Giving back


by Kelly Pontsler –

We did it! We packaged a million meals in San Francisco to support the ongoing disaster relief effort in Haiti. Well—1,019,568 to be exact—and we did it in one long day! What a fabulous sight to see hundreds of staff and volunteers gathered around long tables, pouring product into plastic bags and packing plastic bags into boxes. The ambiance in the room was superb as teams cheered for each full box and the gong sounded for every 10,000 meals packed. The task itself was pretty uncomplicated. What amazed me most were the people!

Nearly 2,000 volunteers joined us for this event, some from Salvation Army corps and centers, but many unattached to the Army in any way. Some were younger; some were older. They had heard about the event online or through flyers or TV spots. They gathered up their friends and families, and came in the door excited to be a part of the day. Chatting with folks as they entered for registration or as they worked around their tables, it quickly became clear that the common purpose for their presence that day was simply this: giving back.

Giving back? I’m not sure how long that phrase has been a part of American vernacular. The first time it really caught my attention was just over a year ago when I was in the process of hiring a new human resources director for this division. Repeatedly in interviews with potential candidates, when asked why they would want to work for The Salvation Army, I heard the response, “to give back.” Pursuing a move away from the corporate world to the not-for-profit world wasn’t a casual change; it was intentional. It was about more than just money, it was about service for a greater good.

Giving back is about more than random acts of kindness. I believe it is something more substantial than holding open the elevator door or sharing a cup of coffee with a stranger. Don’t take me wrong—those kinds of gestures matter! But giving back is about intentional acts of goodness: thoughtful, premeditated, targeted actions on our part that strive to help others to overcome injustice, poverty and abuse.

The phrase may be modern but the call to intentional action comes right out of the Old Testament. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless (Isaiah 1:17, MSG). None of that is accomplished accidentally; it needs a plan and purposefulness.

Giving back starts by recognizing that we are, in fact, blessed people. Family, friends, a roof over your head, a warm meal, a pair of shoes, a safe place to sleep, another day in school, or just another day of life. If you have any of those, you are blessed! Because the reality is, millions of people around the globe do not. And some of them might live right on your street in or in your town. What are you prepared to do about it?

I understand that the rates of volunteerism in this country continue to climb. People may not always have money to give to their favorite causes, but they have hands and feet and are willing to dig in and help. For organizations such as The Salvation Army, that willingness and availability makes or breaks us. Packaging a million meals for Haiti would not have happened without that help.

So to all of the volunteers who joined us at the Cow Palace, please accept a heartfelt THANK YOU! Your commitment to giving back has helped us to do some more good! I pray God’s abundant blessing on you in return!

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