Independence, MO – The Beem family spent a morning last month boxing food at Harvesters Community Food Network. Kate, who has volunteered nearly a decade for the organization, was determined to get us there.
It was an experience we’ll not soon forget.
After checking in, we were ushered into the volunteer orientation room. We joined work teams from Sprint, Hallmark, Yellow Roadways, and Girl and Boy Scout troops.
After our orientation, a volunteer guide led us to the large food assembly center. Then she explained our jobs.
Our first task was to assemble and fill boxes with packages of stuffing. The stuffing was on large plastic skids, which we carried to separate stacking carts after emptying them.
The stuffing job took more than two hours. It was hot, physical work.
Next we assembled more boxes to hold different kinds of bread. Our volunteer guide explained the 12 bread categorizes and showed us how to place labels on boxes. The bread-sorting job was mentally challenging. We had to be on our toes and ready to lend one another a helping hand.
Our shift passed quickly, and it was soon time for the next crew of volunteers. We would have happily kept working and talked on the way to the car about what a great time we’d had.
I’ve been thinking about our Harvesters experience. Several things stand out.
I was impressed by the number of volunteers on which Harvesters relies and the efficiency with which they’re managed. The people who oriented and guided us were volunteers themselves, which is especially impressive given the volume and scale of Harvesters food intake, sorting and distribution operation.
I suspect the financial impact of Harvesters’ volunteers is significant. U.S. taxpayers gave $290 billion to nonprofits in 2010, and the dollars saved through volunteers’ service undoubtedly increases the total impact of philanthropy.
I also was surprised by how meaningful the Harvesters volunteer experience was to our kids. During lunch afterward, our 9-year-old asked who receives the food Harvesters distributes, and our 14-year-old brainstormed ways to raise money for the organization.
Our mealtime conversation reminded me of a truism I share with the nonprofits Hartsook counsels: Involvement leads to investment. Our kids had just finished their first Harvesters volunteer shift, and they were already eager to give back to the organization.
Kate suggested we volunteer at Harvesters. The fact that she recommended the organization for our family volunteer day is significant.
It affirms a finding in Bank of America’s most recent philanthropy study. The study reports that people who volunteer for a nonprofit at least 200 hours a year – which Kate does for Harvesters – are most likely to ask others to give to the organization.
I’m glad we worked as a family at Harvesters. We were reminded what an essential service it provides and gained a greater understanding of how many people in our community are hungry.
It’s also good to see the seeds of service begin to take root and grow in our kids. All three have asked if we can volunteer at Harvesters again, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.
Most of all, our experience reminded me how much people gain from giving. We gave a few hours to an important organization, and we’re all better because of it.