I ran to the grocery store after work last night to pick up items for a volunteer opportunity today—the Backpack Coalition. It’s only fair to admit that the grocery run came after a lengthy internal conversation about how I was “too tired” from a long day at work to go pick up groceries. Luckily, my conscience took over that conversation and I was quickly reminded of my purpose: not live for myself, but rather for others.
As some background, the Backpack Coalition is an organization that provides food to underprivileged children in Austin. There are a lot of kids who eat only when they’re at school—breakfast and lunch—and won’t eat until they return to school the next day. So, when they leave school on Friday, they will have little to no access to food until they return to school the following Monday. This hugely hinders their ability to learn as it takes the brain two to three days to recover full cognitive ability—meaning they won’t begin learning again until Wednesday.
I imagine these kids sitting in a classroom surrounded by students who are dressed in new back-to-school clothes, barely worn sneakers, with a backpack full of school supplies and homemade snacks to last them the day—and much further than that. Meanwhile, these students are hungry—hungry—and the thought of learning is near impossible when they’re distracted by the sound of their own stomachs growling.
I kept this thought in mind when I was at the grocery store last night, hesitating on how many groceries to buy for the kids. And when my cart was maxed out and food was dropping in the aisles, I still felt like it wasn’t enough. And it wasn’t because at the end of the day, I’d still go home, open a full fridge of food, and prepare a warm—and let’s be honest, underappreciated—home-cooked meal.
Today, a group of us volunteered at the Backpack Coalition; we packed backpacks full of food for these kids to have this weekend and over the holidays when they’re out of school for a week and looking for something to fill their stomachs. As if that experience wasn’t “real” enough for us, we heard stories about the children we were impacting. One in particular was about a mother who received a grant to go to college, which would ultimately ensure that she could provide a better life for her children. But, that grant meant that she was no longer eligible for food stamps. So, she had a decision to make: short-term or long-term wellness for her family. But because of the Backpack Coalition, she didn’t have to choose; she was able to go to college, set an example for her children, and ensure her kids were fed.In reality, though, it really doesn’t matter how much money we spent on groceries to donate or how much time we spent packing backpacks. What matters is that we took a few hours out of our day to give back to others—to people with stories like that mother—and do our part to make the world a little better of a place than it was last night when we went to bed and this morning when we rose.But this opportunity to better ourselves and our planet wasn’t a solo effort. At GSD&M we are encouraged to volunteer. Now, there are a lot of companies out there that say that. We’ve all heard it—“we encourage our employees to do their part.” But GSD&M doesn’t just talk, it walks. Each month, we are given four hours to volunteer and not only are we given this time away from our desks, but we’re paid for it too. And further than that, the employees work together to make each other aware of how they are volunteering, and even go as far to share it in the internal news so it’s easy for anyone to jump on the train and volunteer. Just this week we had a box set up in the lobby so people who didn’t volunteer for the Coalition could still donate food.
While I’ve just written many, there are few words to explain what it feels like to be part of a company that has a strong sense of purpose and community and continues to evolve to ensure that this purpose and “sense of self” is never lost.
Today’s opportunity to give back to the community felt less like a gift I was giving and more like one that was given to me. And I am 100 percent confident that this gift wouldn’t exist if my company wasn’t pushing me forward, and strongly encouraging me to take four hours out of my day and put it to good use.
It’s one thing to develop our own sense of purpose. It’s not easy, but we spend our lives attempting to do and fulfill it. But how often do we get to say we stand with a company that has it’s own sense of purpose, and a damn good sense of purpose at that?