This is what Brother Doug Walsh said to us before we set off to distribute the food from the Vinnie’s Soup Van. I took this on board, but didn’t fully understand the true meaning of it until I’d volunteered a couple of times on the streets and in the boarding houses.
Having never volunteered before, I was unsure and a little apprehensive about what to expect the first time I helped out on the street. After first helping to cook and prepare the food (a chaotic – yet successful production line!) We set off in the van headed for the street with alan, an 80+ year old volunteer behind the wheel. We learnt so much from Alan as he told us stories about all the people he’s met and friendships he’s formed through volunteering. The streets loop was 5 stops, and at each stop a crowd of people were eagerly awaiting. In the beginning I found the number of people overwhelming, but Alan helped to control the crowd and ensure everyone got some food. What surprised me on the streets was just how gracious people were. One particular night we had a lot of food generously donated, so we were able to offer people as much as they could carry. What I didn’t expect was that the majority of people just took one item, the same as they normally would, and say ‘save some for everybody else,’ and ‘I’ll just take enough to get me by.’
Another night, I volunteered to deliver the food to the boarding houses and distribute it. I enjoyed this more than the streets, as you stood with people as they ate, and really had the time to have a conversation with them. It’s amazing how easy it is to talk to people you thought you had nothing in common with. We went from door to door, lead by Michael – who has been volunteering for many years. At each door he knew the person, their story, and what footy team they barracked for, and would always finish the conversation with, “see you next week – looking forward to it”; which gave each person a smile, some comfort and a sense of belonging – things that are often missing in their lives – things that we take for granted. Going straight from a busy day at work – into a boarding house and talking with people for a couple of hours – many of whom this is their only conversation for the day – really puts everything into perspective. It makes you feel incredibly lucky for what you have – but also helps you realise that money, possessions and jobs aren’t everything, as all it takes to brighten someone’s day is a conversation – and handing over food is the perfect vehicle to do this.
I would strongly recommend everyone to volunteer at the soup van at least once in their lives – you don’t know what you’re missing out on until you experience it for yourself.