Last year, The Salvation Army’s Gateway facility in Toronto hosted their annual Thanksgiving dinner for members of the community. I was asked if I’d be interested in volunteering, but I had mixed emotions.

On the one hand, I was excited to provide hands-on assistance to those most vulnerable living in the community I grew up in. On the other hand, I was nervous and worried that I didn’t have the skills they were looking for. Can I do this? Will I slow them down? Am I good enough? I asked myself.

Compassion and Care

When I arrived at the shelter, I was greeted with warm smiles, and my nervousness quickly diminished. The volunteer team was asked to prepare the tables for dinner and serve meals to those attending. Having worked for The Salvation Army for more than a year, I was aware that many people across the Greater Toronto Area live in poverty and are faced with food insecurity. What I didn’t expect was how I would feel when I met people from all walks of life—seniors, young adults, mothers and grandparents. And, sadly, the reality for many people in that room was that this was the only hot, nourishing meal they would have all week.

As we began to serve Thanksgiving dinner, I overheard a conversation that warmed my heart. A volunteer nearby was serving a guest their Thanksgiving meal, but before he could do so, the guest pointed to the person seated next to him and said, “Give it to this man instead.”

The man declined, but the guest gently insisted, “You haven’t had a meal in days. Enjoy this dinner.” Even with the hardships these guests faced every day, they still had compassion and care in their hearts.

Stepping Back

As the guests finished their dinner and other new arrivals filed in for a warm meal, I saw something that surprised me. Many guests rose from their seats to help us clean up. Walking around the room, I saw one woman clear her table. I went up to her and told her to enjoy the rest of her meal, that we’d handle the rest. She looked at me and replied, “But I don’t mind at all! I want to help you guys!”

Reflecting on the conversations I had that day, I realized that we are all the same. We often become consumed with our day-to-day routine of the everyday hustle and bustle. But it’s important to take some time and a step back.

No matter your age, skill set, gender or race, your help can make a difference in someone’s life. Whether it is once a week or once a month, a few hours of your time can help spread happiness to people who are vulnerable.

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