Restoring Faith for the Future

Kathleen, a 3rd year Science student, facilitates our Community Volunteer Action (CVA) volunteer group at Wesley Soup Kitchen.

It’s beginning to look like a particularly busy day at Wesley Urban Ministries as many gather outside the soup kitchen waiting for lunch.  Arriving with my CVA volunteer group, we head straight into the kitchen to help clean up from breakfast and to begin prep for lunch.  Last week during our group’s reflection after volunteering, some volunteers spoke up about how the people we serve were giving us a hard time.  We’d been spoken to with an irritated tone when we didn’t hear some of their specifications on what they wanted to eat.  Of course this doesn’t happen often, but even when it’s just one or two people, it makes some of us feel a little bit down.  For the most part, everyone that we are providing a meal for is genuinely thankful.  However, it may just have been that week – filled with midterms and endless deadlines – that it had a more negative impact on some of my group members.  In our discussion, I assured them that sometimes people might be having a bad day and don’t know how to deal with it, so those comments aren’t meant to be personally hurtful in any way.

Anyway, this week we’ve moved past these issues and are off doing various tasks around the kitchen.  One of the regulars we see every week in the soup kitchen lineup has joined us in the kitchen for the first time, helping scrub the pans that are difficult to clean.  He asks us, “So what programs are you all in?  Social studies?  Sociology?”

It’s inspiring to see you here. It makes me feel that there’s still faith in the world for the future

None of the group members speak up, so I reply, “We’re all in different programs: Biology, Commerce, Engineering, Math, Social Science …”

He seems very confused by this.  “So … why are you all here then?  Is this for a course?  For hours?” to which I reply, “Well, no.  We’re a group of McMaster students wanting to volunteer here at Wesley every week.”

“So, what you’re saying is … you are all just nice people?”  We don’t know what to say in return so we laugh hesitantly, until he tells us he’s joking.  But what he says next stays with me for a while.  He continues, “Well, that’s awesome that you all are in your 20’s and volunteer your time here every week.  There’s so many other things that you guys can be doing with your time but you’re here instead.  We’re used to seeing people who retired or in their 50’s and 60’s volunteering to put their time to helping others but I think it’s inspiring to see you here.  It makes me feel that there’s still faith in the world for the future.”

Dimithri and Destiny creating art together in the CVA volunteer group at Eva

For a moment, there is silence.  It feels as if everything is just still for a brief moment.  I can feel how each of my volunteer members are taking in what this man has said, having a moment of self-reflection on what they are doing right now, and just feeling truly appreciated.  For me, it’s inspiring to see how simply being present each week, performing these various small tasks, and having small conversations affects someone else the way it does.  This man probably has experienced a lot more obstacles and challenges in his life than I have, and for him to say that he has faith for the future because of us being here at Wesley each week – it’s just an amazing feeling.

Although it seems like we are just doing small tasks, what I sense to be most important and most appreciated by those we are serving is our time.  Through this experience, I’ve learned (along with my group members) to realize that although the people we are interacting with may seem very different from us, and sometimes give us a hard time, in the end, they are truly appreciative of the time that we put in.  It made me feel that we are able to help them more than just by providing meals, and in return, they help us to understand the value of service and have a deeper understanding of ourselves.