The email that got me hungry — to help others

At work, I get a lot of email. Press releases (cars, medicine, summits, children’s products), email telling me I’m great, email telling me I’ve screwed up, email from friends and coworkers and forwards from all of the above. Microsoft Outlook is always up, always ready — and always streaming messages. They never end.

I read all of them, of course, even if I don’t respond right away — especially if I’m on deadline. But every now and then, I get a note that stops me completely and forces me to minimize the Internet (unfathomable). As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a columnist. I write biweekly stories that run in three local newspapers in my hometown and neighboring counties, all in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Over the past year, the column has (wonderfully!) begun to grow — so I get more messages than ever before. Sometimes folks want me to cover things for them; sometimes they’re just being kind and sharing compliments. I like those.

But one email? Well, this Tuesday morning email got me. It got me good. A local woman and acquaintance forwarded information about a food drive her husband is conducting on behalf of a local food bank — and divulged that this year, donations are way down. With the recession and everyone tightening their purses, of course, that seems inevitable. But very disappointing.

I’m big on charity. It doesn’t take much for me to spring into action — a sad story; a personal outreach — and for some reason, Karen’s note had me spluttering at my desk. People hungry — and at Christmas. No one should have to go hungry in a country that is still so prosperous. One of our neighboring counties was recently recognized as the sixth wealthiest in the United States. You’re telling me we can’t all spare a few cans of food?

I went crazy. I went on a mission. I was so anxious sitting at my desk, reading about the disappointing turn-out for the food drive, I defaulted to one of my new favorite phrases: “Okay — I got this.”

My heart: it’s easily broken. And touched. When I hear something upsetting and I think that I can do something, I want to. Badly.

And, when I can, I do.

After perusing forums for the best foods to contribute to pantries, I wrote myself out a little list and drove to a grocery store on my lunch break. In twenty minutes, I had my cart loaded and brimming and looked quite the sight. In my dress slacks, pearls and heeled boots, I paid for my loot and drove straight to the site of the food drive. My entire backseat was loaded with bags — rice, canned meats and vegetables, jarred fruits, powdered milk, pudding snacks, tuna — and I ran in like a tornado, introducing myself and wielding my bags like trophies.

That poor man running the drive probably didn’t know what hit him.

My Friday column is about our local food banks and the importance of giving. Toys at the holidays are important, yes, and goodness knows I don’t want any kid waking up to a barren Christmas tree on Dec. 25. But more than that? I don’t want to think about any child going hungry — or any adult sitting with a grumbling stomach so their kids can eat. Eating is a necessity. It’s a basic right. It’s something I take for granted every day of my life, but as I told Karen by email earlier this week, her husband’s food drive already changed one person’s life: mine.

And I was so touched by the email, going to the food drive and the absolute high I got from helping that I’m organizing a canned goods contribution at work to benefit that food drive! So I’ll be rolling up in my Toyota bearing bags again once more.

It’s cliche, friends, but it’s true: if you’re having a bad day, assist someone else. Look at the smile and gratitude on someone’s face when you tell them that you’re going to help. The man organizing that food drive woke up Tuesday dejected that he wouldn’t be able to assist the food bank the way he had in years past, and you know what? I helped him — and realized I have a platform in which to reach the community. When I write things, people might listen. Maybe they take it to heart, maybe they don’t, but hey — they heard me.

And if that means Ray gets a few more cans to send over, I feel like I can rest easy tonight. On a job well done.

I hope this wasn’t a PSA. More than anything, this experience has brought me a few quick lessons:

A) Doing something “small” for someone else probably isn’t small to them.
B) Good writing has the power to change lives.

I don’t know if anyone will read my column or if, in reading that, people will feel moved to bring food to the drive. I hope they do. But even if they don’t, maybe I’ve planted a seed — the same seed Karen planted with her email to me. It pulled me out of the hustle-and-bustle of my everyday life, especially at the holidays, and got me thinking about how I can do more to help my fellow (wo)man.

If we’re not doing that, what are we doing?

Find a local food bank in your area and see if you can help out — even if you’re just dropping off a bag of food at the holidays. It probably won’t be “just one bag” to someone else.

We got this, y’all.

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97 thoughts on “The email that got me hungry — to help others

  1. Thank you for the reminder. So important right now …

    As my kids are I were driving down the street on Thanksgiving, my 11-year-old son burst into tears. I asked what was wrong, to which he replied, “I can’t believe there are little kids my age who don’t get a warm turkey dinner with their family this year.”

