Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Spare A Little Change

My wife and I have a friend, who we actually met through another friend. This gentleman works for The Guest House, a homeless shelter/re-housing program in the city center of Milwaukee. The agency is, like many non-profit, humanitarian social services, wildly underfunded considering their case load (or, perhaps more correctly, their potential case load). As a result, they rely heavily on internal fund raising and a large community of volunteers to help fill the gaps. There are 86 beds at the shelter, and the men are typically hooked up with counselling staff to help them with job searches, educational opportunities, substance abuse and  mental health issues. Our friend took us on a tour one day and I have to say, it is one of the more humbling places I've ever toured or had the privilege to serve.

A while back, my wife Donna felt compelled to set a goal of trying to pull together enough volunteer donations to be able to serve a meal at the shelter. She set up a sign up list using sign up genius which enables people to easily offer to donate as much or as little food as they like. Her first meal was so successful she decided to try and make it a monthly goal - one meal a month - people donate, we serve.

Now all I can claim is to be in a "support" role. I fully embrace the idea and am wild about the serving end of it. It is the best part of my month every time I do it. But she does most of the hard work, coordinating the meal planning, food drop offs, dates, etc. I'm just there to lift boxes, take donations when she's not around, contribute our part of the food and when the time comes, to help serve the meal. Like most of the fulfilling causes I help with, I never feel like I'm doing enough, and feel bad I'm not doing more.

What I've found most fascinating though, and what this post is really about, is how a little idea can snowball and become infectious. 

Infectious good.

You see, shortly after we had been doing this a while, another friend of ours asked how she could help. She, her husband and her two daughters were so impacted by the homeless people they encountered on a trip to California, that her daughters actually wanted to change what they saw. 

They wanted to change the world. 

Donna told her about the opportunity to make sandwiches for lunches for the residents of Guest House, which again, is a volunteer-based meal. If they don't get someone to volunteer for sandwiches one day, the guys don't get lunch. It's that simple. So this woman's daughters organized their Girl Scout troop to make sandwiches. The girls loved it, and got a great sense of accomplishment out of it, never mind the terrific foundation their parents were setting for them. 

It was so successful, that one of their friends' 4H group wanted to do a sandwich session. It seemed it was catching on. 

Infectious good.

Now these girls thought they were changing the world. Of course, world changes only come about by big politics, big religion, and big government programs, right? Who could possibly change it by helping with a homeless shelter or making sandwiches? What impact can it make? 

Let me illustrate with a paraphrased story. 

A man was walking down a beach that was littered with starfish that had washed up onto the shore. As he walked he picked up the starfish and threw them back into the sea. Despite his intentions, it looked like an impossible task to get them all. 

Another man saw him and said, "Excuse me sir, with all of these starfish on the beach, how do you think you can make a difference by throwing a few back?"

The starfish thrower picked up another one threw it into the ocean and replied, "I just made a difference for that one."

Every sandwich is changing a man's life. Granted it's a small change, but don't doubt for one second the gratefulness of each man that gets one. I've served them. Trust me, they are grateful. So, say you helped with 10 of the sandwiches, you've impacted 10 men's lives. Sounds crazy? I say, ask the men.

World change starts at home, next door, downtown, at work.

But that's not all. Another of Donna's friends has taken the "Sandwich-Prep of the Month" challenge now too. Same deal, one commitment of 150+ sandwiches per month. All donated, all assembled by volunteers. 

More infectious good.

What blows me away is the thought of what a better place the City of Milwaukee would be if more people took up a cause like this. This is 3 organizational/foundational families with maybe 100 supporting donors supplying the food. Imagine what we could do with 30 families or 300 families with 300 or 3000 supporting donors? It's the way it should be. 

And so, I want to say to those of you who have donated with guest house or any other humanitarian agency on a regular basis, Thank You! You're changing the world and if that doesn't give you a sense of purpose, you might want to check your pulse. To those who haven't or aren't helping where you can, I challenge you to start this holiday season. It is a great family project that will train up the next generation. (More world changing there). 

I for one can vouch for the fact that it will change your entire outlook on life. 

It'll change your world.

Blogging off...

1 comment:

GeauxGeauxGirl said...

Thanks for sharing. No kindness is too large or too small.