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May 10, 2015 | by Alyssa Rachel Gross

4 lessons I’ve learned in giving to others.

When I first heard about Masbia, a kosher restaurant-style soup kitchen, I contacted the volunteer coordinator and got my foot in the door as a volunteer. I was looking for an opportunity to be part of a larger mission, and my intuition told me, this was where I needed to be.

Masbia welcomes everyone, Jew and non-Jew alike, to enjoy a warm tasty meal. I think it represents the ultimate in Tikkun Olam, fixing the world, by fulfilling a basic need: hunger.

From young to old, Jews to Catholics, white to black, everyone is welcome to walk through the door. Each week, there are 200 volunteers, as varied as the diners, that come in to help out from kitchen prep to unloading deliveries and giving out pantry bags on Thursday nights.

Volunteering has been an invaluable experience. Here are some of the lessons I've learned serving chicken, rice, vegetables, soup, bread and dessert to those in need.

1. Smile

Rabbi Yishmael says, "Receive every person cheerfully." Some people make that a lot easier than others. Am I really expected to greet everyone with a smile, including the rude client who is yelling at me about the food? What if I'm the one having a bad day?

What I've learned is that no matter how someone approaches you, greet them with a smile anyway. The people with the hard angry faces need that warm welcome the most. They may not always warm up to you but sometimes they do and sometimes it takes time. Life is not about being reactive. It is about deciding how you want to be, come what may.

2. Give a little extra

Lois, one of the unofficial mothers at the soup kitchen, once instructed me. “Always give them a little extra." If someone needs another cup of tea or a little baggie to go for a sick mom at home, give with an open hand. There are times when we are short on volunteers and the line for the pantry goods runs down the block. We’d love to be able to serve the food in a more expedient fashion but some nights one volunteer is doing the job of three. As people wait to be served dinner or for their pantry bags, I walk around offering another serving of water or apple juice, offering a smile or a simple apology. I throw in an extra bag of edamame or peanut butter to the regulars I know who need it.

This lesson has translated to my work life as well. When Purim time came around, I brought in a variety of flavors of hamentashen to work. I don't think one of my colleagues had ever had a hamentashen in their life but they loved them. More than just the delicious treat, it's about giving just a little bit extra, doing more than necessary. Those moments, while seemingly small, express care and everyone appreciates being considered.

3. Fill the need

At a soup kitchen, sometimes the demand can overwhelm the supply. Whether we're short on staff or on food, we do our absolute best to provide each diner with a hot meal or pantry goods to take home on pantry night.

But there are times when conflict arises. Folks want items that are no longer available or make a request simply above our means. Neil, a fellow volunteer once said, "I don't volunteer to say no." That one simple phrase left a profound mark on me. We are here in life to give. Do your absolute best to say yes. Maybe I can't help you in one way but there's something else that I can do.

4. The world needs you

The nightly news report can often lead us to a cynical view of the world. We are bombarded by images of violence and hatred at home and abroad. But when you enter into a space devoted to giving back to others, you see just how many good people there truly are; dedicated individuals pouring their guts, sweat and tears into helping others. Let your faith in humanity be renewed.

We can all aspire to greatness. Let us give of our time, our heart and ourselves. Find your cause. Find your passion. And may we all merit to be a part of making God’s world a better place.

In memory of the generous spirit of my brother Yitzchak Isaac Ben Chaim Meir.

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