    The fact is, there are many, and I told him it was not our job (or ability) to feed them all, but to do what we can do. And what we can do is help in small ways that make a big difference.

    We got this, indeed! πŸ™‚

  2. The food that you are able to provide to those less fortunate, that feeling of a full belly, is only half of the victory. What you may not realize is that you’re planting a seed in THEM, showing them that they are not alone or marginalized, affirming their importance to you and to the society at large.

    Quick story: growing up in Russia in the late 80’s and early 90’s, we certainly didn’t have a lot. I will never forget how once, in our school, we received care packages sent to us from Germany. It was a dream come true. The toys, the food, the bright colors and especially the CARE that total strangers took to package these little gifts and send them to us. We were absolutely stunned. Now, many years later and living in the US, I take my little kids and we go get gifts and food, and prepare similar packages for others in need, ever thankful for the chance given to me, to help another.

    Imagine if each person that gets a can or a bag of spagetti this holiday season from your food drive goes on to give a similar package to another in need, once they climb out of poverty? The effect of your “small” kindness would be exponential!

  3. Love this post! You are amazing!

    My office has a food drive at the holidays, I believe the food collected goes to one of the local food pantries, though I am not sure which one. I will be bringing in some cans and things to donate. There is also a bin for Toys for Tots donations, so I will bring in for that too. I try do do similar donations when I can, not just at the holidays, but year-round. Maybe I should volunteer at a soup kitchen?

  4. First, you have such a beautiful heart, Meg. I think we can’t help but adore you πŸ™‚ Second, “My heart: it’s easily broken. And touched. When I hear something upsetting and I think that I can do something, I want to. Badly.”

    I feel exactly the same way. Here in St. Louis so many people go without food, and it doesn’t break as many people’s hearts as it should.

    xo Rebecca

  5. Fabulous post and a very pertinent reminder! Our church runs a small food bank for people in our area, and I’m also so pleased to hear just our donations have fed dozens of people a holiday meal.

    But food banks need food all year round, so the more people that get in the habit of giving, the better.

    Congratulations on using your writing to make a change πŸ™‚ That’s what it’s all about!

  6. This is a fabulous post! I blog from Haiti, where neither food nor clean water are in in abundant supply. Thanks for reminding those of us who are well fed that hunger is still an issue in the world–that some people in some places are actually starving! Thank you so much for speaking out, for stepping up to the plate, so to speak!

  7. Do supermarkets in the US not donate the food whose “best before” date is about or has run out to food banks? That’s at least what happens here in Germany. The “best before” date usually is set *very* conservative and the food is still perfectly fine.

    If not, do they just throw away the food? That would be an incredible waste!

    Evil
    http://www.evilcyber.com/

  8. I take care of the food pantry in the church where I work. I put together bags of food for those who come in for help. Were it not for the generous souls who bring in the food to stock the shelves I would not get that priviledge. Times are tough and anything we can do to help one another through can mean so much.

  9. “We got this, y’all. ” Great post. Inspiring. Times are tough for a lot of people right now, here and around the world. Every little bit helps, right?

  10. This is a sweet post to read. I spent some time at a local food bank with my family a few years ago. My mother decided that we were going to help the less fortunate as a family, and it taught me one of the most important, heartfelt messages that an adolescent girl can learn: there are hungry people in my suburban neighborhood. They don’t just exist in third world countries. Shocker!
    Lots of charities and community organizations have seen a decline in volunteers and donations. If you can’t donate food, donating time is a great way to help. Most of these places are run solely by volunteers.
    Congrats to you for bringing this issue into the limelight. You’re a good soul.

  11. A. I completely agree with this one!! I just met a young lady on last night who did not have a winter coat. Well, it’s super cold out here!!! I told her I would give her my old winter coat. This girl just began to cry. Now, to me, it’s just a coat… but to her it means someone cares about me! I thank God that I’m in a position to help others, even if I don’t think it’s much πŸ™‚

    thanks for the article!!

  12. It’s great when we get a really small note asking us to help others do something. Most of us don’t even bother, even if it takes just around 5 minutes to help. I’m very guilty, but I do make an effort to try and help. It’s just great that you made more than an effort, and you inspired me, and I can guess that you inspired others as well!
    Congratulations on being freshly pressed!
    Ashley

  13. Thank you for the nudge. You have reminded me that I still need to drop off my contribution at the pantry for the holidays. Sadly, they have been having record numbers of people who need help this year.

