When I was in 2nd grade, my mom unveiled a summer project that would serve an immediate need in the community and would leave a lasting impression on the way I view the world. She decided to do a food drive in our neighborhood in order to help replenish the depleted pantry at a nearby food bank in Jacksonville, Florida. At seven years old, the idea of collecting for others was familiar, but this year was the first time that I would fully understand the core mission of community service.
We started by designing flyers to place on the doors in our neighborhood. These flyers explained what we were collecting for the food bank and when we would be back to pick up the donations. Armed with our red wagon full of flyers, my mom, my six-year old sister and my three-year old brother rumbled door-to-door distributing our homemade flyers on a sticky summer day. At the end of that day, we were hot, sweaty and tired, foreshadowing the task ahead of us in the coming week. I remember wondering why we would go to so much trouble to gather all this food, and in doing so, stumbled upon a line of questioning that would lead to a new outlook on my world.
I started asking questions about the whole process. Where is the food going? What is the food bank going to do with these donations? My parents told me that there were some people did not have enough food to eat and that many of them had children who went hungry too. They explained that these were good people, who worked for a living, but who still needed help. They said we were more fortunate than others and because of that, we had a responsibility to give help when we can to those who need it. There are people just like us – maybe even people we know – who need the food bank to feed their families. Having never wanted for food, it hadn’t occurred to me that there were those without any. At the age of 7, I suddenly realized some people struggle to make it through each day, and for some reason, I was among the more fortunate. This realization brought a mix of emotions: sadness, guilt, anger, humility and frustration. But also empathy. That summer, I developed a sense of empathy that would change my perception of the world. Then I knew why my mom was collecting food for others.
In addition to the food bank project, my parents have taken on a range of other community involvement initiatives. They’ve taken me to food banks, soup kitchens and Habitat for Humanity builds. We collected donations for the St. Louis Flood of 1993 and drove a trailer full of supplies to that area. All of these experiences sum to a very salient lesson. I’ve applied what I’ve learned by trying to better my community in the same ways that my mom and dad have shown me, and I have always felt a special drawn to the issues that address basic human needs. As I sit in my warm house on a cold night writing this essay, my mind wanders to the man I saw sleeping in an alley, covered in cardboard and I feel the same mix of emotions from when I was seven years old. These experiences and are what have shaped my views of our role on this earth. I try to imagine all the factors that others experience and try to understand how it impacts their world, recognizing that the less fortunate could be us on a different day. It’s a very short distance from here to there.
My parents identified a need in our community and decided to do something about it. For that, I see them as leaders. You may not see them on TV, at the pulpit or in the paper, but my parents are quietly leading by example. I’ve realized if you do the right thing for the right reason, others would eventually join in.
My hope for this blog is that by describing the lives of others through my volunteer work that it will inspire you to change the world – in small ways, in big ways, and often one person at a time.
Thank you for reading my first of many posts. Let’s see what we can do together.