I volunteered last Thursday, walking people through the food pantry, keeping track of their points, because we didn’t have enough other volunteers. The food pantry is just like a grocery store. Clients can choose their own food based upon a point system that is roughly equal to dollars.
My second client is a young Hispanic woman who doesn’t speak English. She smiles politely whenever I ask a question. Her two or three year old son sits in the front of the cart. I can’t get him to smile. I have little patience for kids lately and figure it must be his naptime.
I gesture wildly to try and explain what I’m saying, realize the same smile remains on her face, and pull what little Spanish I know out of memory. Packs of Jello are 3 packs for 1 point. I can’t remember the last time I’ve eaten Jello.
“Tres por uno punto” I say.
I tickle her son as she chooses among the different flavors. Nothing. I think he actually glares at me. I decide I don’t care if the little monster smiles or not. At least he’s not screaming.
I volunteer when I forget why I do what I do. When no money has come in for our campaign and my committee members don’t return my phone calls. When I decide to ignore the piles that need to be filed and I can’t stand one more minute in my office.
Recent studies, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports, show “donating to charity activates the same brain responses that evoke the pleasurable sensations associated with sex.” Which is why when everything goes so wrong, giving is oh-so-right. Philanthropy is like sex. I can equate just about everything to sex, so this doesn’t surprise me. With philanthropy and sex there are two universal truths:
It’s no longer fashionable to wait.
Despite statistics that show Generation Y is one of the most involved, I still run into young workers who aren’t on the pleasure train. You don’t have to be rich or bored to make a difference. Too many people believe they will wait “until…”, to donate or volunteer: until you’re successful, until you have time, until your loans are paid off, until you make enough money, until you move, until the mortgage is paid, until the kids are grown, until you die.
Truth is, there’s never a good enough time to start. Like exercise (or sex!), philanthropy should be part of your daily regime to become a better person.
The more you give, the more you receive.
A local philanthropist I know tells about the difference between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. While both seas are fed by the same river, the Dead Sea is oppressively dark and people drive miles out of their way to avoid it. The Sea of Galilee, on the other hand, is clear and beautiful. The only difference between the two is that the Dead Sea takes in everything it receives and nothing is given away. The Sea of Galilee, however, has an outlet, and for every drop that comes into the sea, another drop is given away.
Volunteering or donating helps the person you give to and by giving, you feel good as well. The pleasure of giving is at once both selfishly indulgent and selflessly divine.
I’m not thinking about any of this, however, as I walk the mother and son through the last aisle in the pantry. I’m anxious to leave and I watch the clock, worrying if I will make it to the post office on time after work.
The mother finds some cheddar cheese in the cooler, as her son plays with one of the jello boxes. I hold onto one end of the box and shake it lightly back and forth in his hand, whispering “cha-cha-cha.” His eyes light up and he smiles. Finally. Then I smile too. And what do you know, that makes my day.