Friday, June 5, 2015

Can One Person Change the World?

Over the years, I've been fairly active in the community, serving as a chaperone for elementary school field trips, Assistant Pack Leader for the Cub Scouts, Assistant Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts, “unofficial” team photographer for the high school basketball team, and coach for the Pleasanton Girl's Softball League (PGSL). All of my service, however, has been related to my kids and after reading the book, “Walk in Their Shoes: Can One Person Change the World?,” I felt compelled to serve those in need. Getting laid off from my high-tech job offered the perfect opportunity to do just that.

The Open Heart Kitchen feeds the hungry every weekday at five locations in Pleasanton, Livermore and Dublin.

“Founded in 1995 as an interfaith effort, Open Heart Kitchen serves more than 236,000 meals annually. In 2013 we surpassed that record and served over 281,000 meals. There is no qualifying process. Meals may be eaten at our multiple serving sites or taken to go.

Our guests come from all walks of life: the homeless; senior on fixed incomes; the unemployed and underemployed; and low-income families struggling to make ends meet. Open Heart Kitchen serves as their safety net.”

A number of clients walked through the food line today; homeless, seniors, families, and others. It was my first day at Open Heart Kitchen, so I didn't know their names or their stories. I just offered my service with a friendly smile and a sense of humor. The other adult volunteers have been supporting Open Heart Kitchen for much longer and greeted the guests by name, and quite often a hug.

During a slow period, one of the volunteers, Sandra, opened up about her own life. Her daughter Kristina was studying at Cal State University Chico to be a nurse and was killed by a drunk driver while riding her bicycle home from a study group. While cleaning out Kristina's apartment after her death, Sandra and her husband came across a bucket list that Kristina created, probably while in high school. One item on the list was to “save someone's life,” something she did as an organ donor. Ironically, the lady who received Kristina's heart had accomplished a significant number of items on Kristina's bucket list. I'm not sure that was a coincidence! Read more about it here. Sandra and her husband created the Kristina Chesterman Memorial Foundation, supporting young people for Doctors Without Borders missions, drunk driving awareness, and promoting safer bike paths in college areas in order to prevent these senseless tragedies. They are also striving to build a clinic in Ozu Abam, Nigeria in order to honor the hopes and aspirations of Kristina.

Although my shift was scheduled to end at 2 PM, I ended up working until 6:30 PM, completing the food service and clean-up. The work was so much more fulfilling than the high-tech, telecommunications job I left a few months ago. Helping the people in need and receiving their heart-felt thanks was priceless.

I went to the Open Heart Kitchen expecting to give three hours of my time today, but I left there with so much more...