Recently, I joined a group of volunteers helping in relief efforts post-superstorm Sandy, in one of the markedly affected areas of the Rockaways in Queens, NY. We spent the day helping distribute food and medical care to those still without power almost two weeks after the storm. By the time we arrived late Saturday morning, we found an operation in full force, with numerous volunteer organizations contributing in different ways, from food and water tents, to clothes and essential goods, to mobile medical units.
As they were short on doctors, I was asked to lead a mobile medical team to a neglected building in the Far Rockaways, where there were many elderly running low on food and water. We met an elderly Russian gentleman who had just been sent home after suffering a heart attack in the aftermath of this devastating storm. It was amazing he had made it up the six flights to his apartment!
He was in excellent spirits, but lacking the essential medications one would need post-heart attack to prevent a recurrence. The hospital staff had neglected to realize that they were discharging him to an area without power, and lacking an open pharmacy to fill his medications. His English was poor, but we managed to get enough information with his wife as a translator, and worked on getting him the medications that were vital for him, along with much needed food and water.
In this small community, the spirit of cooperation was immense. People were helping each other carry supplies up the stairs of this high-rise. They had just gotten hot water and heat on the day we visited, but full power was probably two weeks away.
Volunteering is a selfless act. Of course, it is not without distress and frustration, as you may encounter the reality of the gap between what is needed and what is actually being done. Nevertheless, that cannot discourage even the smallest of efforts. We often think, well, “Where do I begin?” You can simply begin by showing up, and then allow the needs to guide what you do. This is what Alison Thompson, the author of “The Third Wave,” has done since the Tsunami in SouthEast Asia, traveling around the world to where natural disasters create the need for help.
You don’t have to be Mother Theresa, though, to volunteer or create positive change in the world. Volunteering not only helps others; it helps you. I hate to make a post about volunteering into something that is good for your health, but the reality is that when you help others in need, that smile you get in return, or their words of appreciation, fuels your soul and your own personal development.
The gift of giving releases feel-good chemicals in our bodies, known as endorphins. With a selfish need, comes a selfless result – the yin-yang of life. There are people out there that need your help, so get out there and help them. You will feel better, be a better person for it, and will have touched other lives in ways that are priceless.