Last winter, my food-writer friend Jennifer McGovern invited me to take a tour of the Downtown Soup Kitchen in Anchorage, Alaska. The new building was still in progress at the time; it was just weeks before its grand opening. As I walked through the premises, I imagined what it might be like filled with volunteers, clients, and hot meals.
This fall, inspired by the Advil® Relief in Action Initiative – an awesome program all about celebrating the efforts of volunteers who don’t let pain stop them from helping others – I had the special privilege of returning to the new and fully-operational Downtown Soup Kitchen and serving alongside my friend Jennifer, who volunteers there weekly and writes for the blog on the Downtown Soup Kitchen website. In October 2013, the Downtown Soup Kitchen served over 8,000 meals and had 125 regular volunteers. In addition to serving hot lunches, they also have a laundry and shower facility, an indoor coffee lounge where clients can keep warm, and an area where they collect clothing and shoe donations and other necessities for those who need them.
Jennifer first started volunteering at the Soup Kitchen several years ago, when her kids were younger. She was in the neighborhood of the old facility during lunchtime and saw a large crowd of folks being served hot meals in cold weather. Jennifer felt compelled to go inside and inquire about becoming a volunteer. The first time she volunteered, she signed up with her husband and three children to go and serve together as a family at Christmastime. She recalled that it was a frigid -17 degrees that particular day in Anchorage as clients began arriving to enjoy their hot meals. The experience of serving alongside her husband and young children at the Downtown Soup Kitchen had a profound and lasting impact on Jennifer and her family. She still serves there regularly, and her kids and husband join her whenever their school and work schedules allow.
In fact, Jennifer’s husband, Ted, is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Alaska Army National Guard where he serves as a Chaplain. This past fall, Lt. Col. McGovern was placed on furlough as a result of the 2013 Government Shutdown. During his sudden and unexpected time off of work, he went to the Downtown Soup Kitchen and served meals with Jennifer. Ted and Jennifer indicated that serving others in the midst of the Shutdown really put things into perspective for them. Their commitment to serving others, and their heart for offering hope in the midst of hard times, is an inspiration to me.
The truth is that every volunteer has a story and their own unique set of circumstances. The Downtown Soup Kitchen was bursting with the energy and smiles of their amazing volunteers. I was incredibly impressed by the contagious attitudes and deep sense of hospitality demonstrated by all the staff and volunteers as they worked tirelessly to provide hot, nutritious meals- many of them made from scratch with fresh ingredients. They worked with tremendous grace and purpose.
I am partnering with Advil® because they are doing some incredible work highlighting and supporting active volunteerism across our nation. The Advil® Relief in Action campaign honors and supports people who don’t let pain get in the way of helping others. From helping rebuild homes and businesses devastated by Superstorm Sandy, to building homes for people in need through Habitat for Humanity® International, or being the ultimate volunteer- a veteran or soldier of our armed forces- Advil® is honoring volunteers who actively give back to help others. Through partnerships with Habitat for Humanity® International and Wounded Warrior Project®, Advil® will recognize volunteers’ hard work and relieve the tough pain that comes along with giving back.
It was a great privilege to get to highlight some of our local Alaskan volunteers and serve alongside them. I donned my camouflage Downtown Soup Kitchen apron, grabbed a name tag, and was promptly put to work peeling and cutting sweet potatoes and yams, chopping ham, and stirring soup (stirring such a large pot with such a gigantic paddle was reminiscent of rowing a boat in calm water). I even got to serve as a guest taste-tester, sampling the delicious, creamy ham and potato chowder that was on offer that day. As the clients arrived for lunch and the lines formed, everyone went to their respective areas to serve, and I took my place at the soup station next to Jennifer, who was serving hot bread. The dining room filled with the inviting sounds of conversation mixed with the satisfaction that comes along with enjoying a warm, hearty meal. In that moment, although our legs were aching from being on our feet for several hours, my heart was full. Completely full.
I invite you and strongly encourage you, my dearest readers, to join the Advil® Relief in Action Initiative in supporting active volunteers like the McGovern family and all those who serve at the Downtown Soup Kitchen. Some ways to do this are:
-Follow @ReliefinAction on Twitter and Instagram
–Like Advil® on Facebook
-Share how you see Relief in Action by posting a photo with the hashtag #ReliefinAction on Instagram and Twitter.
-Visit http://www.advil.com/reliefinaction to learn more.
Earlier this year, as part of the Advil® Relief in Action program, Advil® donated a portion of the price of participating bottles to Habitat for Humanity® International and Wounded Warrior Project® so their volunteers could get the relief they needed, and get back to giving back.
Disclaimer: I am participating in a sponsored campaign hosted by Advil® as part of the Advil® Relief in Action campaign. I received compensation for this post. While all opinions stated are my own, I make no claims about Advil® as a product or its effectiveness.