I joined the Urban League of Young Professionals in Pittsburgh, like officially, paid dues and all that jazz. As a part of my membership I need to do 25 hours of community service (I have that in the bag on my own, but they also have events where you can get that in as a group. I volunteered for the Urban League's (larger org, not the ULYP) food distribution.
Can we discuss how impressed I am with the Urban League? Not only did they distribute food, but they took each family to tables of resources available to them: free flu shots, info on Obamacare, free cell phones, nutrition info, big brothers, big sisters, a store call the "No Strings Shop," Operation Better Block, Snap (which I think is food stamps), WIC and the Department of Human Services. After the families signed up, they got to the food distribution. (look out for another post about the community service going on in Pittsburgh and how sophisticated it is).
So many thoughts about this. First, there were boy scouts there participating. Someone mentioned: they need this kind of exposure and by the end of the day I realized I needed it too. Besides being on WIC as a baby, I don't remember my family ever been in a situation that was so dire that we had to have food assistance or other help.
I, personally, have never needed any government assistance [besides a student loan] and for that I am grateful. So I didn't personally know what the process of getting help was like.
So my job during the volunteer day was family escort. I walked with the family as they got the information that they needed for the resources, then I helped them bag their groceries for Thanksgiving Dinner, helped them get their gift card for a Thanksgiving turkey, then I bid them adieu and attended to my next family.
I learned that one woman had lost 50 pounds over two years by changing her eating habits. I learned that another woman had a 15-year old son and when the DHS rep asked if he had "anything" on the way, she proudly replied: COLLEGE! I met a married couple with thee CUTEST little boy I have ever seen. Mild mannered and just handsome for no reason.
When we rounded the corner as she was getting ready to leave, one of the women said "This is amazing. I am so blessed. I am truly blessed."
Family, it occurred to me that I can be judgmental. At one point I found myself thinking about how sad some of these situations were. There was a grown woman getting food assistance and her elderly mother came in as another family and got food assistance. I was sad and a bit angry that they hadn't been able to break the cycle of poverty from one generation to the next. There was the man I mentioned who was there with his family and readily accepted help. I thought about what type of courage it takes for a grown man to accept help for his family vs. having the "I can do it all" attitude.
Then I thought about what a blessing it was to live in a place that has resources to share. I lose place loosely because on one hand I mean USA, but on another hand I also mean Pittsburgh.
I thought about the woman making her comment about being blessed and how I see my "blessings" unfold every day. I sleep in a warm bed every night. These families do as well. I'm going to eat well this Thanksgiving. These families will as well.
My God blessed me. The SAME GOD blessed these families.
While I never want to be in a situation where I cannot provide for myself and my family, I had to check my own biased partly-republican attitude, that if you don't work you don't eat. Or if you didn't make enough, your starve. (Of course you all know I don't really feel that way, but the raw thoughts that came to my head as I judged these people made me think twice about what my biases are and why they exist.)
Sometimes I feel like everyone should do their fair share, but as my Pastor reminded us last Sunday, God's math is not our math. It doesn't matter how much I make or how much I save or how much the government subsidizes my lifestyle. At the end of the day, the same God that blessed me did so, so that I could help the sick and the poor and in doing so he's blessing them as well.
On this Thanksgiving, I'm happy for all that I have and even happier to know that if I didn't have it in the WAY that I have it now, God would provide it some other way. I'm also thankful for that lesson he taught me through volunteering.