May 31, 2009

Since I moved to Chicago last fall, I have been volunteering at a soup kitchen. At first I really enjoyed it. I felt like I was helping people, but now I've taken a much more cynical view.

I have come to realize that we have all kinds of volunteers who come and work and we
often have more than we can handle. This means that when volunteers come, there are many weeks that we need to work extra hard to find projects for them to do. Sometimes we will bag up candy or crackers to hand out to people, even though the people coming already have a ton of food that we give them. It's not so much that people are hungry but more so that we need to find work for our volunteers.

There have also been a few weeks where we are short staffed, but we still manage to get everything done and it doesn't really seem like that much more work. Sometimes it's even less stressful than the weeks we have a ton of volunteers.

I have also come to learn that there are two other groups serving food in the same neighborhood on Sunday. One does lunch and one serves at 3:00. We serve dinner at 5.

All of this makes me wonder how much these people really need this. Is all this work we do more for our benefit or for the benefit of the people who come to eat. Yes, I do think it's good that the rich, white people who come in from the suburbs come into contact with people who are different them, but I don't feel it's fair to those who come and eat. Are we objectifying them when the volunteers come in and have an "experience" with them. These volunteers rarely go out and talk with the people eating and a huge divide exists between most of the volunteers and the guests.

I am having an incredibly hard time reconciling these feelings and keeping my ability to continue working at the soup kitchen.