During a recent writers' meeting for this magazine, it was suggested, and wholeheartedly agreed upon, that we should write with a "moving forward and leaving the pandemic behind us" stance. We often hear the phrase about when COVID is in our rearview mirror and I totally get that. But as with all experiences, we are shaped and moved by them. I for one gained much that I wish to hold on to while moving happily along unencumbered by masks and fear. During the past year and a half, I was introduced to volunteer work. Oh I was no stranger to working, marching, petitioning various "causes," but simply signing up to give time to a group of folks packing and handing out food to those in need was new to me.
I have been torn between my desire to altruistically perform volunteer work without recompense or recognition and my pleasure in feeling better about myself and proud. Mother Theresa, I am not; but I credit my folks for giving me a fairly reliable moral compass that I use to balance my selfish leanings. But there was no way not to have a great time during these volunteer gigs—I met so many good people and am delighted to have snagged some excellent new friends from this pool of humanity. I might have been part of something important, but all I know for certain is that I had a ball. Now here is the rub—is it okay to have this much fun during trying times? And my answer, after much deliberation, is heck yeah! If enjoyment gave me sanity during these obscene times, then I will light a candle to the saints for allowing me to participate.
So whether I am answering a call from my better angels or heeding the roar of my inner social animal, I am hooked. And as long as the current organizations I have lent a hand to have room for me to show up, I will. Even if the needs of the community they address reach fulfillment, I will look for other volunteer venues. One often leads to another. My new friend Donna, aka Volunteer Donna (as I list her in my cell phone), is a motivating force of goodwill and damn fun to be with. We met with Culture Aid and, from there, she enlisted me to work with her a couple of mornings a week at a check-in/drop-off spot for chefs and restaurant owners to bring food for the hungry. It was a win/win for our restaurant industry as they were able to make money and help feed our food-insecure community. AND I got lots of great conversations, camaraderie, gossip, and…another new friend, Danny (a powerhouse of positivity, wry humor, and a kick-ass playlist of tunes), who oversees our intake of food deliveries. All the while I just sat on my lard-ass and jotted down weights and temps of food! Wanna volunteer? Sometimes you don't even break a sweat.
My dad was really big on volunteering, especially after he retired (retirement is such a subjective term—he was far from sittin' in a rocking chair). And I know he felt it was the right thing to do, but now I know he had a blast doing it. I suspect he would agree that service to others can be, should be, self-serving also. And with this incentive of finding fulfillment, new friends, new skills, and the pleasure of passin' a good time, a volunteer tends to stay committed, rain or shine. And they show up ready to work! The folks I volunteer with are such a blast that I look forward to these days with such enthusiasm that getting up at the crack of dawn is worth it!
Enough of me and my experiences—time for me to share some volunteer links and suggestions. There is something for everyone. Think of what you are passionate about and then find an outlet for that drive. There are many causes out there to pledge time to, many needs within our community to assist. Do you love movies, music, parks, animals, the arts? How about Jazz Fest (jazzandheritage.org/get-involved)? Are you a film buff (neworleansfilmsociety.org/jobs/)? If community supported radio is your groove, then lend a hand to WWOZ (wwoz.org/wwoz-volunteers), or, if you are a PBS freak like me, then reach out to our local WYES via this email to volunteer (firstname.lastname@example.org). My personal favorite pick for assistance to cats is trapdatcat.org/volunteer. Food insecurity is a chronic issue and there are numerous organizations to lend a hand to: Culture Aid NOLA (Erica is at the helm and has given me a rewarding year and half of feel-good opportunities in volunteerism) and, of course, the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic does it all for our culture bearers.
I could go on and on with suggestions but I shall turn it over to my sidekick Mr. Google to help you navigate the many worthy organizations and groups out there in need of your time. And remember: we can save the world and have a good time doing it!