There’s really only one word that I can think of to describe my day: incredible. Within 30 minutes I was able to be a part of something truly extraordinary–something that helped over 150 people and 100 children.
It started with a simple idea…
I’m currently a member of a new business group, “The Young Professionals of Austin Landing”. It consists of, you guessed it…young professionals who are working in this new business area that my company moved to earlier this year. The group has about thirty members from around a dozen different companies, formed to build community through networking, volunteering and professional development. I agreed to sit on the board specifically to organize and manage the group’s charitable activities.
With Christmas quickly approaching, the group agreed that it would be the perfect time for us to give back to our local community. The only question was how. We wanted something that wouldn’t require people to take off a lot of time from work or cost a lot of money…especially since most of our members were still early in their careers and may not have much money to contribute. It needed to be easy, but still generate siginficant results. So I had an idea….
Along with the group’s president and my co-chair, the three of us organized an event: Make a Meal, Make a Difference. Our goal was to pack lunches for 150 homeless to support St. Vincent. Here’s what we did:
- We posted sign-up sheets at each company, asking people to bring in food for the lunches–packets of lunch meat, bread, cheese, snacks, drinks and all the materials to pack them. Why this was important: it meant that people only needed to spend a few dollars to really contribute.
- We set up tables in one of the building’s lobby with assembly line stations to get everything packed and ready as quickly as possible. Why this was important: it meant that people didn’t need to leave thier office or being away from work for very long.
- We opened up the event to all employees working in the office complexs, regardless if they were part of our young professionals group…we wanted everyone to have an opportunity to help and be a part of the fun.
A week before the event, we realized we had a problem…although it was a very good problem to have. Our little idea had exploded and we actually had more volunteers than we needed. I’ve always believed that people want to help others, they want to make a difference…it’s just sometimes they don’t know where to start. If you ask someone to help, more times than not…they will. And they did.
So in addition to just packing lunches, our event grew and we were able to help even more. One of the companies decided to make a generous donation and purchased books for every child that is currently staying at the homeless shelter so we set up gift wrapping stations too.
A new perspective…
The day of the event we had over 50 people show up and within just 30 minutes we made 300 sandwiches and wrapped 100 books. In addition, people brought extra donations–canned food, coats and more. In the end, it took 5 cars to deliver everything to the shelter…and the delivery was an experience.
I had been to the shelter just two weeks ago (see my post, “The 3 Hours that Changed My Life“) so I didn’t expect to be emotional when I was there for the second time. I was wrong. Six of us went to the shelter and the Director was there to meet us. She wanted to give us a full tour of the facility so we could get a better understanding of all they did and how our donation was going to help. It was eye opening to say the least. Last time I was there I only saw the kitchen…this time I saw the living quarters.
She took us to a huge room–probably the size of a large cafeteria. Row after row cots were set up…the night before they housed 425 people. Since this shelter was for families, most had two beds pulled together…many with a cradle by the end. Along the wall I looked up and saw something that broke my heart: crayon-drawn pictures taped up above one of the beds…a collection of little masterpieces. It was this image that made me realize the obvious: this was someone’s home. This little corner in this room shared with hundreds of strangers…this is where a family lives. I imagined the parents–trying thier best to make it feel like thier own for their children.
Today I had so many emotions…I was proud of my company and my team for what we were able to accomplish…I was saddned by the reality that there are so many people who literally have nothing…but I think most of all, I was thankful and reminded of how lucky and blessed I am. I have a home…I have food on the table…I have a huge support system with family and close friends. I have so much.
Next time I complain or wish I had more, I hope I remember today…I hope I never forget those crayon-colored pictures taped over that bed.