In 2009, President Obama asked that we “answer the call” to volunteer in our community. Well, I thought about it. I could make quilts for a women’s home! I could be a Big Sister! I could tutor kids who are having a rough time in school! And then…I stopped thinking about it. Sure, I volunteered on a few occasions with my team at work, but I never took the time or mindspace to find a way to do it in a more committed way. In December, as our team event, we didn’t have a big party or go out and have lunch on the bay somewhere. One of my coworkers had been volunteering at this one organization for over 10 years, and he put together a day for our group to volunteer there.
The place is called Project Open Hand, and it’s mission is to provide “food with love” to people that are living with serious illnesses, and senior citizens, in San Francisco and Alameda County. It started in 1985 when Ruth Brinker, a retired grandmother, had a friend die of AIDS. She realized that people living with AIDS were malnourished, and that oftentimes they didn’t have the means, or energy, to get the nutrition they needed. And they were dying for it. There were no social service options available at that time that provided meals for those living with AIDS, so Ruth got her friends together and started making meals in her home. But once people heard about what she was doing, she began getting more and more requests. She didn’t say no, but she needed a bigger space to work in. After going around to several places, including churches, where no one was okay with her mission, one church finally said okay. They said okay, and then they told her it was only because they knew it wouldn’t last. Fast forward…25 years later (insert here: Ruth giving the finger to all those places that said no to her). Project Open Hand has grown tremendously. They not only serve clients living with AIDS, but all of those 60 years and under who are homebound because of a physical illness or medical condition. In 1998, they began serving lunches throughout the Bay Area to seniors citizens. With the highest rate of breast cancer in California, San Francisco was in need of services for those battling breast cancer. So in 2000, Project Open Hand also began supporting those that are living with breast cancer.
Each day they rely on 125 volunteers to do what they need to do for their clients. When I was there with my team, I put trays on a mini conveyor belt that would then be filled with food and finally shrink wrapped and provided to those that need it. 800 trays, and they’re still able to provide food that is specific to the dietary needs of their clients (diabetic, vegetarian, low-fat, and pureed meals for those having trouble digesting). It was really incredible how it all worked – simple but complex (in 2007, they served 331,348 meals). After that, I helped one of my coworkers peel and quarter 50 pounds of onions. Fortunately for him, he doesn’t tear up when he cuts onions. Unfortunately for me, I do. But I learned that if you can get through about 10 minutes of watery, burning eyes – that the sensation to tear up stops.
So the bottom line is this: this year, after going last week to the volunteer orientation, and next week, after getting my TB test, I’ll be volunteering on a weekly basis at Project Open Hand. I’m finally answering the call. No excuses. And this isn’t some pat-me-on-the-back-aren’t-I-just-so-great blog post, because I will probably struggle to go sometimes. I will probably want to make an excuse not to get out of bed on a Sunday morning and take Bart into the city. I’m human, and this is something new for me. No, this post was to get you thinking about volunteering wherever you are. It doesn’t take a lot, and there are so many places that need it. If you’re not sure how to start or where to volunteer, go here , Volunteer Match. They can help you find a place that works for you, something you’re passionate about.