  14. Hi there Meg!
    Just wanted to tell you I enjoyed your post about helping others and I had a similar experience happen to me with an elderly man who lives just around the block from me. Somehow it got into me to crochet him a lap blanket! The day that I saw him using it, it touched me so much I broke into tears! There is really nothing better than becoming inspired to truly help others or to just make them feel better. It comes back to you 100x over in how it makes you feel.
    Enjoyed your post, will be back =)

  15. Your post inspired me. It is a wake up call to what the true meaning of Christmas is all about! However, we should not only remember these food banks at the holiday season but all year!! Thank you for sharing and being an inspiration and opening up our eyes to the needs around us.

  16. I understand your recent high from giving. I started giving books to children in a local trailer park at Christmas time with my kids. It has become the highlight of my year. My kids love packing the gift bags full of books. We sneak over to watch the kids walk away with their arms full of books. My kids were so excited they told me “Next year we have to do more mom, this just isn’t enough.” So, we did just that we spread the word and people came out of the wood work. We are now giving 80 book bags, 40 to the trailer park and 40 to our local food shelf. We call it Book Elfing! Its a blast. Keep up the great work. I’m starting my own blog right now about Book Elfing.

  17. From one Meg who loves to read and write to another, thanks for your post. It really is amazing that such a disparity exists: on the one hand, we have some of the wealthiest people in the world, and on the other, there are many people who can’t afford food (much less presents) for their family.
    Your post has inspired me to go out and do something for my own community this Christmas.

    Congrats on making Freshly Pressed!

  18. This is so awesome!! Glad you are doing stuff like this. You know, we get so caught up in our own little worlds, we completely forget that their are people suffering out there. We may say we are ‘struggling’, and even if we are, how we live, even when we have this economy, others who don’t have anything at all would still say we are really blessed with lots of stuff! We get more stingy when we are worried about ourselves… but the thing is, if we are one of the wealthiest nations in the world and we are thinking that we never have enough, then by golly, people who have much less than us will never have enough, either. We’ve got to get over the fear and get out there and help. πŸ™‚

    I know helping people makes me feel so good inside. It’s not even that I want them to look at me and see me as some great person. I get my high off of realizing that someone feels loved and valuable because a stranger decided to be kind to them. I told Jesus that I wouldn’t pray for him to give me a lot this year- but instead, I would answer his prayers and give back to people who really need it, and I’d do it in his name. I’ve given to charities and what not, where people get necessaities and also hear about the saving power of Jesus… and I know I could give a million dollars to something like that. This is what I am focusing on doing all December, instead of myself, for once.

    Thank you for inspiring me so much more! Bless you, and I will definately give more on account of this post. πŸ™‚

    Jennifer Clayton

    http://deadwednesdays.wordpress.com/

  19. You have overlooked an extremely important issue: Huge waste of food in America.
    I sent this letter to the editor of The Modesto Bee on November 26, 10. It is not yet published!

    How much food is thrown away daily in America?

    I read the column “Nearly 18% of Americans hungry” by Leonard Pitts Jr. (The Modesto Bee, 11/25, A-19).

    I know the pain of hunger. In early 1968, I was living in the YMCA Hotel in downtown Chicago. The little money that I had was finished, I was down to the last bag of potato chips, and still without a job. Renowned African-American organ player late Kenneth Goodman who was also living in the YMCA Hotel took me for a lunch.

    I learned never to waste food from the above experience. I pray that one doesn’t have to experience hunger in order to resolve not to waste food.

    I saw the food being thrown away by so many people that I used to get upset and I still do. There was so much waste of other things also that I wrote an essay titled “Stop that waste, America!”

    According to the Hindu scriptures food is also form of God, called annadeva, which nourishes our bodies and minds. Throwing away food would be like insulting God.

    And how can one throw away food when so many people sleep hungry? Yet mountains of food seem to be thrown away in America daily! If research is done to find out how much food is wasted daily, the numbers will be shocking.

    I don’t understand why Mr. Pitts Jr. didn’t even mention about the huge waste of food evey day in America.

    GIRISH PARIKH
    Author & Journalist
    Modesto, California

  20. This is a wonderful reminder. We just posted a list of holiday activity ideas for our exchange students and their host families, and after reading this I added donating to a food shelf to the list.

