Here's the hard truth: Soup kitchens don't need you on Thanksgiving. They don't need you on Christmas. They've got those days covered. They need you those other 363 days of the year. They need a dedicated corps of volunteers to spread out that spirit of service through the entire calendar and for a true culture of volunteerism to take hold.
I was 8-years-old or so when I first stepped foot into the kitchen at the group So Others Might Eat in Washington D.C. It was a Tuesday in September. It was also the early eighties -- a time when federal funding cuts resulted in many marginalized and mentally ill homeless people being turned away from institutional care and out onto the streets.
That dining room filled up with a parade of humanity, from families with kids my own age to old folks all alone. Over the next three hours, my parents, my three brothers, and my sister, along with a handful of other volunteers and Smitty -- SOME's garrulous and toothless kitchen boss, cooked a stack of french toast big enough to feed 1,000 people, brewed huge pots of black coffee, mixed massive pitchers of powdered milk, and we set each place at the table with as much respect as would a white table cloth waiter. We would do the same, every month on a Tuesday morning until I moved away from my parents' house a decade later.
Homelessness is on the rise in most U.S. cities, and in my hometown of Washington D.C., the gap between rich and poor has never been wider, and the need has never been greater. It won't be hard for you to find the need in your town too. Find a local soup kitchen and commit to serving one day in the year ahead after the holiday season has passed. It just may become a habit.
Zachary Slobig is senior editor for the online magazine GOOD.