Happy Friday, lovely people!
Today I’m going to talk to you about volunteering and how awesome it is.
And by awesome, I really mean …
Inconvenient, thankless, frustrating, gritty, and a total pain in the ass! (But then somehow if you grit through all of this, that’s when the awesome and wickedly satisfying bits come in 😀.)
I’ve been volunteering for almost two years for just a few hours per week at Meals on Wheels.
If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a volunteer program that gets average people like me delivering meals to homebound people in the community.
My job is to drive around and deliver nutritious meals to people who can’t source food for themselves. It’s definitely not a glamorous volunteer opportunity, but I continue to show up each week and work my hardest.
Like any hard work in life, you can complain and focus on all the negative things, OR you can smile and focus on all the positive things! Volunteering is about looking on the bright side, because your attitude determines your experience.
Here’s what I do, the goods and bads of working for free, and some fun stories I’ve collected along the way …
(Oh, and if you want to sign up, too, here’s how to volunteer for Meals on Wheels.)
Delivering for Meals on Wheels
My job is to drive around Santa Monica and deliver meals to homebound people. Some of the meal recipients are sick or bedridden, some live in poverty, but most are just older adults. In addition to dropping off a meal, I also do a friendly visit and a quick safety check-in to make sure all is OK. (I also like to sneak in a few dad jokes sometimes because many people are craving human connection and I’m often the only person they see the entire day.)
In my first year as a volunteer driver, I was assigned a different delivery route each week. This kept things interesting, brought me to different areas of the city, and exposed me to all types of diverse situations. This year I have a regular route, delivering to the same people each week. I try and take whatever is thrown at me.
This is what the food looks like. Each client gets a hot meal, cold sandwich, juices, milk and various snacks. Some special clients also get frozen meals for weekends or additional needs.
Delivery volunteers use their own cars and sort the food into individual bags before each drop-off. We used to help with other minor admin tasks before and after shifts, but since the covid 19 pandemic hit, safety measures have been put in at the headquarters facility with strict social distancing.
The Sucky Side of Volunteering to Deliver Meals
I try my hardest to focus on the positive stuff, but I’d be lying if I said volunteering was always fun. There are downsides, and this is probably why most people don’t volunteer.
It’s inconvenient. There is always something more fun I could be doing instead. Like last Friday my friend asked me to go surfing with him in Malibu, but I couldn’t because I committed to volunteering that day. Fun things like this pop up every week, but making a commitment to volunteering regularly means saying no to these other things. Giving up spare time is hard.
Traffic in LA is terrible. There’s no parking, volunteers have to pay for all our car costs, and fighting the midday traffic during lunch hour can put you in a bad mood pretty quickly.
It’s kind of sad. It can be depressing to see how the clients live. Messy and smelly homes, extreme poverty, etc. It’s hard not to get emotional after visiting people.
Some people are rude :( Many clients are extremely appreciative for your service. But sadly, some are not. There’s nothing worse than going out of your way to help people who don’t say thank you.
Nonprofits can be unorganized and understaffed. There’s a shortage of truly dedicated volunteers, which puts a strain on the workers who actually show up. Also, the processes and work practices of some nonprofits can be inefficient. It’s really hard to put in 100% when you know sometimes your efforts are being wasted.
I know, I sound like a complainy-pants! All of these “downsides” just highlight how much privilege I have. Plus, dealing with these aspects is part of the job I signed up for. So it’s better to dwell on the positives…
Awesome Things About Volunteering With Meals on Wheels
Here are some of the cool things I’ve experienced donating my time …
Meeting good people! If you think I’m an annoyingly optimistic and happy person, you should see some of the other nerds I volunteer with! These people are the most generous, thoughtful and joyful people I’ve ever met. :) Interesting people from all walks of life.
It gives you perspective. Think you have a hard life? You should see some of your senior neighbors’ situations. Every volunteer shift is a reminder of how blessed I am in life.
Visiting new parts of town. Driving around Santa Monica and Venice is really interesting… While out and about I always notice new stores, paintings on walls, and cool start-ups all mixed with the Southern Californian beach culture. Exploring your own community is fun!
You get to see the direct benefit. When you get involved in charity personally and see the look on people’s faces when they receive help, you feel immediate accomplishment.
Personal growth and learning new skills. Most of life’s coolest personal growth experiences are found outside of your comfort zone. Volunteering continues to change who I am.
**My favorite benefit** Collecting fun and weird stories to share! There’s always something to laugh at and funny memories to be made along the way.
Personal Highlights From Volunteering
It’s important to have fun while you volunteer. These are a few stories from my travels as a Wheels volunteer…
Once I delivered to a woman who answered the door without any pants on. She was probably 90 years old. Instead of acting shy or apologizing, she just smiled and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “I don’t really feel like wearing pants today.” 🤷🏻♀️
On the flip side, one Wheels client dresses up in a three-piece suit every day, even though he never leaves his house. He wants to look his absolute best for the 1-2 minutes when I come to his front door. It’s the highlight of his day.
I was delivering to an older lady once, and she asked me what type of food was inside. I looked at the box and read her the menu. Next she asked if I could read out all the ingredients of the food. I had a few minutes to spare, so I read her all the ingredients. Next, she asked if I could read them all out again. So I did, a little slower this time. Then, she asked if I could read them out a third time!… At that point, she said she just wanted someone to talk to. Guess she liked my Australian accent.
A few months ago I was on my meal delivery route and the Macarena song came on the radio. I hadn’t heard the Macarena in years, so I turned the volume up. I started bobbing my head and moving my hands. One thing lead to another, and I was doing the full Macarena dance in my car. At that moment, I looked to my left and saw some kids in the car next to me were filming me on their cellphones and laughing… I’m probably on YouTube somewhere. 🤦♂️
I met one woman last year who was 101 years old! No kidding, she was the oldest person I’ve ever met. Still walking around, and her mind still sharp as a tack. She asked me questions about my life, and I asked about hers. She reckons the secret to happiness in life is having kids. 😬
And there’s a bunch more stories I’ve shared on my personal site over the years if you want to check them out here.
Giving Time vs. Money
Growing up I always found it was easier to give money vs. volunteer my time. It’s probably because I usually felt that I had an excess of money but never had enough time in life.
Then a few years ago my situation reversed. When I quit my full-time job, I suddenly had an abundance of time and became much more stringent with money.
It may reverse again in the future. Or maybe I can give both?
In the end, any giving is good giving. There’s no right or wrong way to be generous. Do what you can, and have fun along the way.
Have a great weekend!