Saturday, March 21, 2015

Notes from a community assistance event at a local church

Today, I “did my time”, so to speak.  I did volunteer for the Community Assistance event at a local church in Northern Virginia (link). 
Over three hundred people, mostly but not entirely minorities, queued up, to enter a sanctuary, be invited to dinner by the number, and then pick up food and clothing staples according to documentation they carried.  There was a somewhat bureaucratic procedure.
I worked in the stairwell, as they entered the church, and then later in the clothing dispersal, handing out tickets, and, for a while, assisting in finding donated clothing that fit. Thursday I had done some unpacking of groceries (rather like preview night on Army KP). 

There was a band performance.  For example it performed Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off".  
A wore a nametag, and one client tried to draft me into a conversation, “Are you good!” by name.  It seems as though eagerness to interact is actually valued by people, and reticence is read as personal disapproval and can add to tension.
This is something you have to do to find out what it  is about, and you have to want it to be a regular part of life.
It’s not clear how much volunteer labor charities really “need”.  Would people go hungry or would they fold without regular volunteers?  Some require a minimum commitment and do training.  But they really don’t talk about “need” this way.  They let it stay ambiguous.  You can really see this kind of thinking with issues like sponsoring political refugees.

Before the event, the church circulated an essay on volunteering by one of the participants by email.  It mentioned (with a religious, Christian perspective) the idea of personal "right-sizing".  That''s an ethical concept that seems to follow just from logic.  There was no proselytizing during the event. 
One of the ideas seems to be just that a social structure alone, even if bureaucratic, encouraging committed volunteerism, is it self somewhat socially stabilizing.  Charles Murray talked about this in his book “Coming Apart”.
There are some statistics on which states have the highest percentage of volunteers and do the most volunteer hours (per year – the websites don’t say which term).

Bureau of Labor Statistics, as fed by the Census Bureau from specific sample surveys, here.

Volunteering America has more details here
Note: The blue sign illustration came from a tire pressure facility at a gas station. 

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