By Stephen Madison, Associate Program Director, PADS
If someone approached you and said in order to accomplish our goal, we need to assemble a large group of people that will work for free, every single night, of every single week, of every single month, of every single year, how would you respond? Most people would reply with a “what, are you nuts?” Or maybe a more polite “thanks, but no thanks, buddy.”
Fortunately, for the roughly 1,000 guests that stay at Hesed House each year, you are not like most people. For 365 nights a year, including Christmas and New Year’s Eve when most people are relaxing and enjoying time off with their friends and family, people just like yourselves are joyfully serving the guests of Hesed.
This task is by no means a small one. Making dinner for up to and sometimes more than 200 people can be a daunting endeavor. One that requires a considerable amount of logistical coordination, but that’s just for starters. PADS volunteers provide so much more than a meal for the night. What that meal represents to our guests is affirmation. Affirmation that there are people out there, many of them perfect strangers, who still care about them and their well-being. It is an acknowledgement that many people realize that we are all in this together, and they are not going through this difficult time in their lives alone.
In addition to providing our guests with meals that, in many cases, rival those that can be found in many reputable eating establishments, volunteers make many valuable connections as they serve, sometimes unbeknownst to them. Oftentimes I will see a guest’s eyes light up when they see a returning volunteer. They mention a conversation from weeks or even months ago that, however brief it may have been, ended up resonating with them. Maybe just a few encouraging words or a listening ear can make all the difference to someone. In fact, these connections tend to work both ways. I often get similar reports from volunteers. They look forward to seeing a particular guest that they have enjoyed conversations with, or maybe just enjoy playing a simple game of cards.
As much as the volunteers and I enjoy being able to experience these meaningful interactions and relationships, there’s one thing that I enjoy more; the day when a volunteer walks in and asks where a particular guest is today, and my answer is that they have secured stable housing and no longer reside at Hesed House. That is the ultimate goal, and one that could not be achieved without countless individuals like you, who are definitely not like most people. And for that, we are truly grateful. On behalf of Hesed House staff and guests alike, thanks to all of you!