Volunteering at Pacific Garden Mission

Sunset from the Cancer Survivors’ Garden in Grant Park

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Reuben, Corban, and I arrived for our day of volunteering at Pacific Garden Mission (PGM) just a few minutes before 9 a.m. It took us a moment, but eventually we found the proper door where a staff member was eager to greet us.

For those of you who don’t know, PGM is a homeless shelter providing overnight housing and food on a day-by-day basis since 1877. PGM also has four residency programs to assist individuals willing to make longer-term commitments; NewDay (for those who’ve struggled with substance abuse); New Life (for spiritual and workforce development); Mothers and Children’s Ministry; and the Transient Resident Program (a 60-day trial period with options for extensions).

Once inside, we caused a bit of confusion. As far as anyone knew with whom we worked that day, Reuben was the first volunteer (perhaps ever) to show up ready to serve with a baby in hand. They weren’t sure what to ask us to assist them doing under the circumstances. However, Reuben quickly showed them his veteran-dad, one-handed capabilities.

We were eventually directed to the kitchen to prepare place settings for lunch (napkins, silverware, and cups). The three of us together with another first-time volunteer and a few PGM residents made pretty quick work of it.

Then, before lunch was served, our small group of volunteers was directed upstairs to help with bedding where we met another resident who was in charge of overseeing accommodations in the men’s dormitory.

We had a pleasant and informative conversation as we sorted and matched linens. He was an older man, and he told us a bit about his life and some of the ups and downs he had been through across the years. By his account, PGM has made a big difference in giving his life some direction, and he’s seen PGM do a lot of good for others too.

We finished upstairs around 11:15 a.m. when we were wanted back downstairs to help serve lunch. At this point, Reuben and Corban unfortunately weren’t able to help much with the actual food handling. So while the other voluneteer and I went to help in the kitchen, Reuben and Corban did some mingling among the staff, residents, and guests.

In the meal assembly line, we met a few more residents who were particularly receptive and appreciative of our volunteer help. We worked the line until everyone in the first lunch wave had been served and we had a break to eat for ourselves. Then, we did some clean up and went back to the line to serve the second lunch group.

I spent a lot of our lunch clean-up time under the direction of a particularly kind and warm-hearted resident. He praised and thanked me for the simplest tasks, but he was sincere and I was really encouraged working with him. He is one of those people who radiates the love and joy of Jesus. As we finished up around 2:00 p.m., I was glad that I got to end may day volunteering by working alongside him.

Overall, I appreciated the opportunity to visit and volunteer for a few hours at Pacific Garden Mission—not only to learn more about and partake in some of their services, but also to serve alongside some of the residents who’ve benefited from and are actively contributing to the unique character of the mission.

Author avatar
Elise Fetzer

Elise is a senior Intercultural Studies major at Olivet Nazarene University from Oak Lawn, IL. She is serving with LoopNaz as part of her cross-cultural field studies coursework.