Volunteering means more for those once helped


Back in 2003 I was living in Lake Tahoe.

I was staying in a women’s center with my mother, little brother and sister.

We had almost no money, but for the first time in a long time, we felt safe after incidents of domestic violence tore my family apart.

We could sleep easy.

My mom had left my abusive father and taken the three of us with her. Although scared and scarred, we found a place to be begin again.

We knew how fortunate we were to have each other.

In the middle of all of this, we decided to give back to show how thankful we were for all that we’d been given.

One of the things we started doing as a family was volunteering at the local food bank where we were also getting assistance, including food and incidentals for daily life.

The place was called Christmas Cheer All Year and for the 14-year-old me back then it was a formative experience.

The food bank was run by a lady named Wilma.

It’s been so long that I forget her last name now, but she left a lasting impression by allowing us to all help out. I don’t remember that much about her, as she mostly interacted with my mom, but I do remember her being sweet to the three of us children.

It was early November, we were all waiting for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” to come to theaters.

But we spent a large chunk of our days helping out at Christmas Cheer.

It was getting cold fast, as always, is in Lake Tahoe. Homelessness was prevalent there as it is everywhere else. But the bitter cold and snow made the less fortunate population more desperate and needy.

The job my siblings and I were tasked with was preparing packages for the food bank’s clients.

We would grab a decent-sized box and fill it with as much stuff as we could, all of it from canned food drives or other community donations.

In return our house wouldn’t be empty either. Wilma let us have a box of good for ourselves whenever we needed it. Our needs were great, but we also knew the needs of others were as well.

Canned goods, paper plates, plastic utensils, bread, spam, even small things of soup or detergent, anything that could last for sometime would come home with us. We were grateful.

In the room next door my mother, and other volunteers, would sort through a mountain of donated secondhand coats and sweaters to include with the packages.

My siblings and I rocked ugly Christmas sweaters that winter. We weren’t fashionable, but we were warm.

I once heard a quote that “only in the face of adversity that humanity reaches it utmost nobility.”

I don’t know if that’s completely true as I’ve seen much weakness around me when the goings get tough.

But helping out at that place for the short amount I did made me want to be a better person.

To see the looks of defeat on the down trodden melt away, if only for a moment, when we would load up a crate full of supplies made me feel good.

It’s an addicting feeling, one that I’ve tried to replicate as much as possible, in every small way I can. Because giving back gives you something in return.