The Magic of Giving Back

Raleigh Rescue Mission

It’s impossible to know exactly what to expect when volunteering somewhere new, but sometimes those surprises are, in a word, magical. As I tied my apron strings to serve lunch at the Raleigh Rescue Mission’s downtown shelter, I learned I would be serving alongside actor, comedian and magician Jeff Altman. This guy was on the David Letterman show more than 40 times and here he was, showing me the ropes of the lunch line. He and his wife, Bonnie, have been weekly volunteers here for years. 

“A wise therapist once told me, ‘If you want to feel better about your life, help someone else,’” Jeff says. “And it’s true. It works every time. I’m always glad I come.” 

Would there be parking? Would I be safe? Will I know what to say and do? All these little concerns niggling me that morning instantly melted away. From the detailed information they send before the shift to the convenient parking and a guard at the entrance to direct you, RRM has its volunteer coordination down to a science.

The chef in the shelter’s kitchen prepares the meal, so all we had to do was cut biscuits and scoop gravy into them, if requested. Once all the biscuits were open-faced, we had a moment before the hungry biscuit recipients arrived, so Jeff treated me to a mind-bending card trick. I’m convinced that reading my mind was the only way he correctly guessed my card. Though the trick left me bewildered and certainly entertained, the most magical part of the lunch was just beginning.

Raleigh Rescue Mission offers several ways to help people who are struggling to get back on their feet. The meals served in the dining room are primarily for residents who live upstairs in the shelter, so Jeff and Bonnie knew many residents by name. As residents filtered through our line, their smiles, gratitude and the genuine mutual care between us shook me to the core. 

It was clear to me that I was receiving much more than I could give. 

“That’s what we love about volunteering here,” Bonnie says. “It’s a blessing to us.” 

As much as the Altmans appreciate getting to know the clients who reside upstairs, they also love when those clients are not in line the next week. 

“It works, what they do here,” Bonnie says. “People will get a job, an apartment, they get back on their feet. To think that maybe my smile, or a meal, or a kind word I gave helped them take another step and keep fighting for a better future—it’s wonderful.” 

As I performed the simple tasks of saying hello, dishing gravy onto biscuits, scooping veggies and handing plates over with a smile, I realized that this was going to be the most meaningful lunch I’d have all week. It meant an opportunity for me to serve and maybe, just maybe, it meant hope and strength for someone else. That’s where the magic truly comes from.

Beyond serving meals, there are many ways to volunteer with Raleigh Rescue Mission. Find an opportunity to fit your schedule at raleighrescue.org.

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