 day wait before anyone can return. These few facts begin to paint a picture of life for those who find themselves homeless and relying on City Union Mission for assistance. Though the picture is not the prettiest, the BBB staff saw plenty reason for hope that day.
BBB accredited businesses and charities commit to standards that create a marketplace of trust. We all want to trust that people in organizations will do what is right, what is in the best interest of those from whom they receive patronage or support and those they serve. During our short time volunteering, we saw those principles at work. We saw caring employees concerned for residents through hugs, through an atmosphere of smiles, chatter and relationship. We saw a culture of responsibility because residents had duties and housekeeping assignments. We saw cleanliness, order and mutual respect. On top of all that, we truly enjoyed our time there. It is safe to say that we will not miss the annual gift exchange, we have lots of fun at the office without it.
The BBB volunteer tradition is now established and we look forward to our 2013 project. It may not even be during the end of year holiday season. It's no secret that volunteerism falls off after the holidays, so we may look to lend our time in another month besides November or December. City Union Mission expressed a need for help in the summer when many people are enjoying vacations.
Traditions may come or go, and holiday spirit may subside in January, but the joy derived from service to others is seasonless and so is the need for assistance in our community. March is not too early or too late to see how you can usher in a new tradition of giving to support our K C nonprofit community, even if it means giving the boot to something else!