By Adam Hyman
October 9, 2013
What was I thinking? It is 7:00 am on a rainy, overcast, Sunday morning. I manage to drag myself out of bed, doubting the wisdom of the commitment I made weeks prior to participate in a noble, city-wide hunger relief campaign coordinated by JUF, yet at the same time, determined to resist the seductive beckoning of my oh-so-soft mattress, urging me to remain horizontal, luxuriate under the covers, and outright flake. What impact will my presence and small contribution to this effort really have, in any case? Will it matter one iota that I'm there?
I try to dispel these second thoughts while in transport to the location where I join two other volunteers to cook breakfast and serve the occupants of a local homeless shelter. It would be the grossest of understatements to say that my repertoire in the kitchen is limited. In all frankness, even in my own kitchen, I'm quite simply out of my element, highly likely to botch any dish that cannot be cooked by toaster or hot water, and in need of Google maps to navigate my way around and locate the necessary utensils. But, fate smiled upon me this morning; I was to be on egg duty! That I could handle. After all, as a perennial bachelor, I'd subsisted on eggs for years, made them not only my breakfast, but even dinner on countless occasions. I think I have a pretty good way with a spatula. Buoyed by my capacity to contribute something of actual substance, a sense of calm settles over me as I don my apron, and get to cracking those shells. I feel my participation is now justified.
Mission accomplished, my fellow volunteers and I cheerfully begin serving the occupants, each one of whom expresses appreciation for our modest effort. Each has a story and I'm curious to know it. I want to relate. Have a meaningful interaction. Make a human connection of some sort. Move beyond the formalities. Attempting to do just that, after everyone is served, I help myself to an apple, sit down at one of the tables and strike up a conversation with the others around me. The three of them share remarkable and poignant personal stories and when they conclude, I say to them – quite sincerely, that I had not expected to meet such interesting people this morning. On the heels of my comment, a man behind me at one of the other tables utters something to the effect of, "There's plenty more where that came from." Then he proceeds to supply that plenty. Without disclosing any details that could reveal his identity, let's just say he is highly educated and considerably accomplished in the realm of academia - a former volunteer himself, who recently experienced a severe health crisis and consequently, found himself in dire straits.
As I finally take my leave that morning, it is with the acute awareness that under different circumstances, I could be in his position; that sometimes all that separates the well-off from the indigent is the impact from the unpredictable winds of misfortune.
It did matter I was there. To me.
Adam Hyman is an entrepreneur who, in addition to his involvement with JUF's Young Leadership Division and Feed Chicago, participated in the first TOV Hurricane Sandy Relief Mission this past December.