Why I Give… And Why You Should Too

Donation bins sit empty outside St. Vincent’s food pantry in downtown Reno. Picture courtesy Taylor Harkrader.

I remember being annoyed. My grandparents had promised me they would take me out to lunch, they often took me out to try to find the best burger. But this time, we had to make a stop before we could go. We had to stop at their church’s food pantry.

At the time, all I wanted was my burger. I was impatiently helping my grandpa pack grocery bags with peanut butter, bread, pasta, veggies, and canned goods.

My grandpa explained to me that there were two different types of bags, those for people with access to common kitchen appliances, and those without. That was when I first realized hunger is bigger than I thought. I was only in junior high, but it hit me hard. Ton of bricks hard.

I was always raised to give back. My parents are both extremely kind individuals that always valued giving back. But I always pictured the hungry as the people on the street, the homeless community. While they do represent a chunk of the hungry population, there is a group we often fail to talk about; not everyone that is hungry is homeless.

My high school English teacher used to tell a story of his volunteer experience at a soup kitchen while he was a student at Santa Clara. He saw a man in a Santa Clara sweatshirt, and started a conversation. The man wasn’t here to volunteer, he was here for food. The man wasn’t a Santa Clara fan, he was a graduate. His father had been sick, so he took time off work to care for him. His father passed away, and when he went back to his job it wasn’t there for him.

A graduate of one of the best colleges on the west coast, eating at a soup kitchen.

I asked my grandpa how some people had a kitchen but no food, I thought everyone that was hungry was homeless. He explained how some people fall on tough times, and have to choose between things like keeping their house or car or nice clothes or heating their home or eating.

My grandpa went to tell me how people are embarrassed. They are not homeless, how could they tell their friends they’re out of a job? So they keep up appearances. They pay the rent so the neighbors don’t talk. They drop their kids off at school in the still-pretty-new car. They wear their favorite suit to a friend’s party. But they’re hungry.

My teacher said we never know everyone’s story. It is impossible to know someone’s demons they fight every day. So we serve. We give back whenever possible. We give back whatever possible. We give back to whoever possible.

My grandpa and my teacher both made one thing clear; there are always people that need help, but you can’t help them alone. That’s why we have to help local soup kitchens and food pantries.

I have given change to the man pushing the shopping cart, the one a dozen parents told their kids to avoid making eye contact with. I have given leftover food to the woman curling up in a ball trying to preserve every last bit of heat. I have gone home feeling good about it too. But did my coins feed that man? Did a couple bites of a burger and fries keep that woman warm through the night?

It might make me feel good, but those small encounters are not enough. Volunteering for a few hours at a soup kitchen is. So is donating canned goods to a food pantry. There are a half dozen places to volunteer in downtown Reno alone.

So serve if you can. Because like my teacher said, there may come a day when you’re in the soup kitchen looking for dinner, and you’d better hope there’s someone there to serve you.