At my last full time job, I had a flexible schedule and project work that could be done from a computer almost anywhere.  I was on a small team with a high level of communication and interaction, and for the most part a happy, open work environment.  Our normal work weeks were short – only 37.5 hours required, leaving time to take a half hour lunch every day without feeling strapped to a desk.

Given all of that, I thought it would be an easy sell to my boss on the idea of taking a day every month to do some sort of community work, if I accounted for it in my schedule and worked a few extra hours on the other weeks to make up for the time lost.  There wasn’t a downside, in my opinion!  But it didn’t fly – I was told that this would create a slippery slope, and then where would it stop?  Two volunteer days a month?  A week’s trip to aid natural disasters?  How would “community” and “volunteer” be defined?  I was told I could use vacation time if it was that important to me.

I get the reason to have standard policies, I really do – some of those questions are good ones!  I guess I just don’t think it’s hard to create some easy parameters, if that kind of activity is considered an acceptable priority, and therein lies the real reason my request wasn’t granted.  Volunteering isn’t that much of a priority to most people. People (especially in DC) want to contribute to a charity by giving money or attending a party or gala benefit so they can enjoy themselves at the same time.  While important for funding, those activities don’t really meet the needs of whoever is being served at the ground level, and that’s a place where anyone can offer help!  As a small business owner, I don’t have much money to offer right now – what I do have is my time and expertise.  And I think every business should build in a system for giving back as a corporation, while encouraging their employees to find ways to do the same.

This may all sound very higher-than-thou: let me be clear that I am in no way trying to brag, and I certainly don’t have a spotless history of monthly volunteering through my adult life.  What I am doing here is making a public commitment to that goal, and inviting you to think about joining me in your own way!  And I want to share with you the inspiring organization that is Manna Food Center – the people who work here live and breathe giving back on a daily (if not hourly!) basis, and what they accomplish as a whole is amazing.

Some amazing stats:

  • 2 million pounds of food is donated to needy people annually – and that’s food that would otherwise be thrown away!  Everything from dented cans, to about-to-expire food, to food rejected by grocery stores because part of the order was damaged…sometimes perfectly good products are cleared from shelves just because a store is resituating where things are placed!
  • 3,300 families are fed monthly at 14 distribution centers in the area, providing enough food for 3-5 days
  • Balanced boxes of food are created to give recipients by combining the donated items in ways that make sense nutritionally, and they have a Registered Dietitian on staff
  • “Smart Sacks” is a program that gives school children a bag to take home, so their only meal of the day isn’t at school

A quick tour…

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This warehouse is gigantic, and full of people busy as bees!  Some are paid staff, but you can also volunteer here…they are very organized, as Kevin (pictured), their Director of Operations explained the whole system. I’ll be giving the next donated WFW Dinner Party to recipients of Manna’s charity – booking yours this spring will help me reach the 10 needed to initiate getting that on the books!