Friday, October 21, 2011

Walk the Walk

Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry

Yesterday was volunteer day at the company I work for.  One day each year, all employees help out at a variety of worthy charities that run the spectrum from sewing quilts for children in cancer wards to helping out at animal shelters.   We call it "Walk the Walk" day.  I signed up for New York Cares.  My group visited a senior center in the Projects way up in northern Manhattan.  Even though I live roughly 100 - 150 blocks away, it's a completely different world up there.  When I got off the subway I passed a store that sells live poultry!  It was very disturbing because the poor birds were stuffed in overcrowded cages.  Hens, chickens, doves, pigeons, you name it, they were selling it.

Jeremy from New York Cares in the black sweatshirt greeted us

My colleagues and I are met by the director of the center - we're in grey t-shirts

Neil (on the right) was our group leader

Volunteer days are as much for the volunteers as they are for the people (or animals) we're hoping to help.  First, you get to know the people you work with a little bit better.  Arthur and Neil work on different floors than I do and I don't get to see them very often. 

Residents enjoying a game of dominoes

Bingo is a big deal at the center.  Arthur called the numbers.  He had to shout because some of the residents are hard of hearing.

Danie (closest to camera) and Marie

But even more important than getting to know your colleagues better is the glimpse you get of other peoples' lives.  I live paycheck to paycheck and sometimes get depressed about not being able to save or get to Europe every summer.  The residents we visited yesterday are living on food stamps, living in public housing and in some cases are quite elderly with no family.  They seemed very grateful to have new blood around.  They love playing bingo.  Their breakfast costs $1 and lunch is $1.50.  I saw what they were eating and let's just say the menu is not Skinny Gourmet Guy approved!  Mashed potatoes, mystery meet, lots of gravy and grey broccoli.  

Residents playing a mean game of bingo

It seemed that all they do is eat and play games.  When we arrived at 10 AM they were finishing breakfast.  During bingo we served them snacks and apple juice.  Lunch at 12:30.  They all lived upstairs and this was their world.  More than enjoying the games and the meals, they are each others' families and it's all about the socialization.  Our group took over a small table to the side.  It turns out it was where the lady in pink (above) usually sits.  She was obviously quite peeved that we took her spot.  She got over it eventually and gave us a friendly send off at the end of the day.

Checking the technology during a break

I left there counting my blessings.  I live in my own apartment on the upper west side.  I have a life outside of my apartment building.  I get to go out to dinner, see Broadway shows, take spin class, go swimming and I do get that occasional trip to Europe. Sometimes it just takes a look outside your world to realize there are people who are less fortunate than you are.  The people I met yesterday certainly are less fortunate, but I didn't see anyone feeling sorry for themselves.  They are grateful for what they have.  When you won bingo you got a t-shirt and a scratch lottery ticket.  Every person who won was thrilled.

If you are interested in volunteering or making a contribution to New York Cares, visit their website.  Here's the link:

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