Red Cross volunteer David Jordan told a version of this story on our “Close to the Vest: Stories from Red Cross Volunteers” livestream event. Full video below.
I have been volunteering with the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region at a food distribution center on a Los Angeles Unified School District campus since the stay at home order was issued in March. The Robert F Kennedy Community Schools, where I volunteer, normally educates 4,000 students. Right now, every week day at this location, the Red Cross partners with Los Angeles Unified staff and Chef José Andrés’ World Center Kitchen to distribute about 6,000 meals a day.
But let me step back from the work a minute to talk about my journey. When the reality of the pandemic set in I was consumed with anxiety, as I’m sure many others have been: my health; the safety of my family and friends; how to deal with a crisis that offered no escape, anywhere, for anyone on the planet. Not knowing what to expect was scary. But when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the stay at home order in California, I knew I had to make a choice — either prioritize myself or do what I could to help others.
I possessed the capacity to give, so it was an easy decision. The most pressing need was for doctors and nurses, but I don’t have those skills, and then I saw a tweet from the Red Cross.
I’m so grateful for that tweet and I’ll tell you why: It was asking for volunteers to help distribute food. I didn’t know this, but 80 percent of students at Los Angeles Unified schools live at or below the poverty line, so they depend on school meals for nutrition. I signed up that day, again, grateful for the opportunity to help others. Yet here’s the thing; here’s what continues to blow me away, and I didn’t expect this, I’ve actually received something powerful in return. I don’t have kids in school, so I didn’t have any real exposure to the school district, but the people I work with every day are happy warriors. Substitute teachers, after school mentors, anyone who isn’t teaching virtually right now, they have these huge hearts, some of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. They are kind, thoughtful, intelligent people who look out for each other. If I need help with a task, I don’t even have to ask, because Karen or Sylvia or Jose already see me and pitche in without me saying anything.
What I’m saying is that in the middle of this crisis, I’ve found a community and a sense of hope, with people I didn’t know and never would have met on the path of my life before the pandemic. Instead of anxious and afraid like in the beginning, I’m stronger and I feel better because I see every day, not who we can be, I see who we are, right now today.
We are distributing much needed food, which is a critical task. This new family, I’m fortunate to be a member of, are also offering hope to these families in need, and to each other. They are offering hope that we will get through this together; will take care of each otherl and will figure out a new normal together. This may be challenging in many ways, but also has plenty of smiles and joy because we created a stronger community simply by showing up. I wanted to help, and it turns out they helped me.
Finally, for anyone thinking about volunteering with the Red Cross in any capacity, I strongly encourage you to do it. I’ve been a Red Cross blood donor for more than a decade, and based on that experience, I knew this was a thoughtful and organized organization. My experience volunteering has been safe and respectful, and every day is rewarding because my time and effort is needed and put to work.
It’s a really good feeling to be needed right now.