Giving Thanks: Feeding NYC

Last years assembly crew; this year was packed!
Last year's assembly crew; this year it was packed!

I’ll finish the meditation posts later; I just wanted to comment on a great experience I had today with Feeding NYC, an organization that provides free Thanksgiving dinners to families in shelters around NYC. This year over 2,000 families were served ($70,000 worth of food), with over 200 volunteers showing up to pack, load, and deliver the boxes.

Right now I feel so energized and happy, after a day waking at 5:45 to drive around the Bronx in the rain with a hole in my boot and no food since nine. This was my third year doing the drive, and probably the sweetest (not just cause I didn’t have to go into work after my shift). Our vanload of volunteers was just really sweet a mix of teenagers, college students, parents, and professionals and the people running the shelters were really wonderful. They said the residents had been asking all week about the turkey deliveries: “Are you SURE they’re going to bring them? Are you SURE?” and that it would really mean a lot. We did a few deliveries face-to-face, handing boxes to shy (or brusque) residents through apartment doorways, and at the end of the day gave the extras to strangers on the street.

Now, I’ve volunteered in many capacities, but I always have trouble with the execution of charity there’s sometimes too much self-congratulation and pride going around. It’s awkward to put yourself in a sudden giver / recipient relationship with a stranger. I am more comfortable doing anonymous work than demanding that some stranger show gratitude on demand.

But this year, the program directors and case workers gave us tours around some of the buildings, and told us a little more about their residents and organizations. One place was filled with New Yorkers who had lost everything in apartment fires. Several buildings housed battered women and their children. The centers help their clients rebuild and repattern their lives with job training, financial education, and personal support. Seeing and hearing how these communities work, socially and politically, brought the experience out of my head and more into my heart. Walking into someone’s apartment, or daycare, you feel like a part of their community. They become a face in your life as much as the clerk at the video store or the second cousin you once met. The feeling was not of giving, but of expansion. Not “their gratitude makes me feel good about myself,” but “I am part of this community, too.”

So, it was just a good reminder that the best way to improve yourself is not always self-improvement. I can be such a foodie that I thought the act of physically giving away food might be good for me, and remind me how grateful I am to have ANY food, but the feeling post-participation was much more friendly and less self-concerned. The event was wonderfully organized, but beautifully real.