Written by Stephen Harris for the United Way of Hunterdon County
There is a sense of joy that comes with giving to others and when it’s a child, doubly so. Earlier this month, I volunteered at one of United Way of Hunterdon County’s Tools 4 School backpack pick-up days. Young families came into the Volunteer Center to receive back packs that will give their children a strong start to the school year. Without the generosity of so many in the community, chances are these children will be at a disadvantage because they don’t have a binder or pens or a colorful backpack; and they will be singled out by their peers at a time in their lives when being accepted is so important.
I watched countless families come in for their free backpacks filled with the school-tools most of us take for granted. Some came up to the table quiet and humble, some happy and with a sense of gratitude. The children, from pre-school, elementary, middle or high school were shown two backpacks so they could select the color and style they liked. There was no problem if they didn’t like either, the volunteers patiently went back to get others. Their goal was not to hand out a backpack, but to hand the child one they really liked. I recall one child over-joyed because the pack she selected had a water bottle. Another because it had a unicorn design, matching her t-shirt. Another selected one with sharks, again matching his shirt.
The youngest ones were the most expressive when they were handed a backpack. Some hid behind their mothers with a nervous smile, others boldly selecting theirs. A few could barely lift their backpacks with all the school supplies inside. All will have a great start to the school year.
Then there are the volunteers themselves. One very young man, small yet big in heart, picked up 4-5 heavy backpack’s and carried them to the table, repeatedly (pictures below). It was a sight to see him try and carry these heavy bags. He had a huge endearing smile while he worked to help other children, some his own size and age. He was tireless, with more energy than some adults.
The process was well organized with a front check-in table, refreshments provided by Wegmans, and a checkout table with patient volunteers working with each child and parent. The volunteers had smiles as big as the children they were helping. In addition, there were jeans donated by the Calvin Klein Outlet Store provided to the children and parents. Earlier in the day, United Way provided free haircuts so they could look their best with their colorful backpacks.
It was apparent that some of the volunteers were tired, having worked long shifts. Yet no one complained. If you asked them, they were all energized by the joy of helping families in their community. This is what volunteering is all about.