Connecting the dots…

Special thanks to Michael Zweigart for sharing his heartfelt story as follows.

It is more than a service project or team building, it is more than you could ever imagine.
I am just like you. I have signed up to pack meals, sometimes because my kids needed a chaperone and at times for a corporate team building adventure or a Thanksgiving Day packing event. I showed up excited to be a part of something, I just didn’t realize what. Nor would I for years to come.

It’s exciting to walk into a Meals from the Heartland event. The volunteers are busy setting up and restocking the stations, anxious volunteers line up to get their instructions, hair nets, and station assignments. Kids are bouncing around with a competitive edge to outdo their friends at the next station. It becomes social with people laughing and challenging themselves or the adjacent table. The kids get a sense of pride as the bags of meals pile up. “It’s a great thing we are doing.”

We watch pictures scroll across the screens of kids in a far off land, the tally count of meals packaged to date and at our event. There are testimonials and words of thanks from corporate sponsors. After our allotted time, we high five our team members, count our boxes piled higher than others. There’s a pat on the back and a handshake, words of thanks from the organizers as we toss our hairnets in the trash on our way out. See you tomorrow at work!

I am just like you… or at least I was.

Don’t get me wrong, you are doing great work. Without the volunteers packing meals and the sponsors supporting the cause, Meals from the Heartland would not exist. What happened to me? I went ‘there.’ I am now in the pictures scrolling across the screen.
Half way around the world, in a village in South Africa, I was there.

A cargo shipping crate sits at Del Cramer Children’s Center. We open the doors and see stacks of those familiar boxes. Inside the boxes, bags of Meals. “It’s real.” Those were the words that I could barely get out as I stood inside the crate, lump in my throat, and eyes welling up. A surreal experience that caught me completely off guard.

This could have been the package you packed, or your child did during a school day event or team building experience. It’s not a bad thing, we were having fun packaging and competing with the adjacent station, but we had no real idea where that package was going and what it meant… to the children I was about to meet.

The meals were unpacked, prepared to served 120 children that day… just one day out of hundreds this meal is served. The children arrived walking, talking, and eager to meet the new faces greeting them. They sat in perfect rows and one-by-one stood to introduce themselves by name, age, and to say “you are welcome here.” They sang and in single file lines washed their hands in a wash tub, sat down, and patiently waited to be dismissed to get their meal. The open air pavilion filled with chatter and song quickly fell silent. The food vanished as some politely raised hands to ask for seconds.

After the meal, these smiling welcoming children played with us, gave the biggest hugs you could ever want, and begged us to stay and play more. “See you in a couple days” we said. I had the honor to get to know these kids over the 12 day mission trip.

I am just like you, except today I am privileged to have met these children, felt their love, and experience their welcoming hearts. From a packaging event to a silent pavilion in a village across the globe, your gift of time and money provides more than you could ever know… at least until you are on the receiving end of those hugs and smiles.

Michael Zweigart, Caring Volunteer