I couldn't wait to help out at the annual Food and Clothing Drive my church was about to host. I knew some of our Outreach guests planned to attend the event, and I wanted to be a familiar face in a sea of people. (It’s a huge event)
As a volunteer in the Outreach room for the last three years, I have developed relationships with our guests. It’s a beautiful and rewarding thing to watch someone’s eyes light up with hope as they realize that I don’t just talk to them because it’s my shift in the room, but I really am glad to see them - they really are loved and appreciated. It’s not uncommon for a person to come in to Outreach sullen, withdrawn and guarded. As they become more open and engaged, they get this life in their eyes - it’s beautiful to watch, and deeply rewarding to have a part in it. (It’s sometimes a long and challenging road to get there, but I digress.)
The Food and Clothing Drive presented a unique opportunity to meet them in their circumstance outside of the room where we normally meet. My short time there yielded some wonderful interactions.
Before I even entered the building, I saw a familiar face from Outreach. I helped her with her things, and we had a great catch-up talk. She’s been through a lot, and grown so much. I’m excited to watch that growth, and so glad for the chance to talk with her. We parted with smiles and hugs.
Later, inside, one person knew me but could not place me. I was invisible and familiar all at once. The conversation that followed was interesting. You know how we sometimes wish we could hear what people say about us when we’re not around? That was exactly the kind of conversation we had. It gave me a bit of a different perspective – of her, of others, and of how we (Outreach) may be seen by others.
I chatted with another woman who had come with 4 friends, some from as far as Garden Hill First Nation (by Churchill somewhere). She and I loaded bags of groceries and veggies onto a trolly as we chatted. She continued talking while crouching to stuff potatoes into the lower shelf, and I crouched too, so I could hear her. Then we just stayed that way – crouching and chatting. She shared a prayer request, and we prayed together right there in the foyer. I was intrigued by her openness.
I met several other people, including a childhood friend whose unstoppable smile has always brightened my day. Big and pregnant, holding a toddler while trying to look through clothes, she smiled and chatted, unperturbed by the toddler’s state. (He was apparently all done shopping) She makes happy look unbelievably easy. I admire that like crazy. I’m always refreshed after talking to her, and I told her so. (Which just made her smile bigger.)
And, to watch other smiling volunteers milling about, folding clothes, helping people with their bags, and chatting happily with guests, that was deeply satisfying too – we worked together. We are one big family on the same team – unified in mind and purpose, loving others as Christ loves us. Witnessing that is humbling, moving, and completely thrilling.
Too soon, it was time to pick up my children from the sitter. (Thank you, friend!) I left the building with a goofy grin on my face, swinging my tote bag like a school girl. The people I met blessed me. That seems to be the way of it – we go to bless, and are, ourselves, blessed. (Prov 11:25, Deut 15:14)