  21. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do this holiday season as well! My whole blog is about doing one random act of “Christmas” throughout the holiday season. And I totally agree with your quote: “if you’re having a bad day, assist someone else.” This ALWAYS works! Your post gave me inspiration for one of my random acts of kindness for the week…thank you, Merry Christmas, and congrats on FP!

  22. Great post! I work part-time for a project who give out bags of food to people who really need it and we’re always grateful for donations. Bless you and everyone else who thinks something needs to change and gets on and makes it happen.

  23. I like what you said, “Doing something ‘small’ for someone else probably isn’t small to them.” It’s true any time of the year, but it’s even more applicable to the holiday season when so many people are concerned with what they’re getting, as opposed to what they’re giving or doing for others. Thank you for being such an inspiration!

  24. Meg,

    I was just popping on this site to learn how to blog. Your’s looked interesting so I clicked on it. I loved your article! I love food bank drives. And I agree with everything you said – when you are down, give someone else a hand. Good Karma!

  25. If more people would act on instinct immediately like you did, what a better place this world might be. I think you are using your God-given talent exactly the way it was meant to be used! I hope it comes back to you many times over. Merry Christmas!

  26. I wonder how many people got off their backsides and made a decision to make a donation to a food drive – whether for Xmas or generally – as a result of your straight-from-the-heart blog?

    Many of us can give something, whether finding something in the pantry at home, or adding a couple of extra items to the food trolley next time we visit the supermarket/food co-op etc.

    Every can makes a difference.

    But there is such an awful lot of wastage in the food industry (from retail to manufacturing to the corporate sphere). Some foods aren’t meant to keep for health/hygiene reasons, but so much else could do better than end up chucked in a bin. Here in Sydney, Oz Harvest (http://www.ozharvest.org) does a terrific job of collecting left-over food to distribute to the needy, as does at least one other organisation which I have forgotten the name of.

    I could be naive, but I really believe that there is enough food in this world. We just need to grease the cogs of change to make sure that everyone is fed fairly and properly.

    It’s only a small thing, but I will certainly once again add a few things to my shopping trolley to help someone else’s Xmas.

  27. Over the past couple of years, the face of hunger looks a bit different from what we’ve grown accustomed to. While the holiday season often reminds us of our own good fortune and encourages us to help others, we must remember that the hungry are hungry all year long. Thanks for posting!

  28. Comment not about food banks but how some of us do occasionally hope that what we write might inspire someone else to take positive action in response to whatever we write.

    It isn’t about changing the world. It’s too monumental and beyond most mortals. It’s about persuading 1 reader.

  29. This is wonderful! Thank you for doing that and for helping that charity. “Good writing has the power to change lives” is my #1 biggest reason for writing. Changetomorrowsworld.com is a website handled right out of U of T in Canada that does just that. I also wrote novels that amuse people and entertain them but help them to keep an open mind and think about others (www.morethanthis.wordpress.com). It’s so great of you to help and write about this! πŸ˜€

  30. It’s amazing to me, how in helping others, we gain a sense of self-fulfillment. I love hearing about people like yourself who in the midst of every day chaos, manage to set aside time to help others. Keep that spirit of giving alive inside you – it will change your life. πŸ™‚

  31. I have been ruminating an idea for a holiday post, about giving to others, even in your own time of crisis. I am still not quite sure how I will present this idea, but I loved your post. Giving is so much more rewarding than getting. And I too am making up a bag to donate to my local food bank. Lovely, lovely post. and congrats on being fresh pressed.

  32. Five years ago, I was a single mom of a 16 yr old, struggling to pay my bills, let alone put food on the table. I finally broke down & went to my pastor. He sent me to the local food bank. I was able to get enough to feed my daughter & I for a week. Before that, I had eaten only three meals over a period of 8 or 9 days. I felt it was more important for my daughter to eat.
    Looking back, I realize that it was my pride that almost killed me. Who would have taken care of my girl then?
    Now I contribute to local food banks not just during the holidays, but all year round. Hunger doesn’t follow the calendar. I also give gloves & coats to the Angel Trees. I’m in a much better financial position than I was then, and I feel it’s my responsibility to give back, to pay it forward.

  33. Writers have tremendous potential to inspire others, which is what you have done here. Journalists — as you are as well — with large, multiple audiences can really (rarely) be a force for good.

    In my career, I’ve received emails from people saying one of my medical stories (about a drug side effect) saved their life…There is no paycheck big enough to beat the pride and pleasure (as you chose to do, good for you!) of knowing you have used your talent, time, compassion and platforms to help others.

