That’s what my wife said to me three years ago when we sat down for a candid conversation about our children’s future. Our daughters, just a few years old, were already noticing the disparities between our lifestyle and the individuals in our community who were experiencing job loss and homelessness.
Supporting local nonprofit work has always been a core value in our family, but, more often than not, our support has been monetary. With our children growing up, we knew our actions mattered, too– and the following weekend the whole family began volunteering in person at the Islamic Food Bank of Toledo.
The Islamic Food Bank of Toledo is an interfaith effort with our local mosque and community entities and the initiative we first started to volunteer for was the mobile food bank. The mobile food bank brings together an interfaith group to prepare and distribute hot, nutritious meals at three distribution sites the second Saturday of every month. Every month, a different family sponsors the meal program. We all gather to cook the fresh food and organize a “snack bag” to distribute with the meal. There are no paid positions: the program is 100% run by volunteers and all money we raise goes directly to food and distribution costs. Last year we distributed 30,000 meals– and this year, we’re on track to distribute more than 200,000.
While volunteering was my wife’s idea, it quickly became my passion. I relished helping the program as it was expanding to include a partnership with Panera Bread and adding our “Weekender Bags,” so children would have nutritious food during long weekends and holiday breaks.
This year, more than ever, I’m realizing just how much this work matters and how it’s made me a better leader at Lucas Group, too.
Show up consistently. We all dream about winning – the big promotion, the dream job, the successful startup – but these “wins” don’t happen overnight. They’re the result of a consistent commitment to showing up. I don’t mean just physically being present, but showing up mentally and emotionally, too.
For our mobile food bank, individuals in need count on us to show up every month. We count on our volunteers to show up to cook and distribute the meals. We count on our interfaith community to fundraise for these meals. Everyone has a vital role to play and we need to show up as a strong, united team, one that’s engaged and enthusiastic.
At Lucas Group, I see the importance of this commitment every day. Our Associates show up for our clients and candidates through an uncertain economy, and each of us shows up for our colleagues as we navigate working in the “new normal.”
Pivot without losing sight of the main mission. COVID-19 turned our food program upside – we could no longer prep or distribute hot meals together – and it also magnified the need for our service. Starting with Ohio’s spring shutdown, we partnered with a local restaurant to make and package food for us. I and other volunteers who are at lower risk for COVID acquire the additional items that go into our snack bags and set up contactless distribution points. In a year when it would have been easy to let logistical and safety challenges get the best of us, we found creative ways to pivot our program while doubling down on our mission.
Don’t shy away from the tough issues. Children see the world for what it is: they notice the individuals without shelter or food, and they ask, “Why is this? What can I do?” As adults, it can be tempting to dismiss this inequality as a complex problem where you can’t affect change. Don’t. I’m glad my wife encouraged our family to become involved in the food program, and I’m proud of how much our children are learning. Our volunteer work is a starting point for bigger conversations about social justice and economic disparity. As our children grow, we’re raising them with a sense of responsibility to give back and improve their community.
2020 has forced us all to pause and reflect on what truly matters: our loved ones, our health, and our community. One of the things I’m most grateful for is my volunteer experience with the food bank and the invaluable lessons I’ve learned there over the last three years. Once COVID is behind us, I look forward to our family volunteering together in the prep kitchen as we share fellowship with our neighbors and transform the act of cooking a simple meal into a community experience.