Volunteers fill those blue bags with gifts like lotions and shampoos, slippers, new soaps wrapped with a washcloth, cross word puzzles and other fun gifts collected all year just for this purpose: To give.
These volunteers are wonderful people who come regularly in our community to help the Missoula Aging Services in a variety of volunteer positions. They aren't super-humans or anything. They are just adding value to the lives of others and their own as everyday heroes doing little behind the scene things that no one ever sees.
Some of the people I met and talked with had lost loved ones recently or were finding ways to make friend in a new community. But everyone was there to serve others.
They are the everyday heroes I admire.
The RSVP program allows volunteers to be matched to their gifts and skills. It's really cool. Someone could be a volunteer grandparent to a special needs child, drive meals to shut-in folks with the Meals on Wheels program, work on data bases or tutor for children. They can be senior companions or show up once a year to fill gift bags for the Meals on Wheels recipients.
You wouldn't believe the variety of opportunity! Anything from one or two hours a year to several hours a day. It depends on your own choices.
Here's a photo of many gift bag stuffers :-D I was so honored to be asked to attend and pass out a small thank you gift to these volunteers as Mrs. Missoula 2008. Many of the Missoula Aging Services staff came too in order to honor the volunteers as well.
But do you know where we were? We were at Ouida's house. Not an office, not a store and not a warehouse. A home where two ladies have shopped and spent the entire year buying gifts for 280 strangers. And I mean the entire year. These ladies work hard year round to find great ideas and then store them for this work party where a bunch of men and women descend on the home to assemble the gift bags.
See the lovely lady holding the dog in the front row? That is my friend, Ouida. She and her daughter, Tammy (in the blue jogging suit, front row) have been working as the backbone of this event for 5 years now! Their generosity has put gifts under the trees of 280 people that wouldn't see much otherwise. There is no government funding for this. It's done out of the hearts of these people.
120 volunteer drivers showed up yesterday to pick up the bags of gifts and even 280 new pillows! They will be delivering on their regular routes this week.
Some of the comments that the Meals on Wheels clientele have said from years past:
"I'm all alone now. I wish my friends were still alive. I wish my family lived near. But they aren't here. I've missed having a present under the tree."
"Would you come in and watch me open my gift? I don't have anyone to share it with."
"My family always sends money, but I haven't had a real gift in so long."
These are comments reported back from the volunteer drivers. What these people do for others really matters.
If you have the opportunity to take part in this community, you can call Missoula Aging Services RSVP department at 406. 728.7682. You can be matched to anything from delivering meals to holding babies to talking with an elderly friend to assisting in a medical office. It's up to you and the skills God gave you.
Look into your own community for amazing ways to make a difference and to fulfill your own life. Volunteers get back so much more than they ever give when there is no pay. My life is much more enriched because of the people I've met in various volunteer activities.
For those folks who really need a paying job, this is an excellent way to pass the time as you prepare for your next position. You'll gain additional skills, make awesome community connections and be able to use these activities on a resume'.
And believe me, as an employer, I am impressed when I see someone cares about something bigger and outside of themselves.
If I could offer any wisdom it would be: Give generously of yourself. You will never be able to repay what you gain.
PS To the lovely people at Missoula Aging Services, the Jadyn Fred Foundation and AniMeals: As I end my reign, I cannot begin to tell you how honored I have been this year to be a part of your activities as Mrs. Missoula 2008. You all are such heroes to me!
Thank you, thank you, thank you.