National Volunteer Week is April 18-24, 2021. This may inspire us to donate to causes, fulfill a need, help others, and share our abundance. We need to emulate charity: “the pure love of Christ … and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him” (Moroni 7:47).
If you are looking for local service opportunities, simply log on to JustServe.org and enter your city, province, or postal code. This website will help you find local service projects that connect with people across all social, racial, religious, and economic demographics through service. Millions of service hours have been donated through JustServe, and the number continues to grow exponentially, even during the ongoing pandemic.
Facing the Needs of Others as Christ Did
A number of years ago I came to the disturbing realization that although I try to help the needy in so many ways, I was indifferent when meeting them face-to-face outside my “service project.” Are you a little the same? Do you give to homeless shelters and soup kitchens yet walk straight ahead ignoring their existence if you encounter these recipients in public? I did. I somehow neglected the human element in showing Christlike charity.
A Life-changing Experience
Here is the story that precipitated my “aha” moment that opened my eyes and motivated my heart.
It was a chilly February morning in 2001 when Lou, a retired 72-year-old locomotive engineer left the mall after his routine walk to drive to the curling rink to meet the rest of his retired buddies.
With known heart problems, he must have sensed something amiss, and quickly and haphazardly pulled into the first pull-out he came upon. Immediately he slumped over the steering wheel of the car motionless.
Lou had driven into the laneway beside a homeless shelter, and a few patrons sitting outside noticed his arrival. Sensing urgency they pulled him from his car—one began CPR; one ran to phone an ambulance; two removed their tattered jackets to provide warmth and comfort; the remaining men and women gave what they could: prayer and support.
They called out exclamations of hope for him: “Come on man—you can do it.” “Hold on buddy. Breathe man. Stay with us.” “Help is on the way. You’re gonna be alright.”
Little did they know that Lou was gone.
A few days later, as Lou’s family searched through the bag of Lou’s personal effects given to them by the paramedics: two worn jackets were included. Friends, family, and coworkers were generous during this time. The family had more food brought to the home than they could possibly eat. It was decided to send some of the abundance to the homeless shelter, and the jackets were taken as well. Someone there could surely use them.
When the articles of clothing were presented at the shelter, they were immediately recognized as belonging to two gentlemen living there. They were the only evidence of who had come to Lou’s aid that cold morning.
Why Did This Become So Significant for Me?
Well, there are two reasons. These homeless men did not treat Lou with indifference. They sprang into action and donated what little they had to help another human being in a very personal way. They sought no reward, no recognition, no fame. They simply acted on a human need.
Secondly, they actually gave a gift to another stranger that day. You see, Lou was my father. These men gave me the peace that my Dad was not alone when he passed. Although with strangers, he was with kind people who quite literally gave him the shirt off their backs—something they could not afford to give.
In the years since that experience, I have tried to open my heart in a more human way: face-to-face. As a family, we did a lot of baking for the shelters—hopefully to remind them of home memories that may seem very distant. Prior to COVID, I volunteered each Monday morning at 6:00 in preparing and serving breakfast at the local soup kitchen. In lieu of gifts at family celebrations, we donated socks and mittens to the shelters.
I have come to expect the good from all people. I choose not to be indifferent or ignore them again. Will I be disappointed someday? Of course, I will. Sadly, I am disappointed daily by the actions or words of those that have fulltime jobs, beautiful homes, an abundance of clothing, and ample resources.
We never met the good Samaritans that comforted my Dad in his last minutes, but I like to believe that I can see that same good in each of those that live difficult lives. They had nothing to give but a compassionate heart. I was taught by a handful of homeless strangers how to be charitable with my heart as well as my time and money—and doing it face-to-face.
A Divine Design Update
On September 21, 2017, I stepped into Street’s Alive Mission to volunteer with my co-workers in a company-wide Community Day of service. I was assigned to meet with the media who were coming to interview our manager. As I waited for their arrival, the pastor invited me into his office to visit. As we chatted, I asked him if he would like to hear the story of my Dad.
As I began the story, he started to nod with great understanding and told me to go tell my story to Julie, one of the co-founders. I went into her office and began my story again.
She quietly said, “I remember.”
Our conversation immediately became very personal. Her son had been the one to pull my Dad out of the car as soon as it had finished its haphazard halt. Julie began CPR chest compressions, and another woman began mouth-to-mouth. The others called out encouragement and prayed.
After 16 years, I had been blessed to meet the woman who had tried to save my Dad’s life. We had been told that he had passed away immediately, and Julie confirmed that she knew this the minute she started working on him. But she did not give up and continued until paramedics arrived. As Julie embraced me in a farewell hug, she whispered an apology that she had not been able to save my Dad.
I do not believe in coincidences. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated, “Coincidence is not an appropriate word to describe the workings of an omniscient God. He does not do things by ‘coincidence’ but … by ‘divine design’” (“Brim with Joy” [Brigham Young University devotional, Jan. 23, 1996], speeches.byu.edu; see also Ronald A. Rasband, “By Divine Design,” Ensign, Nov. 2017).
This culmination of events created a miracle in my life that changed me forever. For those who do not believe in miracles, I am asking that you believe in yourself and believe that you are here to make a difference—even to those who may be strangers to you—but they are certainly not strangers to a loving God.