Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

Another Kind of Politics

March 1, 2009

While America debates the economy and politics, and it seems to occupy front burner on everyone’s mind, another quieter form of politics goes on unnoticed.  Its the politics of personally making a difference, at often great cost to self and no cost to the recipient.

I met the most amazing couple the other day.  They started disaster relief work in the 1980s and continue to this day.  They have a nonprofit which exists for the sole purpose of providing relief in as many American disasters as possible.  They have traveled to tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, floods and ice storms.  Their assets include a warehouse, a “feeding unit” trailer, a laundry trailer and a chainsaw trailer.  They assist anytime they are called by one of the national disaster relief agencies (Red Cross, Salvation Army, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief), as long as they aren’t already gone on another disaster.  This couple has taken all sorts of disaster training, and are licensed as ham radio operators.  Oh yes, how do they fund their ministry?  They use some of their warehouse space to operate a thrift store.  This way they can help the poor in their community by selling needed items in good condition for pennies on the dollar, while their small profit funds their travel to disasters, and new equipment.  They bought their feeding, laundry and chain saw trailers with those profits as well as donations.

When they go to a disaster, they take sleeping bags and a crew to drive the vehicles.  They sleep in a host church, on the floor, in their sleeping bags.  They use the church bathrooms, but take showers in their shower/laundry trailer.  They set up their feeding unit, and sometimes in partnership with another feeding unit, are able to prepare up to 25,000 meals a day.  These are served in styrofoam containers,which they transport to feeding sites in temperature controlled “cambros” using trucks and other vehicles.  Often they are the sole “kitchen” for several emergency shelters.

They take a couple dozen people with them to assist in the work.  The team stays on site 7-10 days on average and works 15 hour days with no days off.  This involves sleeping on floors, using portable showers and eating the same meals they are putting in styrofoam containers.

What is the payoff?  Their very modest salary as ministry directors.  For the volunteers, nothing.  The volunteers pay to get themselves to and from the worksite, usually taking their own vehicles.  Why do they do it?  Simply put, they love Jesus, who told them “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”  They hope some of the people they help will see the love of Jesus at work and want to know Jesus for themselves.  But they help everyone, without question and without any strings attached.

I learned they are just one of a network of such disaster relief nonprofits, mostly Christian, which cover the entire United States, and are the lifeblood of disaster relief.  I also learned that a lot of hotel and restaurant chains would do the same work for millions of dollars from FEMA –the same work that is today done at no cost to anyone but the nonprofits.

“Giving Back” or “giving back what?”

February 26, 2008

I think the seventh most important thing in life is “giving back”.  Now the “giving back” comment is one you hear so often it really sounds overworn and overdone.  Sounds like an advertisement for the United Way or some volunteer bureau.  I have actually heard people ask “giving back what?”  of “giving back to whom?”  So, I realize the saying might not adequately reflect what I am trying to convey.

I’ll just say there is joy in giving.  No matter how grateful you feel for the blessings you received, or how ungrateful you feel for the troubles you’ve had, there is still joy in giving.  Something about giving makes you feel richer, kinder, more powerful and more significant.  You couldn’t give if you were too poor, too weak, to mean or too invisible.  But no one is any of those things.  Everyone has something to give, and because we do, we are necessarily blessed. 

Have you ever noticed that when you act kindly, you feel good?  When you act generously, you feel powerful and rich?  When you act with compassion, you feel loving?  Whatever you act, the emotions follow.  There’s a whole biological theory built around this, but I’m no scientist.  I just know what I see and experience.

Have you ever felt so poor you felt you had nothing to give?  How about giving a smile?  Unless you’ve just had your face frozen at the dentist, you can smile.  Come on now, you don’t feel like it?  Smile anyway.  Nine times out of ten, the smile will be returned.  You have not only added a bit of sunshine to someone’s day, but now they have added some to yours.  Maybe someone needs a hand–a door held open, something dropped that they can’t pick up, being “let in” to a long line of traffic.  You might not see the smile or wave of the hand, but you made someone’s moment a little easier.  Doesn’t that make you feel powerful?

What about the gift of time?  I have heard it said that people would rather give their money than their time, because time seems in such short supply in this busy world.  But what would you rather do, watch television, surf the internet, or give an hour to someone who could really use the helping hand or the company.  We all have time, its just a matter of choice how we spend it.

We can give time to organized activity, and some of that can be really fun and uplifting.  I believe, that just as we should work within the circle of our “calling”, we should also volunteer where it makes us happy to do so.  When we get to the point where our volunteering stresses us or wears us out, we should do something else.  After all, we’re doing this for love, not pay, and therefore we ought to love what we are doing.  The more we love what we are doing and have fun doing it, the more we refill our “giving pot” so we can give some more.