June 11, 2018 – The Power of Volunteers

The first time I volunteered for the Community Kitchen, it was because a friend of mine asked me if I would help with the Kitchen’s first Art Auction fundraiser.

I had never volunteered for a service agency before, probably for the selfish reason of hoarding my time.  But my friend is a good salesman and convinced me that serving food and cleaning up at the Auction would be a lot of fun.

The event was great.  It was held in the ballroom at Fountain Square.  Excellent food was donated by local restaurants.  If I recall, a couple of musical groups entertained while attendees milled about the room angling for the last chance to bid on donated pieces from local artists.  At the end of the night, the volunteers were allowed to take home the leftover wine!

That was 1999, and I’ve been involved with the Kitchen ever since, serving as a board member and volunteering my time for various fundraisers.

It is interesting to think that had my friend not invited me to volunteer for the auction, I might not be involved with the Kitchen at all.  I wonder how many other volunteers have similar stories that start off as “just this once” and turn into a heartfelt dedication.

Did someone sign up at the farmer’s market to volunteer because the person at the sign-up table made eye contact?  How many have seen a Facebook post, clicked the link and found themselves registering on our volunteer page?  Which attendee at one of our fundraising events was impressed by the dedicated volunteers?  Perhaps you know the retiree who was looking to stay active and make a difference?

Who came with their parents to serve a Thanksgiving meal years ago, and now brings their children to do the same?

Who volunteered on Martin Luther King Day, and then came back the next week?

Who ate a meal that the Kitchen provided and chose to volunteer as a sign of thanks?

In a normal month the Kitchen might receive around 1,400 volunteer hours from roughly 325 different volunteers.  Those are 325 amazing stories of people giving their time and energy for the Kitchen.  For each story of how they got there, there is a story of how they impact the community, the Kitchen and some of our most at-need residents.

For starters, volunteers in March saved the Kitchen about $14,000 in wages.  That’s equivalent to about half the monthly payroll.  Put another way, payroll would be almost $300,000 higher annually if the Kitchen had to hire staff where volunteers currently serve.  That amount of additional payroll would crush the Kitchen’s finances and greatly reduce our ability to effectively administer our current programs.

Many of our volunteers come back for multiple shifts through the year.  Many are weekly volunteers.  Some may wash dishes more often here than at home!  That familiarity with the Kitchen’s programs ensures the Kitchen’s success.  In the same way that long term employees like Vicki, Tim and Adam bring efficiency and productivity to the Kitchen, multi-shift volunteers make the Kitchen run smoother.

Our volunteers also come from a variety of professions and walks of life, and those life experiences are intertwined with our patrons, staff, community partners, and everyone else they interact with.  They bring new life and energy to the Kitchen, and take home a new and changed attitude.  They make the Kitchen a community. They make it stronger.

Our volunteers have lives outside the Kitchen, so when they spend time here, they are doing so out of a desire to serve.  They want to be here.  They will tend to talk about their experiences with others.  They tell our story to people that the board or staff members perhaps don’t interact with on a regular basis.  Our volunteers are the Kitchen’s ambassadors.

At a recent Board meeting I asked how many board members had volunteered for the Kitchen before becoming a board member.  Almost every hand went up.  We have had board members volunteer because a work colleague did, or a spouse did, or a parent or grand parent did, or because they were new to town and were looking for an opportunity to make a difference.

Everyone knows that some of the best stories are told around the kitchen table.  I invite you to come sit at the proverbial Kitchen table and tell your volunteer story.

Who knows, maybe your story will also begin “I prepped food and cleaned up at a fundraiser because a friend said “c’mon it will be fun!””

Jim Becker, Board Member

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