This past week marked our second annual Band-Aid: a recent endeavor wherein the kids bring items for the local food pantry's Thanksgiving drive. I set it up as a contest between sections, the prize being a pizza party on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving break. The clarinets won by a landslide.
I teach in one of the wealthiest communities in New Jersey where the annual median household income is up near $200G. It's pretty safe to say that my students don't want for much, and they really have no concept of what it's like to be needy. It felt good to get them involved in a volunteer project - even if their motivation was pizza.
After school yesterday, my friend PMcQ and I dropped off about 10 crates full of donations at the food pantry. The volunteers were rushing around like mad intercepting and dispersing, and I asked if they were still in need of volunteers.
"Can you come in tomorrow?" asked one of the ladies. So I went in from 12-3 today and helped to assemble baskets. They had over 900 families due in during the upcoming week - not counting the 1,300 families who come every month for food. Hearing those numbers and actually seeing the people coming in really made an impact on me...
The elderly couples who probably worked hard all their lives and have had their security robbed by our government. The young mothers with their broods of kids dressed in secondhand clothes. The better-dressed woman in tears, swallowing her pride as she accepted her first round of handouts.
I considered how lucky I am. Although I wasn't rich growing up, we always had food and a big house. We had toys on Christmas, and new clothes every September. I went to college, I got a stable, good-paying job and am now able to afford a comfortable life. Most of the time, I take it all for granted. And while I'm not a very high-maintenance person, I do like little luxuries: dinners out, manicures, the occasional $100 pair of sneakers.
I wonder how many of these people were once in a better place? Who never imagined having to depend on the generosity of others in order to survive? If it could happen to them, why not to me?
It felt really good to help today. It was better than sitting around whining about my own life being boring. It made me realize how fucking lucky I am to be healthy and in a good place. So at the end of my shift, I signed on as a permanent volunteer.
Slowly, I think I may be learning what life is really all about.