Tag Archives: volunteer

Humanitarian in Training: Part II

When I first committed myself to this journey, I was unsure what I was going to find along the way. I’m still kind of flailing around along the road, but that seems to be my modus operandi anyway. Now that I have a few volunteer hours under my belt, the subject has come up in conversation with a few friends and my family. I wondered whether I should even bring up the subject at all as I feared it would cheapen the experience or I would be touting my new found helping hands. I guess I thought I would immediately be turned into some altruistic, super hero philanthropist do-gooder once I started this. Admittedly, the first time I had to turn down dinner plans because I had a food pantry obligation it did feel pretty good. Perhaps altruism is one of those goals in life that even if you never achieve, is still worth reaching for.

When it comes to doing ‘good’ for others, particularly those that you have never met before, is it normal to wonder what the motivation is? I noticed after volunteering at one of the main locations for Community Food Bank of NJ that I was feeling guilty about it perhaps not being the right fit for me, as they only have individual volunteer dates once a month, and also I wished it was more of a personal experience. While everyone there is beyond lovely, it just felt like such a big place to start and most of the fellow volunteers were school children and their chaperons. I grappled with the thought that maybe it would be selfish to try to find different, smaller, food banks to better suit me, and within that thought I had to wonder what my motivation was. I know my original motivation was to keep the spirit of Rita alive, to let the world know that a light that untainted and bright could still rub off on even the most disparaging of introverts. My second motivation, upon really balancing the question between my head and my heart is that I really would like to be less pessimistic, to have some of the soft glow of the charitable rub off on me. Just writing in this style as opposed to my usual dark and brooding, creepy version of pastoral prose is a start (baby steps).

I remember when I first told my brother about my efforts his reaction was, “Oh man, I really have to start doing more things like that. I just want to get a whole bunch of toys and start giving them to kids!” I laughed, may have snorted, and told him “well, I’m not entirely sure parents would be ok with that sort of thing, unless… Here, put on this red coat! We need to find some reindeer! Do you think I can look elfin??” It was then that I realized, after seriously wondering how many baked goods, red felt and cotton balls I would need to prepare my brother for Santa-hood, that it was OK to talk about something positive, something that could rub off on someone else as equally positive. Most of us are good people, with varying layers of cynicism covering the good soil for which to plant the seed.

And so, I did find other opportunities to suit me through Jersey Cares. It really is a great tool for those in the NJ area to find activities and locations through a calendar of events that are all over the state. I’ve since volunteered at a shelter sorting cloths for some wonderful women and their children. To which I was also pleasantly surprised as to how generous some were with their donations of bags upon bags of brand new baby clothes and pajamas. I’ve also found a great food pantry/clothing deposit in East Brunswick that I really enjoy despite the miles being put on my trusty old car to get there. These are some great people there who are so friendly and energetic the time really flies. I met a woman named Lana, “like Lana Turner!” she told me with a saucy grin and a man named Paul who regaled me with stories of his racing old muscle cars back in the 60s while Lana and I sorted through bags of clothes and hung them up giggling. I think that’s what I needed, to drop my guard for once, not just concentrate solely on the tasks at hand, but to become open enough to take in the others around me. I started to feel a little lighter on my road, like I didn’t have to just get hours in to fulfill a quota of some sort in my head or convince myself I need to figure out my motivation. It doesn’t matter what the motivation is, was or will be, it’s just a start. A starting line that I imagine I will be at for quite some time but at the very least I’m finally on the track.


Humanitarian in Training: Part I

This time of the year tends to be either a bright, sparkling time of magic or the most heart wrenchingly lonely time of the calendar year. Perhaps even a mixture of the two. All things tend to get magnified; love, loss, generosity, greed, gratitude, disappointment and all the aspects of human emotion and introspection in between are heightened. There’s something magnetic in the air that, for better or worse, grabs a stronghold of our thoughts and actions. Everything about this collision typically leads to excess fretting, which, in turn, leads to excessive indulgences and it seems to really be a sort of polarization of the human spirit.

It is true that this time of the year brings out both the absolute best, and sometimes the worst in all of us. So, within all this excess, anxiety and love, I now find myself trying to navigate this mission of selflessness. I’ve always considered myself a kind person to the people in my life that I cherish, and I know I would do for them whatever they asked, but admittedly, it takes me a very long time to warm up to people in general so strangers tend to stay strangers and I live my life in a very tightly closed circle. I’ve been inspired by this foundation’s namesake and creator, but also realize this is going to be a journey to try to make a difference while simultaneously fighting against 30 years of my natural inclinations. How can someone that finds human interaction so uncomfortable become more of a humanitarian?

So I’ve scoured the web and found different charities to sign up for – so wait, you mean I can’t just walk up to a food bank and say ‘put me to work, in the back?’ Oh, ok so away I go with the emails. There are phone numbers to call, but being me, despite trying to be this helpful soul, there’s always been something about speaking with people on the phone that makes my mouth go dry and my head go blank. I find myself falling back already into what is easiest, too anxious to directly contact anyone. So I wait, and in the mean time, I donate my singles to the charity jars next to the cash register, and I gathered up all my old clothes and I pack them into the clothing bins outside the super market. And I still wait, a part of me sort of hoping my emails won’t be returned because that may force me out of my comfort zone. Getting caught up in the hoopla of the holiday season, the thoughts of giving are with my family and friends again as opposed to strangers. Checking my emails I see all the deals from various stores’ lists I find myself on, but still no replies for my charitable efforts to begin.

