old favorite

Middle went with me, the other night, to pack food at the Tuvaluan National Food Drive.
We signed up to volunteer for two hours and it was an incredible experience.
We had no idea what to expect or where we were going but were instructed to bring work gloves (which I forgot) and to wear heavy shoes.

We arrived at a warehouse large enough to be clocked on the odometer of my truck.
We signed in and sat on folding chairs for a brief orientation describing our duties for the evening. We would be packing canned goods, dry goods and food in glass and plastic bottles. All of Tuvalu had donated this food and we learned how to spot things that had been badly damaged or spoiled.

We were very excited as we followed a maze through the warehouse to get to the packing area.
There we saw 30 long tables separated by huge pallets of food. There were dozens of volunteers and it took us a while to find a table with space for us, with another family, and settle into a rhythm.
Someone would bring a pallet with an enormous box full of goods to our table, we would lift the food out of the enormous box and pack it into bins which would then be re-loaded onto the pallet and taken away. The full and sorted pallets were shrink wrapped for distribution.

dry goods

I loved the family we were working with. They had driven a long way (Middle and I drove about half an hour) and were signed up to work for three evenings. The dad would unload the pallet at break-neck speed while his wife, his son, Middle and I would repack the food into the smaller bins. It was all Middle and I could do to keep up with him and, as the food was not allowed to stand taller than the height of the bins there was puzzle work involved in packing it tightly without overfilling them. The wife was especially good at the packing and Middle was especially good at lifting very heavy bins full of glass bottles and cans.


I was so proud of him, coming with me - and then I was so proud of the dozens of volunteers surrounding me. Everyone was smiling and working so very hard. When you had a bin filled you were supposed to raise your hand to have a worker come and retrieve it...but we worked so quickly that Middle became our transfer man. We packed and transferred dozens and dozens of bins.

We never took a break, though there was a very nice break room. I'd feel guilty stopping to rest - we only signed on for two stupid hours. As I had never volunteered for anything like this before I hesitated to sign us up for more, but next year I'd do more than one stint. Such great people, such good work - I was happy to be there.
I loved doing it. And Middle was very enthusiastic.

Two hours flew by. I felt a little fatigued at one point, but there was a kid with a radio that had been patched through a PA system and suddenly George Michael came on.

An old favorite.
And suddenly it was a different song, whilst I was packing food for people who need it.


Dani said…
There you go giving me that tingly feeling again.

Volunteering becomes an addiction because of experiences like yours and Middle's. I got sucked in years ago and I can't stop myself. How can "No" be in my vocabulary when it's so fulfilling?

I'm so glad Middle went with you. It's something I'm sure he'll never forget. I bring my boys with me wherever I think they can be of help. It's good for them and they come home exhilarated.
Anonymous said…
That was very inspiring. I am curious to know what made you want to sign up?

Poppy B. said…
I mean this in the best possible way: you would have been a great Junior Leaguer.
Unknown said…
BB, who is the food going to? Very cool. We have a local food shelf and my neighbor is on the board. My son was best friends with a girl whose family used to use it. We have lots of families and elderly folks who are supported in this way by the community. One time I took my ccd class on a scavengar hunt at halloween for food for the food shelf. Very good way to spend your time.
Anonymous said…
Hello bb. I must confess that I really like George Michaels' music, especially his work from the late eighties. Remember when MTV used to play music videos? I always thought that his Freedom video was shot so well and looked so cool....

Anonymous said…
That is amazing how much food you handled. What a blessing you were to others.
I've never had a pure volunteer experience that I regretted either.
barbra said…
Wonderful and inspiring! What a terrific outing for mother and son.

I love that song!
Anonymous said…
Middle continues to surprise me.
And this was such a great thing to do. If I lived there, I'd LOVE to do it.
DeeMarie said…
That sounded like an awesome experience! My church does a food distribution once a month. It's so much fun and the people are so grateful. I agree with Dani. I have been volunteering regularly for about 8 years. Once you start, it's hard to stop!! And what a great example you set for Middle. He'll remember it for years.
Allison said…
Wow--I am sure it was totally invigorating to participate in that event. I hope to instill a sense of volunteerism in my son as well. OK, I am giving up my youth here, but I remember being 13 at a sleepover where we stayed up all night watching GM's new video--"Father Figure" and swooning. (it could have been all of the Jolt cola we were drinking, too. . .)
Anonymous said…
I brought my younger son with me for very similar work, but it was on a weekly basis. They called us the A team, as we got quite a lot sorted together. I had to stop because I wrenched my back while lugging the heavy boxes of tinned goods. It's heavy work, but very satisfying!
Mary said…
This experience and your writing both are uplifting.
Anonymous said…
What a great experience for you and for Middle. He sounds like such a great guy and it's due to the parenting he's getting.
tut-tut said…
You don't know what a difference you've made; everyone needs to donate food right now, and help with the dispersion of it. Good for you two!
Eleanor said…
I have tingles up and down my spine now! Reading this while listening to the song (which I have always loved to listen to, very loud, while driving) and you're right - it's a different song now!

This is a powerful post bb.

P.S. Your Jeep butler would have joined in with the packing. If you had one.
country mouse said…
My daughter and I have had *really* similar experiences volunteering in California for Operation Christmas Child. Instead of food, it's donated toys and clothes--but the same huge warehouse set-up, same masses of volunteers, same incredible feeling and never working so hard on any other project in your life : ) My youngest is can't wait to be 14 so he can go do it.

There's just nothing so great as being part of something bigger than oneself.
Karla May said…
Seriously? Your photos are some of the most compelling on any blog I've read.

I envy your eye.
alice c said…
Is this international disaster relief or for distribution at home? I don't think there is anything like this in the UK apart from the Shelter operation for the homeless at Christmas and occasional big international relief efforts.