Mahatma Gandi apparently said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. Cheesy, I know. Also misquoted (hilarious, especially coming from someone who thinks misquoting and taking things out of context is funny – I’m looking at you, anyone with a “To thine own self be true” tattoo). However cheesy and misquoted it is, it’s one of my guiding principles. I try to be good to my fellow humans because I think that kindness is important and something that the world needs. I volunteer my time and energy out to the world because who knows what will change the world. Today, though, I have an idea. A hope, a wish, a crazy Christmas thought.
The first time I volunteered, I was about 8 or 9. Maybe 10.
My mom and I went to Santas Anonymous to fill hampers. I spent the morning in a warehouse with a tinny radio, carefully following a checklist so each basket had the right gifts for the right age group. I also had to check if each basket had the right food – Kraft Dinner, instant mashed potatoes, that kind of thing. The people were nice, it made my heart happy, and it was one morning in late November.
The next year, I was on the ground crew. Rather than pack the hampers, we delivered them. Now, as some people might know, my little hometown is full of drugs – specifically, meth. So that was harder – my little heart broke at some of the places we visited. We got to be Santa for these people – some of whom I recognized from school. I remember feeling super grateful for my parents at that moment – grateful that we had a house and food every night, grateful for my baby brother and for our Christmas mornings, grateful for my two kick-ass amazing parents who remain amazing and kickass.
My parents taught me how lucky I was, and that we had so much that we owed our communities to give back. I always have. Since that period at Santas Anonymous, I have had quite the volunteer log. Much to my failing memory, here’s the list so far:
- Walked dogs and cuddled cats at the Hinton SPCA
- Did media relations for the Canadian Breast Cancer CIBC Run for the Cure
- Became the Run Director for the same run
- Organized a charity breakfast for 800
- Taught taekwon do (yes, part of my black belt training, but definitely something I would have done otherwise)
- Taught illiterate addicts to read and write (hey, did you know that 42% of Canadian adults have low-literacy levels?!)
- Joined an arts board in support of mental health
- Joined the Freewill Shakespeare Board (after 6 years volunteering before that)
- Became a karma yogi at Noorish
- Joined an awesome crew for Edmonton Folk Music Fest
- Flew to Africa to teach communications and advocacy strategy at a childs rights organization
And my memory fails me – as Yul Brenner once said “Etc, etc, etc!” There is more. I have more events that I can count – times where I leaned in and carried water or food and pushed and created and joined. Because I believe that I can help make the world a better place (not alone, mind you. Maybe I can start a ripple that becomes a tsunami of change).
To that – at one point in my career, I began working with the homeless. Not directly with (I’m not a social worker), but as the communications pro telling the story. I was told in my interview that people working for this not-for-profit (and generally in this sector overall) had an 18-month shelf life. I made a year and 4 months – 2 months shy of 18. My heart, while has capacity to grow and change and adapt, was far too soft to handle this work. After my second Homeless Connect, for example, I ended up in my shower for an hour sobbing. I had talked to a girl – she was 14, LBGTQ, and her parents had thrown her out. She couldn’t find a home, because who wants to rent to a kid, so was selling herself to supply her drug habit. My heart broke a thousand times over in the 14 months I was working there – I still have friends working in this sector, and I am in awe of them. Their amazing selves and amazing work do so much good for our world.
Recently, sadly, I became aware of the death of one of our cities’ homeless – a sad tale of freezing to death behind a dumpster. Even more sadly – he’s one of 1,752 homeless in Edmonton. The numbers are down (thanks to our amazing agencies and hardworking front-line workers!!) but we still have over 1,700 people without a roof over their heads. And, suddenly, in all its Canadian-ness – winter has arrived in Edmonton, with temperatures forecasted to be -20 ish all week (and the wind making it feel like -30), and winter will be here for awhile. I’ve been thinking about this since Saturday, and now – I’m asking you to help me.
Every single front-line agency in the city needs help. They need mittens and jackets and warm socks and long johns and blankets because winter is HERE and death due to exposure is a real thing. I’m starting to collect these items – I’m planning on starting a collection at my workplace as well – but I will be collecting these things personally as well to be delivered in a week or two.
Help me with this. Send me new socks and mittens and whatever gently used or new items you can manage. I’m happy to meet you, or give you my address – hell, I’m even happy to wash your gently used items before I deliver this stuff! – but I can’t not be involved any longer. Neither can you – 1,750 people need us.