Like many Americans, I had heard President Obama's call to action. "Everyone's going to have to pitch in" to help move our country forward, he said earlier this year. So I went to his administration's new website, USAService.org
, where users can search thousands of volunteer opportunities around the United States by zip code. I signed up to volunteer in the soup kitchen at Christ Episcopal Church in Belleville, New Jersey, near my home. It turned out that half of my 15 fellow volunteers had also gone on USAService.org.
Joe Whiteman, the head chef, assigned us our tasks. I made iced tea and chopped vegetables for a tossed salad. Others filled ice buckets and set tables. One of the soup kitchen's founders, Father Randy Webster, advised us to treat the people who come like guests in a restaurant. So as our 30 guests filled the eight round tables around the large basement room, we placed a salad in front of each of them, followed by meatballs and pasta with white sauce.
At one table I met Victoria, 62. She had been a journalist before a bout of depression and a bankruptcy, and comes for a "nutritional and morale boost." The soup kitchen, she said, is like a family: "Food is what brings us together." Feeling that same sense of community, I was already looking forward to my next stint serving people in need.