Happiness, Gratitude & Giving Back
Volunteering at Elijah’s Promise
Happiness is not something that just happens—I believe you have to choose it.
And you have to choose it daily.
Your daily actions create the environment for happiness to exist.
A first step is to PRACTICE GRATITUDE.
You do this by looking at all the things you are grateful for —start with the obvious—a roof over your head, 3 meals a day, and loved ones in your life. And then expand the list to include much more— carefully review all the things in your life, big and small, that you appreciate and that is an integral part of your daily living— health, family, a working car, a not-so-frigid winter (so far), your neighbor who is nice enough to bring in your garbage cans, and so on.
Try to list as many things as possible.
The next step is to say THANK YOU. Think of everyone in your life who adds something to your life— your spouse, your friends, your boss, your co-workers, your barrista at Starbucks, the people you worship with at your temple, church or synagogue, the nice woman at the deli counter who gives you a sample of the cheese, etc etc.
Think to yourself how nice it feels when someone simply says, “Thank You”. To feel appreciated.
Find a need and fill it.
One of the best ways to demonstrate your gratitude is by Serving Others. It’s also a great way of getting present and escaping the thoughts that continually swirl around in your head.
And you may ask “But Where do I begin?”
Don’t spend too much time on this question, JUST BEGIN. There are many opportunities probably staring you in the face—pick one and the clarity on further action will just come. It will.
This happened at one of our weekly brainstorming sessions. We were throwing ideas around and since our CEO is a strong proponent of Giving Back and devotes a large part of her time mentoring and inspiring women and people of color about the opportunities in STEM fields, the question came up “What could we do as a team to help others?”.
Elijah’s Promise was the first thing that came to my mind. Having volunteered there in the past and knowing the good work they do, and in an interfaith manner, seemed like a good place to start GIVING BACK.
As we explored the Elijah’s Promise website, we found that they were doing much more than providing meals for hungry people.
They state that they use food as a tool for change. They fight to end hunger through three core initiatives, 1. promoting good food for all, 2. providing education and job training for the food industry, and 3. creating social enterprise food businesses that help build a better world.
We went to the volunteer section of their website, contacted one of their volunteer coordinators, Kaitlyn Deal, and after some emails back and forth we arrived upon a date and time that fit our schedules—- dinner shift (5:30PM-7:30PM) on Monday, Dec 7th.
We showed up a bit before 5:30, donned our hair nets and aprons (see main photo above) and received instructions from the Evening coordinator, a very kind, caring and funny gentleman, Leonardo. He showed us where the trays of food were located, the protocol of how to serve the food, where to place the used dishes, etc. Then after dinner, there would be a clean-up to make the areas ready for the next day’s meals.
In the midst of the preparation, we encountered other people volunteering there as well. One was a Rutgers student whose major was in social work and she was receiving credit for her work there (as well as a priceless set of experiences in gratitude and perspective).
We all took our serving stations— Spring Mix and Potato Salad to start, chicken casserole and cheesy bread for the main course, hearty bean for the soup, apples, oranges and bananas for desert. There was already a long line of people waiting to eat.
At 6PM sharp, Leonardo gave the word in a loud voice that dinner was about to begin and pointed at a woman on our team, Dawna, to say the prayer. She did a marvelous job blessing the food and everyone there.
With the saying of the “Amen”, the line started to move and we began to fill the plates with either of the salads, or both, and cheesy bread (which filled the air and smelled delicious) and chicken casserole. Some just happily received their food as served, others were more specific in what they wanted and we happily complied to their requests—more dressing, less salad, cheesy bread under the casserole, etc.
I particularly wanted them to feel that they were in control, to have their meal exactly as they like it, since when you’re hungry and struggling, control is the last thing you feel you have.
There were all kinds of faces, female and male, black, white and Hispanic, those who had just seemingly recently fell on hard times and those that had not yet seen their break in life. Many smiled back when we smiled, others were more serious since they probably had no reason to smile in a while.
Everyone sat at their tables in dining area, café style, colorful flowers on the tables. It was very orderly, many were talking as they ate, others eating in deep contemplation, really appreciating the delicious food they had just received.
There were a couple of medical personnel inside the dining area to address any concerns the guests might have.
The potato salad and cheesy bread were big hits. Some people asked, “Can I have another apple?” Then at 7PM sharp Leonardo called out loudly “Dinner is over”.
It was time to put all the unused food away and begin the extensive clean up— all trays and utensils were brought to the sink and the walls and counter tops were wiped down. And finally every square inch of the floor would be mopped with hot soapy water.
Cleanliness was stressed as part of our instructions. We were to leave it in immaculate condition for the next day of meals.
While we had served the food, there were a whole group of volunteers, mostly students, in the dining area, who were cleaning off the tables and sweeping the floor. And at 7 pm, they began to move the chairs and tables in order to do a full sweep before the mops were brought out.
The soapy mops and buckets were prepared and rolled out to the dining area and the kitchen.
I volunteered to mop the kitchen and serving area. I happen to love mopping because it brings me peace. Maybe it’s the orderliness and cleanliness aspect of it. Maybe it’s the repetitive motion that is calming.
When all of the areas had been mopped, we collected outside of Leonardo’s office and I happened to talk to one of the students who had kept the dining area so clean, a young woman, Nicole O., a business major from Highpoint University in North Carolina. Through a program connected with her sorority (Gamma-Delta), she was committing a whole semester to perform community service.
She stated that she wants to be an entrepreneur. I cannot tell you how impressed I was with her and her desire to give back. I have no doubt that she will achieve her goals and something tells me she will EXCEED them.
We appreciated the experience so much, we have committed to going back on a regular basis. In fact, we just went back Monday January 11th (see the photos below) and we have a date set in February as well.
It’s a simple formula.
Happiness = Gratitude + Saying Thank you + Serving Others + Staying in Action.
With Martin Luther King Day on Monday, January 18th, make it a DAY ON, instead of a DAY OFF—-a DAY OF SERVICE.
Be the Change You Seek.
You can learn more about Elijah’s Promise and how you can help here.
Here is the TCGi Team (Victor, Sandyha, Dawna) with that evening’s service manager, Kyle. And Sandyha gives two thumbs up while Dawna sweeps.