Sunday, January 12, 2014

Day 245 - Volunteering at Savory Sundays

I have never volunteered at Savory Sundays. This weekly program to cook and serve meals for the impoverished and homeless in the Madison area has been an organization I wanted to help for some time. Operating solely with donated resources and donated space at the Wisconsin State Capitol, the weekly Savory Sunday event has been a consistent source of nourishment and hope for those in need over the many years it has been in occurring. Led only by volunteers, the honorable cause inherent in the work of the Savory Sunday team is something I have respected since I first learned of the event after moving to Madison some years ago. Despite that perspective, I never sought to volunteer for one of the organization weekly events. I had no real reason or excuse for my inaction. I simply didn’t put in the effort to volunteer, and that didn’t sit well with me.

Our first stop

As a result, I resolved to make a shift with the Savory Sunday organization one of my 12 new volunteer experiences during my “I have never...” year. To help out when I knew the demand would be the greatest, I decided I would wait until the winter months of my 365 day journey to finally make good on my volunteer plans. As a result, I started staking out some Sundays that fell during the coldest time of the year, which eventually led me to put my name on the event roster for today’s Savory Sunday event. With Rachael deciding to join me for the volunteer experience, the two of us made our way to the Savory Sunday preparation facility this afternoon and geared up for an experience we knew would help do good for the community around us.

Loaded up!

To begin our volunteer shift, Rachael and I met with the morning crew at a religious facility on the University of Wisconsin campus. There a woman named Simone greeted us and welcomed us into the volunteer group. As we walked into a large kitchen near the back of the building, Simone introduced us to five other volunteers who were busy wrapping up the cooking for the afternoon meal. Eager to assist, Rachael and I helped with the final meal preparations and loading of finished foods for the transfer to the Wisconsin State Capitol several miles away. Roughly 30 minutes after we arrived, we had five totes containing 18 pans of hot food, 12 gallons of milk, and all of our supplies ready for the afternoon meal.

With that, the morning shift volunteers fulfilled their responsibilities for the day, leaving Rachael and I with two remaining volunteers to serve the food at the capitol this afternoon. When we arrived at the capitol, the waiting crowd of nearly 100 people made it clear we would be shorthanded for the rest of the Savory Sunday event. Thankfully, my friend Ross was quick to respond when I placed a phone call asking for help, which meant we would have a little more support as we attempted to serve everyone in attendance. After gathering a group of tables, setting up food stations for each part of the meal, and making final preparations for the meal, all that was left to do was to help ensure everyone received a hot meal.

Following Simone’s guidance, I walked around the room handing out paper plates and plastic forks leading up to the meal. As I did so, many of the people waiting in the line wrapping around the cafeteria greeted me with a smile and a thank you while others offered their assistance with my effort to get everyone utensils for the meal. The added hands made short work of the process, leaving me free to return to a serving station behind the tables just as food started to be served. Over the next 20 minutes, we four volunteers did our best to keep up with the constant stream of activity as the line of people started working their way passed each serving station. Doing our best to keep food stocked, milk glasses full, and to fulfill the requests of each passerby, we moved quickly as one person after another received a plate of food full to their content. The looks of relief, the statements of joy, and the sincere thanks we received as we helped those in line was uplifting, and like my other volunteer efforts over the past eight months, it made me realize the value of giving a few hours of time to help those in need.

Midway through our efforts to serve the group, Ross arrived to lend his assistance, which proved perfect timing as we began to transition toward targeted clean up duty. With requests for food winding down, we made some rounds through the cafeteria to offer remaining food items and snacks to those that remained. Once finished, we spent time cleaning the space around us between remaining requests for second helpings. A little more than one hour later, the cafeteria was left empty and quiet but for our periodic conversations and our efforts to wipe down tables and reorganize the room. The afternoon had gone by in a flash given the flurry of activity that came with feeding so many people, but it was clear we had been successful in our efforts the help everyone get a hot meal. As we brought the experience to a close, that knowledge made me realize there wasn’t likely a better way to spend my Sunday afternoon, which was enough to put a smile on my face.

Following today’s experience at Savory Sunday, I’m reminded that the simplest acts can have a massive impact on people’s lives and wellbeing. The gratitude we received for helping provide a meal to the men, women, and children in attendance at today’s event was heartwarming, and in many ways it felt unnecessary given the minimal role we played in helping the Savory Sunday organization fulfill their weekly objective of providing a full, nutritious meal to those in need. The fact that the organization puts together a weekly meal each week to feed so many people using only donated goods and resources is a feat worth recognizing, and the impact of their efforts has a far reaching, in some ways life altering effect on the lives of people that might otherwise have nowhere to go. The memory of being a part of that effort today is something I will carry with me into the future. Who knows, perhaps it just might inspire me to relive the experience sometime this summer.

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