Each week we do various forms of volunteering in line with our mission to keep our community warm. One of our most valued exercises is volunteering every Wednesday night with our close friends from the Vinnies Soup Vans. Volunteering on the Soup Vans allow us to not only distribute our blankets but to create the warmth of friendship through the interactions we have with the people we meet. Many of the friendships have evolved over time and are genuine and caring relationships which is important for both the people in situations where they may have sadly lost contact with friends and family, and the Volunteer.
Recently one of our Volunteers, Jane, spoke to me about her experience following a trip out with the Vinnies Soup Van. It is an incredible feeling heading out with the pure intentions to provide support to people less fortunate in our community and then receive invaluable life lessons in return. Jane has kindly written an incredibly heartfelt piece to share her thoughts.
Two distinct scenes kept playing in my mind after a night out on the road with the Vinnies soup van.
I learnt two lessons that night.
I was having a conversation with one of the regulars who came for hot food. He was shabby in appearance but he had a smile on his face as he spoke to me. The conversation went something like this:
‘Hello, How are you?’
‘Hi, I’m great. I’m sleeping in a motel tonight. Even though it’s only for one night, at least I don’t have to be out on the streets in the freezing cold. Thanks so much for the food.’
I was taken aback by his attitude. Here was this man, clearly homeless, but still chose to express thankfulness. He chose to be thankful for the one night that he got to sleep indoors, on a bed, in a heated room. One night in a motel, knowing very clearly that the next night he would be back on the streets, yet he chose to respond with a chirpy ‘I’m great’. He definitely put me to shame as I thought to myself, how often when asked the question ‘ How are you?’ I would respond with a flat ‘I’m OK.’ This was simply for the fact that it was just like any other day – wake up, go to work, and come home.
How often do I go through each day routinely? How often do I miss the little things that I should be thankful for, even the very fact that I am living and breathing? How often do I go about each day not being present in the moment, not being present to the person standing in front of me; instead, constantly thinking about the next step, constantly thinking about something else, about tomorrow. As Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s simply puts “Life is a journey, not a destination.” And if we missed the journey, we’ve pretty much missed life itself.
That night, I was reminded to be thankful. I have a family, amazing friends, a job, abundance of food, a roof over my head and a warm bed to sleep in. The simple things in life that too often I have taken for granted. I was reminded to always keep thankfulness at the forefront of my mind to teach me humility. I was reminded that I am blessed to be a blessing. I am blessed to be able to serve others.
Once again, I was taken aback by another man’s response.
‘Would you like a meat pie?’
‘No, I would like a burger instead.’
These selfish thoughts immediately raced through my mind ‘Beggars can’t be choosers. Even with free food to enjoy, how can one still have the cheek to be fussy about what is being served? You can either take it or leave it.’ I had to mentally slap myself in the face for being so arrogant and judgemental. I heard a speaker once say, ‘If you looked at a situation through someone else’s perspective instead of yours, you gain understanding and value’. So I had to constantly put myself in their shoes and learn to see through their eyes.
At that moment, I had a revelation. The issue wasn’t that they were fussy or that they were taking for granted what was being given to them. I realized that this was, although expressed differently, exactly what we fight for each day: Freedom of voice, freedom of choice. This was one of the very few moments, where they get to have a say, make a choice about their life and get what they want. Choosing what they wanted to eat gave them a sense of purpose and autonomy. When everything around them is ever changing, Vinnies soup van was the only constant in their lives. They would never know where they might be sleeping each night, if they would have any human interaction during the day, whether they would ever get off the streets. However, the one thing that they did know, was that at a particular time every night, Vinnies soup van would be at a particular venue providing hot food, hot soup, hot drinks, fruit, sandwiches and cordial and their volunteers would provide warmth and comfort in the form of conversation.
I was truly humbled by the response of the volunteers who so willingly looked through all the trays in pursuit of finding the exact food item that had been requested. As the night went on, I learnt to put my arrogance aside and allowed myself to go on the same treasure hunt. Every request felt like a personal mission to find the golden nugget that would make someone’s day. Without fail, I always received a heartfelt gratitude whenever I managed to find that ‘Four n twenty angus pie’ or that ‘Chicken schnitzel burger’. If I didn’t, I was still thanked for my efforts. It brought joy to my heart knowing that I was able to fulfil someone’s wishes, even if it was to me, just a burger.
It dawned on me that one of the most unique thing that makes us human is the ability to make choices. That ability gives us a sense of ownership over our lives. When it is dampened, condemned or not allowed to be expressed, we lose ourselves to the voices of society. We allow society to dictate the way we should live, how we should look, who we should be. When in fact, the only voice that we should allow control over us is our own and for those that have a faith, the voice of God. Every day is a conscious choice on how we want to live our lives. No one has the authority to tell you that you are any less of a person than you are, regardless of your circumstances. The only difference between myself and the people that I met on the streets is that I have been blessed to be in a position that my choices in life and autonomy over my life are not limited by my circumstances. For that I am thankful.
I learnt honour, respect, and love. I learnt to honour the person in front of me, regardless of their circumstances. I learnt to respect another person’s freedom of choice, even if I may not understand it at first. I learnt to not judge because you never know what one person is going through in their lives. Mother Theresa’s wise words “If you judge others, you have no time to love them,” left behind a legacy of love. Above all, I learnt to love. You can never underestimate the impact you could make in someone’s life if you allowed yourself to remain humble and to love at all cost.