I’ve never done much volunteer work because I was always busy.
Plus, my theory was, I was more valuable pecking away at the laptop for dollars than getting in somebody’s way.
However, I have been in awe of a couple of new-generation doctors I know who volunteer in places like Haiti and Africa. And I saw my wife make a difference as a volunteer an orphanage in India.
Having more time these days, I signed up for a few hours of labor with some new friends from The New York Times plant in College Point, Queens. Ever since the production and delivery part of the paper moved out of W. 43 St. in 1997, I have missed the bustle of the trucks and the workers on the sidewalks and elevators and in the cafeteria.
Last week, Mike Connors, managing director of the Production Department, invited me to help pack food at the City Harvest warehouse right off the East River in Long Island City, Queens. Over 30 volunteers were given gloves and divided ourselves into two groups. One prepared bags of donated non-perishable food – bottled water, coconut water, canned tuna, dry cereal, beef jerky, packaged chocolate chip cookies, sardines, granola bars, tomato soup, beans, crushed tomatoes, pasta and anchovies. Anchovies!
I was advised by Ernie Booth, an executive at the Times plant, that my vast skills were urgently needed at the other job – shuttling oranges from refrigerator-sized cardboard boxes into bags that held 15-20 oranges, large and small.
I realized right away how much I enjoyed the teamwork – how individuals made room for each other, how they solved problems like getting oranges out of the bottom of the crates (tipping them and getting down on our knees, scooping with our forearms.)
Later I tried bagging the oranges, chatting with new friends like Deirdre Deignan, an official from the Times plant, and Andy Gutterman, the executive director from HR/Human Relations, and other volunteers, about sports and past jobs. We worked at a fairly intense pace, with a sense of purpose.
By late afternoon, most people had to go back to produce and deliver the next day’s Times. The City Harvest supervisors read off our output – 10,000 pounds of dry food, 7,000 pounds of oranges, eight and a half tons of food for dozens of eligible New York families with incomes under $60,000. week later, I look forward to spring when the NYT will do it again.
I urge anybody not to wait as long as I did to volunteer a few hours, somewhere. For information, please see:
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.