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Friday, November 25, 2011

Karma Points

I did something this Thanksgiving I have never done before. For 90 minutes, I served rolls and cranberry sauce at a free Thanksgiving meal, an annual event provided by St. Felix Pantry, where I volunteer every week.

This was my small attempt to give thanks in a tangible way for the many blessings in my life. This has not been a good year for my daughter and me, but we still have so much for which we are thankful. We both are healthy, we live in a nice home, we have food on the table and clothes in the closet, and we have medical insurance. We live in a beautiful state, in a free country.

I wasn't sure what to expect before I arrived at the McDonald's where the meal was served (McDonald's was closed for the day), but before I knew it, I was serving cranberry sauce and rolls to a long line of people. The time passed quickly, and I was rather disappointed when my replacement arrived at the end of my shift. Next year I may sign up to work both shifts.

There was no 'typical' person waiting for a nice Thanksgiving meal. There were senior citizens (one woman told me she is 87 years old), families with small children, couples and single people. They were Hispanic, Caucasian, African-American and Native American. Some were there because they need help with feeding their families; some were there for companionship as well as food. One woman confessed that she had never needed food assistance before. A man went through the line to get a take-out meal for his 92-year-old neighbor who is housebound. When I suggested he get a meal for himself as well, he replied that we should "save it for someone who needs it."

Another man went through the line twice to get a plate of food, and then he went through a third time to get two take-out meals. As he left, he said "God bless you" to people on the serving line, thanked us and patted us on the shoulder. Whether the extra meals were for someone else or for him to eat later didn't matter. We didn't ask why people wanted extra meals or three rolls or extra gravy, or why one woman asked for, and received, nine take-out meals. It didn't matter; we were there to serve food to all who wanted it.

Not only were the guests of a variety of ages and ethnicities, so were the volunteers. I worked next to a young man from Arizona, who was in town visiting his girlfriend's family. He and his girlfriend both worked in the serving line. A friendly Hispanic man kept me supplied with rolls and cranberries, showing up at just the time I was about to run out. An older black woman helped diners bag their take-out meals and handed out desserts. It was so wonderful to see people of all ages and races working together toward a common goal.

The atmosphere in the restaurant was warm and upbeat, with the spirit of the day evident in abundance. Volunteers opened the door and greeted guests as they entered the restaurant. Other volunteers took plates of food to guests with disabilities. Guests were grateful for the food, and volunteers were happy to help those in need. People were treated with respect. I heard no grumbling, no complaining, not a single negative word from anybody. People waited patiently in line for their food. Total strangers chatted warmly.

It's hard to put into words the warm feeling I got from giving a couple of hours to serve people in need. When people thanked me for volunteering, I didn't know how to respond. I said it was my pleasure, and I meant it. I was honored to be able to help in a small way.

I share my experiences not to crow about what I did, which wasn't a lot, but in the hope that others will be inspired to volunteer to help those in need. Especially now, the need is so great, and it is so easy to make a difference to someone going through a rough time.

As a Facebook friend reported after she and her husband served Thanksgiving meals at an area soup kitchen, "This is seriously such a great feeling, we want to do it a few times a month." Another Facebook friend, who volunteers at a soup kitchen in her town, noted the gratitude of the people she helps feed. And who could disagree with the young man who worked next to me, as we talked about why we were volunteering, "Karma is the best kind of points to get."