Lessons I Learned at a Soup Kitchen
However, trust me when I say I understand how hard it can be to figure out where to start. As much as I love to get out, involved, and meet the kind people who are out there, I’m an introvert by heart. I still get nervous when I make phone calls or make small talk with people I’ve just met.
It can feel paralyzing at first, but when that happens, you need to calm that voice in your head that’s holding you back. What pushes me to move is remembering the warm, cozy, heart-beaming-with-joy-feeling I get when the day of volunteering is done.
What usually stops my overthinking is action. Since the thought is there, I make it a point to act on it before it disappears! I put whatever energy I’m feeling into researching organizations in my area listing volunteer opportunities.
It was when I decided to volunteer at my local soup kitchen that I learned lessons that would shape my mindset around the phenomenon of serving others. These simple adjustments to how I view things has helped me appreciate these experiences even better. It motivates me to want to consistently volunteer. In return, I learned there are benefits to volunteering for the community.
Here’s what I learned:
- It’s a rewarding experience to share with someone special.
Volunteer experiences are perfect to share with someone you care about. I asked my best friend Chanelle if she could volunteer with me.
We scheduled a time slot with the Institute for Human Services to serve dinner to the community.. Little did we know, we’d get to learn about the whole ecosystem that it took to prepare this weekly service.
This event took place in the heart of Honolulu where a majority of the city’s homeless population resides. Going into this we knew that we’d be meeting people who were in very difficult places in their lives.
Upon arriving we entered the gates of the facility and we could already see a line of people forming outside from the small crowd that gathered near the street. We entered another gated office where we had to sign waiver forms. We met the sweetest people. One was a young lady who was a staff member and an older gentleman who introduced himself as a regular volunteer.
They showed us around the facility. I noticed offices were filled with handmade art, names of the usuals who kept this place running, and their lunches waiting for them when they’d take their break. For us, it was a volunteer experience. For the people we’d work with, it was a family we’d get to know.
After fixing our hair and sanitizing ourselves we met the prep crew in the neatly kept kitchen. Compartments of vegetables, starches, and protein were organized in military-like fashion ready for the beeline of workers to distribute. Reggae music blasted from the kitchen into the dining area as Chanelle and I nicely yelled our names to introduce ourselves to the other volunteers.
That evening felt like a blur as the dozens of people poured into the mess hall. We churned out plates of food one after another. By the end of it Chanelle and I smiled at each other seeing that we were able to feed so many people after our one shift.
- Volunteer work can help students be well rounded.
Although Chanelle and I aren’t in school anymore, I thought that it would’ve been a great opportunity for us if we were students because of the different types of people that we met. From the volunteer coordinator and food specialists to the volunteers that have extensive background in different projects, they offer a wealth of experiences to share with others– especially the younger crowd.
I’ve learned that in settings like this, the common goal of helping others brings together loads of people who are kind and wanting to connect. When you are curious and willing to learn, you are bound to get experiences you will never forget.
- You get to “screenshot” special moments.
That day we met so many people, but I won’t ever forget how they made me feel. I like to keep these as moments I “screenshot” in my head.
I remember the thunderous laugh of the head kitchen staff lady who cracked jokes throughout the evening. I still smile when I think of the kind older gentleman who spoke to the patrons as if he had known them for years.
These are the kinds of memories that I can save for later as inspiration when I’m searching for new volunteer opportunities.
- Smile in every moment.
Even if we were there just for a few hours, we wanted to be as attentive and accommodating to the staff and the people we served. Life is too short not to show every ounce of goodness inside of you to others who really need it.
Although we were physically distant from the people we served, I made it a point to smile so hard my eyes looked like they were closed. Most of the people took the food and left without a word. But it was the very few, “God bless you”’s and “thank you”’s, that put the cherry on top of the whole experience.
- There are health benefits from volunteering.
It’s giving your time to another human being or a cause that is bigger than yourself. It’s a transaction of time and fulfillment that you can’t put a price on. These experiences help boost your serotonin levels, aka happy chemicals.
Send that email. Text that friend. Make that move, and let kindness move you.
About the author:
Adara Pineda is a staff writer at INC Media. She has been involved in INC Giving volunteer activities since she was 13 in her hometown of Honolulu, Hawaii. She loves helping the young children in her local congregation of the Church Of Christ Honolulu. Adara also loves to take long drives to admire the scenic views on Oahu on her way to her favorite beach spots to enjoy a good spicy ahi bowl.