Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Forging Community

Two years ago, I was having coffee with a friend (now, sadly, deceased) and he asked if I would come help him out at the Rainbow Kitchen. He was the lead cook for the day, and claimed that he wasn't sure he'd have enough help. I agreed, we went down, and about an hour and a half after getting there, I was asked if I could be lead cook two weeks on. I hadn't even known if I was coming back!
Well, four months later and I was being asked to be the Kitchen coordinator, a position I held for about 8 months. Simultaneously with my leaving, the Kitchen closed for two months while it was being transferred to Esquimalt United church, as the Anglican diocese had sold the previous home.
Being coordinator changed my morning habits quite a bit--which was noticed by the staff at my local Starbucks. I chatted about what I was doing, and eventually started getting the occasional donation from the staff. It really took off when I ran a program to try and get reusable mugs into the hands of the Kitchen's clients. Starbucks was a big contributor to that.
When the Kitchen re-opened, the manager of my local, Leanne, suggested that maybe her staff could adopt the Rainbow Kitchen as their volunteer cause. We hashed it out, and worked out that Starbucks (which actively encourages community volunteering) staff would come in one evening a month and prepare a make-ahead meal to help out the kitchens regular volunteers. This wasn't unheard of: a local tai chi school also does a once-a-month make-ahead lasagna. It's a way of helping out when you can't get volunteers there between 8:00 am and 2:00 pm. And the volunteers appreciate it as well, as it takes quite a bit of stress off of them.
This has been going on for most of a year now, and with Leanne's pushing, staff from several stores now show up and have a great time prepping a meal.  They have a lot of fun, there's a lot of team-building going on, and the teams can put together a full meal in two hours and always leave the Kitchen cleaner than they found it.
About a month ago, Leanne asked me if there was anything they could do around the Christmas season. After some brainstorming, we decided on presents. The local stores put out donation baskets, asking for things like toiletries, toques, mittens, socks, and the like. On the 15th, the donation boxes arrived at the Kitchen, along with a large group of volunteers. We spent about 3.5 hours sorting donations (with additional donations from the United Church Compassion Warehouse), packing them in shoe boxes, and then wrapping them.

Starbucks volunteers December 15th
There's 125+ presents boxed and wrapped behind them. That's a lot of people who'll get an extra present this holiday season. Why? Because communities are forged from small actions, by individuals, by caring.
This is a small example. Because I like to talk to people, I end up involved. Then I talk with others, and they get involved. This is the secret: Have fun. Spread love. Do one small thing. Because when you do, bigger things happen.
There was a Margret Mead quote on the wall of the old Kitchen. It said: "Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." And as Jack Layton said: "Love is stronger than hate."  Go now, and do great things.

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