How much is a smile worth? Marilyn Englander has this Perspective on volunteering.
I was telling a friend about volunteering at the food bank and she gave me the standard reaction — “Oh, you’re so good to work for free! I know I should.”
I’ve never considered volunteering a burden — as a paying job can sometimes be! Not once has a fellow volunteer muttered, “Another day, another dollar.” Truth is, the work has little to do with “being good.” It brings me joy and lightens my heart. You might say I volunteer at the food bank pretty much for selfish reasons.
Yes, I have to get up early, and wear a tight mask and sweaty gloves for hours. It’s often too hot or too cold at the deserted school where a drive-up pantry was established early in the pandemic. All morning, a dozen of us fill bags with dusty potatoes and wet broccoli, or tote heavy boxes of frozen meat to people’s cars. After my shift I’m tired. But that’s just the factual outline of the work. Someone always brings a boombox and we sing along as we sort bread donations or stack eggs. Due to masking, I wouldn’t recognize the lower half of people’s faces, but I think of them as friends. We swap weekend stories and recipes, commiserate about kids or a sick pet. One volunteer brought each of us a poinsettia in December. I’ve gotten to know all kinds of people — a salmon researcher, a crab fisherwoman, a sculptor, a key grip, a traveling nurse — everyone united in celebrating how many families we are feeding each week. The hours fly by. Another volunteer said it all, “My week feels flat without this day,” and I agree. We never have a bad day at the food bank!
It’s said that volunteering is at the heart of American culture. If so, it’s curious, given our national appetite for making a lot of money. Nevertheless, working for “nothing” brings enormous rewards — especially the feel-good warmth of giving.