Warning: semi-preachy post. Do not read if in the mood for fluffy banter about some new Web service or gizmo.
We live in a very interesting time. Technology is enabling so many things in so many ways it is truly impossible to keep up with it all. There are more ways than ever for us to spend our money on things that are supposed to make us happy, in the virtual world or the physical one. Yet countless studies have shown that when measured, the impact on one’s happiness from buying things (cars, TVs, gadgets, etc) is extremely short-lived. Volunteering, on the other hand, is considered one of the top activities we can do to directly contribute to our happiness.
Today I was proud to see 25 Bay Area (and 1 from LA!) people show up at the San Francisco Food Bank to spend a few hours of their time volunteering. We organized two shifts, one at 9am, another at 12:30pm, and at each shift performed various activities to help the Food Bank with their food supply. The Food Bank is heavily dependent on volunteers, so this was a great way for us to get involved with an organization that has a direct impact on the community around us. I have pictures online here (more on Facebook), and Robert Scoble took some videos: quick one with me, and an interview with George from the Food Bank (parts one and two).
The morning shift was responsible for sorting recently deposited food from Safeway and individuals. We rummaged through 44,000 pounds (not a typo) of cans, bottles, boxes, and jars of food. All the food donated from Safeway was there because something was ‘wrong’ with it (dents, ripped box tops, etc). It was a bit of an odd feeling knowing I was handling items I’d never consider purchasing, yet would end up in homes where it is desperately needed. Thankfully recent policy changes allow Safeway to donate this food, as in prior years it all ended up in the landfills.
The afternoon group was packing up boxes of food that end up in homes where the only monthly income is social security. The average check is $1005, and the individual is not permitted to earn any money from pensions, 401k’s, or other programs, so they are clearly in serious need of help. For those who don’t think $1000/month is too bad, please bear in mind that in San Francisco, a 2 bedroom apartment easily rents for $2000+ per month. The group’s pace of sorting apple juice, dried milk, canned pork, and other rations into a box was assessed after 10 minutes, and a target for the day was set (as opposed to the morning shift of sorting utter chaos), which was met. Go team!
At a personal level, I’ve felt wonderful all day. Considering 25 people gave 3 hours of their days today (Mehrshad actually stayed through two full shifts), that means my real contribution was to generate 75 hours of volunteering. If you’ve ever doubted your ability to make a difference, think about how easy it can be. Now imagine each of these people put forth the same effort next year, and manage to bring along a couple of friends each. And so on, and so on. If you don’t know me well enough that you think I am bragging here, please know I’m not – I’m just genuinely excited to have the satisfaction of feeling I can make a difference. It’s all too easy for us to shrug our arms and put our heads in the sand. My head’s well out, and I’m excited about it.
I’ve gone ahead and registered GeeksDoingGood.com (and GeeksDoGood and GeeksGivingBack). I’d like to use it as a place to coordinate future events. Further, I’m hoping it becomes a collective communal effort. I figure if nothing else I can start a blog there, and maybe do a little (shudder) Twittering. Okay, probably not Twittering, but definitely a cool WordPress theme…If you have any interest in helping out in any way, please get in touch.
Lastly, I’d like to thank Andrew Kippen for organizing with the Food Bank, and I don’t have the full list of attendees just yet, but the ones I’m sure of by name include (in no particular order): Flickr‘s Maya Baratz, Wired‘s Megan McCarthy, eHomeUpgrade‘s Alexander Grundner, Robert Scoble, The Point‘s Jeremy Pepper, my mom (hi mom!), AdBrite’s Joel Sacks, Ilana Gauss, Josh Einhorn, Macrovision’s Ben Tan, Josh Lazar, Mark Trammell, Jason Toney, Mehrshad Mansouri (x2), Patrick Scoble, Phonescoop‘s Eric Lin, Engadget‘s Ryan Block, Mahalo‘s Veronica Belmont, Bryan Whalen, and E-storm‘s Daniel Riveong. I apologize for those I’ve left out, but I don’t have your info nearby, I’ll update this post when I get it. But thanks, thanks, thanks!
I guess the morals of today’s story are:
- Yes, one person can effect change.
- Sony’s Vaio VGN-SZ series laptops still suck (although I just upgraded mine to run XP, maybe that’ll de-paperweight it).
- There are lots of needy people out there and it’s easy to help, we just have to make the time to do the helping.
- We can all just sit on our collective butts and complain about the sorry state of affairs in our world, or we can try to make a difference. It’s a lot easier than I thought, and I plan to do a lot more of it in 2008. I hope someday you’ll join me… Imagine.