So like any good father, it was my duty to offer unique experiences to my son during a holiday break. I could never have planned the impact this experience would have.
I made sure the alarm was extra loud at 5:10am. I made plenty of noise as I got myself ready singing loudly and off key to the best 80’s hits. “We built this city, we built this city out of Rock and Rolllllll!” It did not stop at 5:25 when I went in to his room, flicked on the light, and said its time to go. All I asked for was some relatively clean clothes, and that he put on deodorant and brush his teeth.
Today we were volunteering to serve those in need at the local food pantry. We had to be there at 6am and had an hour to get a hot breakfast together for about 100 people, many coming from a shelter. We worked with about six of the nicest ladies who were all grandmothers and thought it was a treat when I would bring my son, Jacob. Jacob would drag his feet and act like he was too tired to be there, but these ladies had no inkling to listen or give credence to such an act. In no time, Jacob was smiling and whistling while he worked.
Jacob was a typical thirteen year old. More interested in video games and Legos than anything else. His diet consisted of the four main food groups: Pizza, chicken nuggets, hamburgers, and sweets. He took pride in preparing grits, because his Grannie taught him how to keep them from burning and sticking to the pot. However, he had no interest in eating them, nor the eggs, or the bacon (who doesn’t like bacon). He did like the variety of doughnuts we offered. That was the station he worked when the serving began.
He diligently served each guest half of these oversized doughnuts, but then a very special guest came through. This one really stood out from the diversity of the crowd. He could not have been more than 9, and like Jacob he was there with his Dad. It was at this moment, that all those things I had told him for years sank in. That he was lucky, that the people we serve are not any different than us, and that we have so much to be thankful for. I could see his mind working and wondering.
From that point on Jacob was clearly affected by this volunteer experience. Fortunately it was towards the end of the morning. Jacob was very quiet. We would always go get pancakes after early morning projects . The time spent eating the pancakes was usually salted with a negotiation for us to go and get some toy. Not this morning. This morning he wanted to understand how that little boy was in the line. He asked if we could get a toy and take it back to him.
For the rest of the morning and every so often, my son and I discuss the situations that caused the boy to be in that line. Jacob is much more aware of how lucky he is, and we discuss why we volunteer and serve with more enthusiasm. Now there is less grunting when the alarm goes off really early in the morning. He still won’t sing the 80’s hits with me.