And then there are the excuses, I could just call- but its so much easier to remain taciturn in my bubble, and I still have all this shopping to do… and then my shopping was done, and my work hours were not quite as hectic. Ok, so now I have a choice, to remain on the sidelines or get in the game (a surprisingly effective sports metaphor really). So, I called, I left a message and I received a call a few days later from a very nice woman named Traci Hendricks of the Community Food Banks of NJ and my visit was scheduled.

As I set out to Hillside, NJ I fought my nerves sparking and crackling at the newness of it all whilst my anxiety scratched at the back of my head ever so gently. Despite having one of the warmest winters on record for the east coast, as I headed out it began to sleet and I found myself having to remember not to complain as I dipped and dodged in between traffic by Newark airport. Remembering that at least I have a car, at least I have a warm coat and that these little inconveniences are no tragedy.

When I arrived, I was the first person there and as I waited for the others to arrive, I soon had to bat away hopes that I may be the only one there due to the weather. Soon I was joined by the other volunteers, mostly consisting of a school group and parents and we were sent to our task. The building was huge and incredibly well organized and our group leader was a high energy, open hearted man named Omar. I got the impression, almost immediately, that he was another one of those truly warm hearted people that you feel happy to have come across in the world. With a playlist prepared and a lively atmosphere around us, he put us all to work making boxes and packing up plastic bags. Time flew by on our little assembly line and it was really great to see the look on some of the parents’ faces as they watched their children put in great work with no complaints, and these were teenagers!

At the end of our time Omar gathered us all before we left for a great little speech to remind us of what we have and how grateful we need to continue to be because you truly never know if you may find yourself on the opposite side of the spectrum. You could tell how much he really cared about his work there and that this was far from a canned speech. He felt every word he spoke and as I was I nodding and smiling to his words, I scanned the group and I noticed something I could scarcely believe, within his captive audience, not one person was glancing at there phones. Now that, in this age, is enough to inspire any pessimistic observer to become a humanitarian in training.



Change starts with us…

This is to be almost a form of journaling, but not based solely on my fears, worries, or inner secrets, but hopefully of a change. My first thoughts when I committed to writing this were admittedly selfish ones; “I’m so rusty, what if it’s awful? Writing is my own solitary, therapeutic respite not often opened to visitors. Are there too many cobwebs for company?” Then I pondered, “How can any words really live up to the light that Rita Langworthy carried within her?” After which, I realized, no words really can, only actions can. I had the pleasure of meeting, before her untimely death, what I can only describe as a vision of inner warmth in a world often too frigid and bitter to fathom it. Rita Langworthy was the type of person whose inner light shone through a room like a lighthouse through fog and made everyone around her feel like they were better versions of themselves by proxy. Originally, I remember hearing about her charity and her sense of humor throughout the years of working and later maintaining a wonderful friendship with her daughter Lin. I remember being captivated, those 10 plus years ago, by them and by this person who seemed to be, and who most certainly was, the antithesis of all the selfish inner inclinations that seem to drive our nature. She was, and is now in many ways still, an amazing angel of refuge to so many that loved her, and will continue to be this to so many more through the reach of her daughter Lin and this organization.

I know that poverty in our country is an issue. A massive, often ignored issue that we may even see on a daily basis but choose to ignore like that pesky broken spring in the mattress we roll away from in hazy sleep. In fairness, it seems almost futile to try to wrap a hand around these things that are so beyond our command, take hold of them and try. I’ve read the articles, often interspersed between the latest organic food trend, and Kardashian beauty tips. The situation is becoming worse, worse than the Great Depression. But, again I’m human, so I push it to the back of my mind, meanwhile worrying about my own financial, mental, superficial problems. Modern man has evolved at an astounding pace, so astounding, in fact that we may have given up small bits of our humanity in the leap. When we have food, shelter, and warmth, we have become more and more unhappy with the lack of frivolous “essentials” as opposed to the basic human needs. Essentially, we’re unhappy due to boredom. But what if we really didn’t have these essentials? Shelter, food, safe water to drink, or even a safe place to lay our heads at night; truly, I wouldn’t even begin to know what that feels like. I’ve always had a roof over my head and food to keep me satiated. Compared to the millions of children that are struggling just to survive, it all seems incredibly trivial really. There are huddled masses of these children but only a handful of people that find themselves called to wrap them up in just enough light and warmth so that they can bloom.

I’ve been inspired by this wonderful woman and her daughter’s will to continue her Mother’s ever reaching grace. It is never too late to try to make a difference in the world.

So, back to the action part — I would like to document my journey within this column. I’ll be signing up for various food banks and as many volunteer organizations as I can fit into my timeline in an attempt to hold on to at least a fraction of the good that Rita gave to this world. I’ve become so cynical that the smallest gesture of humanity throws me back on my heels a bit. But what if we all gave that little glimpse when we could? More than just giving our change into the charity jar at the cash register, what would that add up to? A step above, albeit a small one at first, it could add up to real humanity — real reach. I soon realized in researching where I could sign up to volunteer, that I should have done so years ago. These sites require around 2-3 hours of a commitment a week and there really is no excuse not to. Though I may never live up to an angel, I can see no reason I can’t offer some small sentiment of refuge.