I’ve tried volunteering at a number of different organizations over the past few years. It has taken some trial and error to find a mutually rewarding spot for my efforts. Right now, I am happily giving some time to two organizations.

One is a local Community Health clinic. I run their Food as Medicine program. We make bags of food that are available for any patient who screens positive for food insecurity. Now, during the pandemic, we also make weekly food deliveries. The families we serve were underserved before the pandemic and are truly needy now.

For my other volunteering project, my husband and I host a breeding Mom for Leader Dogs for the Blind (LDB). LDB gives trained guide dogs to blind and visually impaired individuals at no cost. We are not necessarily “dog people,” but we love that we are able to give Spirit, a black lab, a good home while she parents puppies that will become dogs that can change someone’s life.

Settling into those two significant volunteering roles, I find that there are at least five solid ways I am helped as a result of my efforts.

No Room for Self-Pity

It is impossible to feel sorry for myself when I am confronted by people who are in much more difficult circumstances that I am. I have my eyesight – not 20/20 anymore, but you will hear no complaints from me about having to order more contacts or needing to make another eye appointment.

Being able to see is not something so easily taken advantage of when you know that you have a dog in your home that can have an enormously positive effect in the life of someone, who is blind.

In the same way, when we see the relief and joy on a mother’s face when we deliver fresh produce and some cheese for her family, it makes me grateful every time I walk into a grocery store with plenty of money to purchase food.

I had a mom pick up a bag of masa flour and hug it… and squeal with pleasure and relief! She would make her family fresh tortillas that day.

A Lot of People Interaction

I’ve made new friends and have had fun with some old ones.

The Leader Dog Mom we host just had a C-section, due to a singleton birth. Thankfully, we were able to use a local vet. When I went there the first time, one of the vet techs and I clicked. We exchanged phone numbers and found out we live near each other.

Today she was at the clinic and sent me a photo and called me about our new little Future Leader Dog and our Mom. It’s nice to have a new friend!

Food as Medicine has grown, and we now have a team of about 30 people who can actively help in some way. Since we can’t currently have a pantry, we need fewer people in active roles, but I know that those volunteers care and are invested long-term in helping families in need. About half of that team are new friends that I did not know two years ago.

Deeper Friendships

I have been able to include others who really enjoy helping out. A close friend I’ve had for years is even closer now that she is my right hand with Food as Medicine. She texted me early this a.m. to ask about Spirit. And the early photo from the vet was forwarded to her.

She and I have made up rice and bean bags in the back of my van, and we have hauled boxes to a lot of families. She introduces me as her friend who “gets her to do new things!”

Our food program requires a lot of help. Even now, keeping up with making the bags for the clinic and maintaining inventory call for including others. We are able to minimize exposure risks (many of our volunteers are older) by having a married couple prep the bags.

Then another couple delivers boxes on Fridays. A man I have never met, but who heard of our efforts, regularly drops diapers off at my back porch to go with the food deliveries. He only heard of the need once but is happy for a way to help.

Understanding Values

I have defined my values in terms of where I invest my time. Volunteer opportunities are plentiful, so thoughtful consideration of how I want to spend my time (and with whom) was necessary.

I trust the Executive Director of the clinic and am happy to support her efforts for providing care to the most underserved. I appreciate that she allows me to run the program for her.

The one little puppy that our Mom delivered has the potential to change the life of a blind or sight-impaired individual. Hopefully, Spirit will produce more pups in the future, who will be as responsive and attentive as she is.

Enjoying the freedom I have, professionally and personally, to live my life the way I want to makes me happy to host a dog that might produce a dozen or more pups that can give someone new freedom to navigate and venture out on their own.

Making a Difference

I know that I am making a difference. It is small in terms of the number of people I am affecting. In reality, it is small in the number of hours and the amount of money I might invest. It’s not a heroic endeavor. It is simply helping someone else because I can.

And I feel good about that. That one mom’s glee at having a $4 bag of corn flour made me smile for a week. Reading the stories of people who have received a Leader Dog make me thankful. Having a new friend tell me that getting involved with Food as Medicine is one of the best things she has ever done keeps me invested.

When you do good for others, you feel good about yourself. It’s a simple truth. Finding the right place to volunteer at the right time in your life can make all the difference.

Do you volunteer somewhere? Which organizations do you help? Why did you choose them? What does volunteering give you? Please share with our community.

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