Volunteer Experience Reveals Hope, Happiness, and Unexpected Optimism
by Patrick Ciccarelli, CEO of Varsity Technologies
When I moved to San Francisco 20 years ago, I knew I had to check out GLIDE and explore their operation. During my visit it seemed like everyone I met asked if I had attended the celebration at GLIDE church. Not wanting to miss out I went to see Reverend Cecil Williams give his sermon. It was inspiring. But I didn’t fully understand what it meant until I volunteered in the GLIDE Daily Free Meals Program.
Now, a San Francisco resident, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing people in need, be they homeless, down on their luck, or in crisis. It’s a growing, multifaceted problem in our city, but for some reason our brains begin to categorize all of that suffering into one bucket, possibly to help us cope. I don’t want there to be suffering, but the problem seems insurmountable and so complex; how can I fix it? My company serves non-profit organizations that work tirelessly to do good in the community. Still, the need is overwhelming, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day. And so I turn all of those needs, and my fears or misconceptions, into something that I can categorize or compartmentalize and put away neatly, in order to come to terms with the world I see.
Recently, I went with co-workers to volunteer at GLIDE during lunch meal service, and put a face to the hunger outside my door. But it was not what I expected. I immediately felt a connection to my community in a way I hadn’t quite known before. These were people like me: people with goals and ideas; men with pride; parents with growing families; smiling children with dreams. All of these people came to GLIDE for a meal, but they also came for community. Here, they could break bread with friendly faces. Maybe they knew each other from meetings outside of GLIDE, or perhaps they just found comfort in seeing a warm, familiar face they could count on seeing at meal service. They come for hot food, but also for safety. They know that when they arrive to the GLIDE dining room they can expect consistency. They can expect fairness and respect. Regardless of what happens outside those walls, within, they are treated with dignity, and not categorized, not seen as a fixture of the urban landscape. They don’t need to be defined by their hunger, or their poverty, or anything that makes every day life a challenge.
I had the opportunity to speak with Bruce McKinney, Daily Free Meals Program Manager. From him I learned that GLIDE serves nearly 2,500 meals a day. Those meals are nutritionally balanced – GLIDE works with a nutritionist regularly to keep it that way. Meals also contain a high level of fresh fruit and vegetables. Over 900,000 lbs. of fresh fruit and vegetables come from the San Francisco Food Bank every year. Without that source of fresh food for GLIDE and all the other meal services in the city, there would be a much higher need for processed food. Bruce let me know that although serving meals is what they do, they also have the opportunity to do much more. And they do. In addition to serving healthy food, the focus for the program is about building community and relationships.
Thank you to Bruce and all of your staff. And thank you to the many guests who welcomed us into their community.
Check out some additional pictures of Varsity’s volunteer day at GLIDE.