    Too many people write out of ego. You show them how it’s done.

  34. Such a great reminder for this time of year! It’s so much more important to give to others outside of our own friends and families. Thank you for doing this post!

  35. I agree with you. Everyone should donate to a food drive. It is better to give than to receive. Thanks for sharing this very inspiring story and I really admire you for helping the charity.

  36. First, congrats on being freshly pressed. What a great article for that privilege. Second, this week I became a do-gooder by helping others, and it was my writing that drove other interested folks to get involved – scads of them. So your post really resonated and I wanted to say good job on both accounts!

  37. Continue sharing the love! This is a good way to start the Christmas season! I love how you remember to be kind in the midst of all the crises. πŸ™‚

  38. Hello, Thanks for the information. You are extremely right. All people must help others the way they can. It will bring the feel of self fulfillment on us. Great about sharing this post.

    • I agree…this was a powerful act and a powerful statement.
      Congrats on being freshly pressed!

      Have a blessed holiday!

  39. Hi Meg!
    Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading this story you wrote and how touched I was. It really is a great feeling to get involved with this kind of project. We all should think of this through out the year not just at holidays. Wanted to let you know that in some small way alot of us are trying to help others at this time. Each year here at the school I work at some of us can’t wait to get the names of some of the needy children in our district to help bring some cheer to their holdiay season. It really warms your heart and brings into our lives the true meaning of the Holiday ( not just Christmas) in knowing you have put a smile on a families face even for a day! What’s that saying? Pay it forward! Even though the families never know who the donors are it is a wonderful site to see all those who do get involved and the spirit of joy they feel helping!

  40. Pingback: Hungry…to help others « Volunteering in New York City

  41. Thanks to you, I’m going grocery shopping tonight for our local food pantry! I have a couple other community volunteer gigs and I can’t tell you what a positive influence both have had on my life. Frankly, there are days when I believe I get more out of my experiences than the people I’m helping.

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  43. you are amazing!!! And this story is so amazing and so inspiring!

    There’s so much we can all do – this is why I love being a part of junior league, and why hubs loves being in the knights of columbus. Even if one person thinks they can’t do anything – they can. And if they still don’t think they can? Join an organization that does and you will πŸ™‚

    Thanks for reminding us all what the holiday season is REALLY about ❀

  44. that’s so awesome of you meg!
    i love how you’re so passionate
    and generous (and inspiring!).

    and congrats on the popular post.
    the recognition is well-deserved!

    ❀

  45. This is an absolutely fantastic post and reading it really touched me. Growing up in Asian countries where you see an abundance of poverty everywhere you quickly learn that even the littlest of things can go a long way to helping someone; even when you don’t think it will make a difference. I think people have a lot to learn from you and I personally think that the world would benefit so much if there were more people like you who are ready and more than willing to help in anyway without hesitation. I believe in Karma and I believe there’ll be a lot of good heading back your way in the future πŸ™‚
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  46. That was inspiring! Thanks for sharing the experience. And yes, good writing really has the power to change lives. πŸ™‚

    This blog post deserved to be featured on Freshly Pressed. πŸ™‚

  47. You’re a really sweet and amazing person. This was SO totally the right thing to do, and you did it. Yay for you!

  48. Great writing Megan.

    Were you aware that the body gets nourishment by devouring food, while the souls nourishment is in giving food? This is universal and across borders. When we hold a poor and hungry child in our arms and feed it till it stops crying, we get into a state of spiritual bliss. Won’t you agree?

    Islam teaches that a quality of believers in God is that:

    “..and they feed out of love of God, the orphan, the indigent and the captive, and proclaim: ‘We feed you for the sake of God alone, and we desire from you no thanks or reward in return.” Qur’an

    This is true humanity and spirituality – to selflessly feed those in need without asking any favour or worldly fame in return!

    I hope you will find spiritual meaning in “The Road Less Traveled” http://t.co/6OUB9zN and Christmas From A Muslim Viewpoint: http://t.co/UmTvEpR

    Best wishes

  49. I’m sure your column will move others to help, just like this post moved me. It’s a bigger gift to give than to get. Thanks for the reminder πŸ™‚

  50. yeah….in recent years I haven’t asked for much of anything except for some gift cards….but what gives me greater joy during the holiday season is helping the needy if I can…..sometimes it was simple…like buying some fisherman’s friend cough drops for a salvation army bell ringer’s nasty cough (nasty tasting things but they are very effective)

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