When I began homeschooling my son several years ago, the first thing I added to our “school schedule” was a weekly block of time for volunteerism. This block of time was also the first thing I would intensely miss when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our schedule, our lives, and what we had come to celebrate as our non-traditional, new normal way of learning.
Every week we looked forward to picking up our boxes and large coolers of prepared meals from MIFA and delivering them to clients in various neighborhoods throughout Memphis. I believed this rather small commitment of time was a pretty big enforcer of the phrase “I can show you better than I can tell you,” as I’d repeatedly tried, over the years, to explain my son’s privilege to him. Not privilege in the sense that he’s wealthy (he’s not) or “better than” (he’s not that either) but in the sense that those things to which he is accustomed, such as three full, filling meals per day, plus a cabinet full of snacks, plus garage shelves with surplus snacks, is in fact a privilege when we live in a world wherein 820 million people globally do not have enough to eat on any given day. In Shelby County alone that daily number is 140,940 (according to the hunger-relief organization Feeding America).
What I did not realize until the pandemic forced us all into a period of isolation and reflection was how much we were being fed by those on our delivery routes. We may have been a help to them but I saw now how much of a gift they were (and are) to me and my son: feeling now, as I sat on my sofa bemoaning the temporary loss of our weekly drop-offs, how much I missed what we picked up at each of those homes.
I thought about the first time I met one of my now-regular clients, and how excited she was about having turned 85 the week before. “Thanking God for life,” she said with a big smile as she leaned on her cane with her right hand and took her meal from me with her left hand. She then looked me square in the eyes, promising: “I’ll be praying for you until I see you again.”
I believed her whole-heartedly.
That morning my client showed me, very concretely, what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote to the Thessalonians, asking them to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.
I recalled nervously waiting on another client’s front porch, studying the “Caution: Oxygen in Use” sign. The sign bothered me because I knew that though she may be vulnerable she was still a client in need; otherwise I would not be here. I rang the doorbell, placed her meal on the porch chair’s wide wooden arm, and stepped back onto the front lawn, waiting for her to come to the door. When she did, she waved at me, gently removed her oxygen mask, and asserted between labored breaths:
“Don’t let these times get to you. Be strong. This too shall pass.”
I smiled and nodded in agreement before quickly turning away, not wanting her to see that my emotions had gotten the best of me in this moment of selfless generosity. In the middle of a pandemic, she had taken pause from the oxygen sustaining her life to speak words of sustenance into mine.
It is true what Maya Angelou said of giving: it liberates the soul of the giver. I felt that loss of liberation when I could not make our Meals on Wheels deliveries, realizing in the absence of our weekly routes that I was not merely dropping off meals, I was actually picking up hope with every stop I made. My soul felt the void and, as cliché as it sounds, that soul leapt for joy when we were finally able to resume our schedule with MIFA. Though still bound by the restrictions of a pandemic, I felt somewhat free again.
MIFA needs you, especially now. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Kristi Estes at email@example.com and/or visit the organization’s website at www.MIFA.org to learn more.
About the Author, CJ Kirkland
C.J. Kirkland was born in New York to an Italian American mother and a Bahamian father. Raised in the Bahamas and having lived for three years in The Netherlands, she considers herself truly multicultural!
C.J. attended Spelman College on a full academic scholarship. She initially chose to major in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. However, her desire to study and better understand the human psyche (because of events that transpired during her childhood) led her to transfer to the psychology program during her sophomore year. She was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and subsequently enrolled at Morgan State University to pursue a Master of Arts in International Relations. C.J. planned to embark on a career in journalism and, at the advice of her best friend, moved to Los Angeles during her second year of studies. She completed her requirements for her MA in International Relations at UCLA, during which time she had a short internship at CNN. It was during this internship that C.J. met her mentor who believed she should open herself up to opportunities in mainstream television, not just news broadcasting. After booking a national commercial on her very first audition, C.J. worked as a commercial and voice-over actress for four years before returning to her first love: writing.
While working as a freelance writer C.J. embraced her psychology background and began a creative writing group at a Los Angeles residential home for at-risk youth. She also volunteered at a Memphis non-profit organization, helping students build their writing and English skills in preparation for the GED exam. In 2011, C.J. was the graduation keynote speaker at BRIDGES in Memphis, Tennessee.
Currently, C.J. is writer of the River City Rising blog for cityCURRENT. She is also a contributing writer for Executive Speakers Bureau and the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis.
C.J. recently completed her first Contemporary Fiction novel, FOR TRUE. She lives in Memphis with her husband, young son, and two dogs.