Helping out during the holidays

In the moment:

“The whole thing?”

“The whole thing.”

The other members of the Black Student Alliance (BSA) and I looked out over the vast vacant lot we’d been raking behind Midland’s Open Door’s soup kitchen and men’s shelter. All around, amber leaves glinted golden in the midafternoon light, blanketing the ground in a thick sheet. Above, still more leaves rustled in the chill air, ready to add to the pile. For a second we all stood there, dumbfounded. Then, slow but determined, we took up our rakes, gripped our leaf blowers, and got back to work. 

It wasn’t long before conversations restarted. We tugged and we lugged, we piled and pulled, chatting and laughing all the while. Though we’d been grumbling, it was nice to spend time with each other and grow closer as a group. An hour later, pink-cheeked and smiling, we folded up the tarp and admired the green grass, visible once more. Seeing all we’d done that evening gave me such a strong sense of fulfillment. We’d come into that volunteer opportunity not knowing how much raking lay in store, a surprise we’d discovered halfway through. And despite all odds, we’d cleared the entire lawn of leaves, plus the large property in the back which the Open Door hoped to use for a more modern shelter. We’d accomplished so much more than I or the Open Door had thought possible through teamwork and determination. And hearing the Open Door’s sincere gratitude for our service made me feel even more satisfied. As I walked back to my mom’s car, hands in my coat pockets to avoid the evening chill, I felt myself smile, inside and out. 

Volunteering: the hows and whys

“I felt so accomplished and so warm inside, not only because we’d raked a lot of the leaves, but because we did it so quickly, and with such happiness,” junior and BSA co-president Olivia Horne said about BSA’s volunteer raking activity. “I felt really proud of our club.”

Not only did BSA members enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that came from volunteering, but Horne also feels the two hours were a valuable team-building opportunity.

“We all got really, really close yesterday,” Horne said. “I was friends with some people, but other people I wasn’t as close with, so it was really nice that we had our little conversations and got to know each other a bit better.”

Among friends, Horne finds the volunteer experience was even more rewarding.

“When you have friends, you’re all there and you can talk about genuine things that interest you,” Horne said. “And so you feel like, ‘I’m doing this because I enjoy it, and because I’m with people that I really, really enjoy.’ It makes a huge difference.”

Developing a sense of community with their volunteer group as well as giving back to the community are key motivators for students and clubs who volunteer. During the holiday season especially, DHS’ National Honors Society (NHS) president Alex Price sees a rise in the will to volunteer.

“The season is all about giving, and giving not only means physical things, but giving back to your community as well,” Price said. “This year we definitely want to implement the community feeling a little bit more and provide more opportunities to give back to people in Midland, especially those in need at this time.”

Luckily, many opportunities for service are available to students at DHS. Countless clubs continue volunteering throughout the winter, some with service hour requirements like NHS and Key Club, and others without, such as BSA and Creative Hearts. This winter, BSA plans to join Creative Hearts in making holiday-themed nursing home decorations. Key Club will walk in the Santa Parade in addition to their other volunteering. NHS members will also continue with their nine hours of service per marking period; Price lists the Santa House, Midland’s Open Door, and the Midland Sharing Tree Project as a few special holiday volunteering events. 

And if volunteers want an experience more tailored towards their talents, the Open Door looks for volunteers with special skills as well. Whether knowledgeable about plumbing or computers, any service donated is greatly appreciated. For potential volunteers, activity plans are usually kept flexible so there’s no disappointment in not receiving their expected activity. However, in the eyes of Midland’s Open Door’s Outreach Operations Director Bob Marsh, finding a project that truly sparks the interest of the volunteer is key.

“My favorite way to engage the volunteers is to invite them over to have lunch in the soup kitchen together,” Marsh said. “We go and have lunch together in the soup kitchen one day, and take a tour of the facility, and then we discuss different opportunities and show the volunteers around the campus. These are things that I’ve done in the past and it’s what sparks the volunteers’ interest the most. Because what I really want to do is align the things that we need to get done with the interests of the volunteers. If the volunteers are happy, that’s where I’d like to focus their energy.”

For those who find volunteering isn’t their preference, there are also plenty of charity opportunities to give back to the community. Instead of volunteering, students can donate to the Midland Sharing Tree Project, either in-person or online. Students can also donate directly to the Salvation Army or United Way individually to support the community. The Open Door always welcomes in-season clothing and food donations; home-cooked meals of any cuisine are enjoyed, as well as individually wrapped baked goods. Posts on their Facebook page also outline any specific needs the Open Door has. Interested students can contact the Open Door for more information. 

At DHS, students can give through the Toys for Tots program, which will run as a donating contest between third hour classes from Nov. 21 to Dec. 2. New, unwrapped toys and gifts for children of all ages are accepted. Donations received are usually for toys for younger children, but the gifts will go to middle-schoolers and high-schoolers as well. Makeup, games, books, and anything else children or teens may enjoy are great donations. 

Business and marketing teacher Erin Royalty’s Marketing classes will also be running their annual Make-a-Wish Market from Nov. 28 till Dec. 9. Marketing students will post ads around the school and on social media for different products and services they’ll sell during this time. All proceeds will go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which aims to grant a wish for every child diagnosed with a critical illness, such as leukemia. Make-a-Wish hopes by fulfilling these dreams, sick children will find the strength to fight or even overcome their illnesses.

No matter if directly through volunteering or indirectly via donations, students possess the power to improve the lives of others and make the holidays brighter for everyone. It doesn’t have to be much; sometimes just being there and interacting with others is help enough. At the Open Door, Marsh always welcomes people to come and have a meal with the guests. It’s no inconvenience; there’s food to share and the company is appreciated. 

From Monday through Saturday, the soup kitchen starts at 11:30 am. Arriving at the porch, the only thing asked of visitors is what name they’d like to be called, so staff can keep track of the number of meals served. Then volunteers will serve food and drinks from a buffet-style spread, and visitors can sit down and chat with the guests.

“Sometimes people feel a little weird about doing that,” Marsh said. “And that’s why I invite people to come do a touring lunch with me. Then I can go with you that first time.”

After the first visit, Marsh lets mealtime visitors stop in independently. Even though Marsh won’t be there with them, visitors shouldn’t feel any hesitation to stop by whenever. Marsh hopes they do visit often.

“If you have the courage to come and do that on your own, you’re always welcome,” Marsh said. “Anybody’s welcome to come into the soup kitchen. I invite people to do that as a kind of icebreaker, to show people that, you know, these are just people no different than you and me, going through some hard times. And just to be somebody that is willing to listen, willing to smile, willing to laugh, willing to help goes so far.”

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Elisa Costeux

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