Blessed | Volunteer Day @ Exodus Foundation

[Originally posted on March 9, 2016 on my website. Copying it over onto this one for archiving.]

Amidst the chaos and hectic times in the office, my team (half) and I spent the day away from the office, volunteering. Today we had the pleasure of volunteering at the Exodus Foundation @ Ashfield, Sydney. The timing’s actually pretty great, in the spirit of Lent.

Expectations

Let me start with the fact that I don’t think I really knew what to expect from today. I have done volunteering before, but I’ve never had a chance to volunteer as a Kitchen Hand, let alone actually being in the kitchen – i.e. not just serving the food. I guess in all sincerity, I thought that this day would just be one of those days that will be a ‘tick in the box’ kind of things from a performance or corporate outcome perspective. I know that probably sounds horrible of me, but it ties in with the fact that I had no idea what to expect.

The mere fact that I have had no prior experience in the area, I guess I had to draw a lot out of stories from other people’s experiences, movies & TV shows. It also doesn’t help that all I really knew about the charity was whatever was written on their website, which I read on my way to the venue. 

I mean really, I had no leg to stand on in terms of expectations.

Tasks – what I actually did

  • Food preparation such as chopping fruits (Avocados, Lime) & vegetables (Spring Onions/Shallots) in preparation for meals to be served over the following days; and blitzing up Lime & Avocados (not sure what for exactly, but potentially for a spread over toast for tomorrow’s Breakfast service?).
  • Dishwashing duties – this one’s pretty self-explanatory. I got to use a commercial/industrial dishwasher/sink area (yes the one with the spray-y, shower-y things!). The trays and other kitchen tools were huge and challenging to handle, but not too bad.
  • Cleaning up. As with any task, there is always a clean-up that needs to be done. Again, having no experience working in the kitchen, I guess I didn’t realise how thorough it had to be – i.e. not just wiping down the benches we worked on, but also the shelves underneath, taking the things stored on these shelves – wipe them down – then put everything back. I mean in hindsight it makes sense, it has to comply with policies and health standards.
  • FOH – Serving/Greeting. Italicising this section out because I didn’t really get an opportunity to do these as I was not FOH. A couple of my colleagues got a chance to do it and they seemed to really enjoy it too – perhaps it’s because they are naturals at striking up a conversation?

Retrospect
Today was truly one of those days wherein you are reminded of just how blessed you are and how much you have to be grateful for.

From Mondays to Fridays (and increasingly over the weekends as well): I wake up; make myself a coffee (or buy one at the office); whip something up for breakfast (or buy some on the way); head to work; stay in the office for an average of 8-10 hours everyday (with lunch in between); head home; cook some dinner (or order in/dine out); rest; head to the gym; have a shower; go to bed; wake up and repeat the same routine the following day.

On these days, I know that at some point I whinge about any of the following – some more often than the others, some verbally, some internally.

  • I didn’t have enough time to have breakfast.
  • I am so tired because didn’t get enough sleep.
  • My trains are delayed and I will get to the office/home later than expected.
  • Why is there no aircon on this train?
  • It’s boiling outside, I don’t want to go out for lunch.
  • Work is stressing me out, there’s so many things to do, there are so many issues.
  • I’m going to be stuck in the office until night time – I’m going to have to work beyond the ‘8 hours’.
  • What am I going to have for breakfast/lunch/dinner?
  • I’m not going to have time to just sit down and chill tonight.
  • I can’t make it to the gym today because I’m too tired/lazy.
  • Is it pay week? Did I get paid today?
  • *whinge about someone who annoyed me today*

After hearing about stories from the people who visit the charity and the rationale behind the charity & its ‘open door policy’, it became more prominent to me – there are people who are having worse days than me (in fact, my ‘bad days’ are incomparable to what other people are going through). I was reminded of the fact that my ‘problems’ are trivial and in fact, for every ‘problem’ I’ve listed above, there are equivalent questions from the less fortunate.

  • I didn’t have enough time to have breakfast. There are people who don’t even know if they will have breakfast today. 
  • I am so tired because didn’t get enough sleep. There are people who roam the streets at night, looking for a place to sleep – there are those that don’t find one and sleep on the streets. How comfortable do you think that can be? 
  • My trains are delayed and I will get to the office/home later than expected. There are people who can’t afford to pay for transportation and have to walk to get to their destinations – no matter how far that may be. 
  • Why is there no aircon on this train? Air conditioning is a luxury.
  • It’s boiling outside, I don’t want to go out for lunch. Those that are homeless don’t have a place to shelter themselves from the heat. 
  • Work is stressing me out, there’s so many things to do, there are so many issues.At least you have a job – there are people who struggle to land a job. Some people don’t even get an opportunity to work, and it’s not that they don’t have the skills, but because they don’t have the means to do so. 
  • I’m going to be stuck in the office until night time – I’m going to have to work beyond the ‘8 hours’. There are people who spend all their days and nights merely trying to get by, to find a means of living. 
  • What am I going to have for breakfast/lunch/dinner? There are people who don’t get a choice – let alone know if they’ll even have meals today. 
  • I’m not going to have time to just sit down and chill tonight. The less fortunate don’t really have ‘time to chill’ – they worry all the time. 
  • I can’t make it to the gym today because I’m too tired/lazy. Kinda seems unfair to be ‘lazy’ when access to the gym is a luxury. 
  • Is it pay week? Did I get paid today? At least you have regular income. You can afford to live pay check to pay check if you had to. Others either have to rely on their government allowance, and for most people, these aren’t enough to make ends meet. 
  • *whinge about someone who annoyed me today* Some people long to have company. You should be grateful that human interaction for you comes easy. Your socioeconomic status does not deter you from holding a conversation. 

These are all so silly that I shouldn’t need to attend a Volunteer Day to realise these things!

It wasn’t so much what I did today that prompted these thoughts and reminders but really the idea and rationale behind why The Exodus Foundation exists. Why there is a growing need to open our doors to the homeless, to the needy. It baffles me that there are only 3 paid staff members running the foundation, and the rest of it lies in the hands of volunteers – it survives on a volunteer-centric model. I can only imagine what it’s like on days were 300+ people turn up and there are no volunteer groups that show up like they did today? Would they need to be doing the kitchen duties AND serving as well?! I guess it’s a two-part bafflement:

  1. A volunteer-centric model means that there are enough people who have volunteered over the years that the foundation can actually build a model around it! Its relationships with enterprises such as my employer assist in keeping its services going – and that in itself is a wonderful thought.
  2. 3 paid staff members only = 3 very driven and passionate staff members. They know that there may be days where they get less help than usual – but they soldier on, they keep going. Business as usual. If they get volunteers, great, if not, it’s okay. They are also the most welcoming people as well!

p.s. amongst all the deep thoughts and things I took away from the experience,  I thoroughly enjoyed working alongside a chef! It felt like I was in Masterchef or MKR HQ! Also… I managed to get some cooking tips! 🙂

I thank God for truly blessing me and my family, especially for giving me the opportunity to not only have a job I love, but for giving me the courage to jump into unknown territories such as today’s experiences. I also thank God for the beautiful and welcoming souls of those running The Exodus Foundation, keeping it going.

-A

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