I am sedentary, sitting at my desk writing this blog. My torso is slumped in a chair, my fingers are poised over a keyboard and tapping away – because I’m a writer and a consultant, this is my normal. Yesterday, I left normal behind for a couple of hours to volunteer at Cradles to Crayons in their Giving Factory.
Several dozen volunteers listened to a brief orientation and were given our marching orders. I was directed to “shop” for children in need. One at a time, I took slips of paper from the top of a daunting stack (this is work that never ends) and learned a little about a child I would never meet.
My first assignment was to shop for “Diana,” a 2-year-old girl who wears size 2T/3T. According to her list, she needed clothing, diapers, a winter coat, and boots. I wheeled a shopping cart around the neatly organized warehouse finding the correct items in the right sizes, and packaged them together with a label so that when her social worker or case manager came to collect them, they would be ready.
I surprised myself by enjoying my shift so completely. I felt warm and fuzzy when we wrapped up and the time flew by so quickly! Driving home, I realized why the afternoon made me happy.
This volunteer job perfectly engaged the mind, body, and soul.
My brain loved the activity. I think for a living, which is highly overrated. The brain needs balance – it likes to work, but not too much. Shopping for Diana and the many, many other children demanded attention to detail but wasn’t overly taxing. It was focused work but not intellectually challenging work. If my brain were doing aerobics, it would still be able to maintain a conversation. I had just spent 2 hours in a cerebral sweet spot.
The rest of my body was deliriously joyful to be unshackled from my desk. My fingers forgot all about typing and productively gathered clothing and loaded the cart; my eyes were checking shoe sizes and matching colors instead of staring at a screen. After 2 hours of my normal work, I’m usually sore when I stand up; my neck often hurts because I unconsciously assume weird positions when I write. In the Giving Factory, no one sits still.
My mind and body weren’t so overwhelmed by the shopping tasks that I ever forgot why I was there. Each time I picked up a new packing slip and read the name of another child somewhere in Massachusetts, I felt a tug on my heartstrings. In some volunteer jobs, you wonder if your work is making a difference. In the Giving Factory, no one wonders. Every finished “kid pack,” as they’re called, will get delivered to the child whose name is on the label. Each one of those children desperately needs the contents of that kid pack. To see it all come together is good for the soul.
Cradles to Crayons proudly tells volunteers how many kid packs it will make and distribute this year (45,000) and how many Massachusetts children it will serve (75,000). But they didn’t tell us that walking into that warehouse would be so rejuvenating. They let their thousands of volunteers figure that out for ourselves.
A quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. adorns a large wall just inside the Giving Factory. In huge letters, his words remind us that “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.” At Cradles to Crayons, everybody is, because everybody does.