This past week, I had the chance to do some volunteering. Specifically, my students and I packed food (vitamins, veggies, soy, rice) to be sent around the world to feed the chronically malnourished. We rolled up our sleeves and then got FDA compliant. That meant removing everything from Fitbits to earrings and then scrubbing up. And, of course, donning hairnets. While the two truths about hairnets that cannot be overstated enough are that they are shockingly hot and sometimes itchy, these are five other things I learned from wearing a hairnet all morning.
1. We glamorize hard work.
I have a separate post in the works on this, but here’s the short version of it. Any type of manual labor is hard. Really, really hard. If someone tells you otherwise, they haven’t been working at it long enough. How do I know? I was that person for about 20 minutes. For the first fifty or so bags that I sealed, I was running on optimism and enthusiasm and Carly Rae Jepson tunes. (It wasn’t my playlist but I happily bopped along.) I was contemplating a career change. It was refreshing. It was exciting. It was great.
Then, it wasn’t. My fingers started to blister, my fellow packers started to stall and lose steam, and to be quite honest, I was alternating between bouts of boredom and exhaustion. Thankfully, since I was one adult working with nine teens, I had plenty of problem-solving and troubleshooting to keep my mind occupied for most of the shift. As I packed, I kept trying to imagine doing this day in and day out. It led me to one realization. People who glamorize hard physical work don’t do it anymore if they ever did it at all. Manual laborers don’t have the time or energy to wax poetic about their daily lives. When I was stocked books, hand-sold new titles, and fished pantyhose out of the toilet in the public restroom, I didn’t blog about my stint as a minimum wage laborer. I worked my magic with a makeshift plunger and promptly repressed that memory. It was the only way my mind would allow me to punch that same time clock the following day. I also suspect that many of us who don’t perform manual labor all day every day hold hunches that we would be very good at it. Instead of guesses and hunches and stuff, what we need is a reality check. And I got one.
2. Being sick is a huge hurdle.
I hate being sick. It is a colossal pain to write sub plans, nevermind the weird politics and retirement red tape. There is no stopping a school calendar. There are curriculum maps, national testing windows, and local benchmarks to comply with. As a result, there are no throwaway days even if I’m not in house to deliver the curriculum. That means I usually spend 1-2 hours prepping my sub plans on top of the hours I’ve already spend planning the original lesson.
That is my usual perspective on illness. But I now have a new appreciation of subs and my sick bank. One of the first things to greet us was the notice that if we had been sick with coughing, fever, vomiting, or diarrhea in the past 24 hours, we were unable to pack. For many workers, not working means not getting paid. There are no federal laws regarding paid sick leave. While some of us might be tempted to just suck it up and go to work sick, there was no way that I was getting anywhere near the food with a cough. The room supervisors were so vigilant, as they should be. Nobody wants their meal to come with a heaping of cooties, thankyouverymuch. So even if I was willing to work while I was ill, there are many jobs where that simply isn’t possible. The big takeaway here is that the next time Teacher Penny is sick, she can just shut her pie hole.
3. Yes, organizations need donations of time.
Organizations like this run on the backs of volunteers. Okay, they run on hands for scooping, weighing, measuring, sealing, and packing. They also need muscle to transport packed boxes and distribute raw materials on an ongoing basis. Plus, they also need careful labeling to help with logistics.
The honest to goodness truth is that they are always looking for volunteers. And volunteers do important work. Our group packed over 200 boxes of food. That might not seem like much until you remember that each box contained 36 packs of food. So those 200 boxes delivered over 45,000 meals and kept more than 120 kids fed for a year. That is something worth celebrating.
4. But they still need money more.
The entire chart is worth celebrating. But the most important number is at the bottom. That one packing event cost over $10,000. This charity is top-rated by Charity Navigator in terms of giving over 90% of the donations collected straight to feeding children. No donations? No food. It’s as simple as that.
Skeptics tend to assert that they won’t give money because they can’t be sure where it really goes. Do your research online. Work with charities directly. Ask hard questions and demand proof. Then, swallow your skepticism and accept this reality: Without funding, charitable organizations simply can’t run. The end.
Related Post: You Don’t Have to Give, But You Absolutely Should
5. I am not doing enough.
One of the last things that you do when your shift ends is watch a video reminding you of how important the work you just did is. Truth be told, I’ve volunteered here before, so I knew what to expect. I was going to see a once-malnourished child who was now thriving thanks to the food he or she received. What I didn’t realize was that now that I am a mom who is all too familiar with low gestational birth weight and babies and growth charts and percentiles and pounds, I would be absolutely devastated by the two-year-old child who weighed ten pounds.
That’s when something became crystal clear. It had been far too long since I had volunteered at this organization. It had been far too long since I had volunteered at any organization. The problem with doing a job that you are passionate about is that it is easy to get so wrapped up in, so consumed by it, that you forget that you can and should do more.
Related Post: Doubting Your Charitable Giving
I can help beyond my classroom walls. While it is true that our giving budget mirrors our grocery budget for each month, it has also been far too long since we have worked to grow this number. I spend so much time looking at ways to slash expenses and beef up our savings and smash our debt. Instead of giving myself a pass because we give more than some, I am now inspired to optimize not just to do more for myself and my immediate family but to do more for as many people as I can.
So Tell Me…What is your favorite way to give back? When was the last time you learned something unexpected?