Thank God for the Volunteer

Officially, volunteer appreciation week is in April. But my appreciation for volunteers mushrooms on the first Saturday in November.

That’s when we open our church for the beginning of another season of Out of the Cold. Each Saturday night for 22 weeks, we’ll offer dinner to 125 or so people. About 60 will stay the night (our limit) and get a hot breakfast in the morning before returning to the streets and landing at the next location for Sunday night. We add in some clothes, some informal counselling, and lots of conversation.

Our church isn’t particularly novel. Many groups do what we do, including churches, synagogues, community groups and various charitable organizations.(And consider that a 2010 Statscan study showed that 47% of Canadians do some form of volunteer service, and the number of volunteers is growing faster than the population. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-008-x/2012001/article/11638-eng.htm )

And what we do for our guests who are homeless is fraught with concerns: Are we making it easier for government to avoid housing issues? Should we be more involved in advocacy? Or direct provision of housing? Does our work actually do any good?

This is our 19th season of asking those questions and coming to the conclusion that on any given winter Saturday night, this seems like the right thing to do. An imperfect answer in an imperfect world.

But as one of the committee responsible for the program at our location, what wells up in me at this time of year is appreciation for my fellow volunteers. To pull it off each weekend, we need three dozen people drawn from a roster of 120 or more who are willing to be scheduled two or three times a month. They work hard. They don’t avoid the nitty gritty, and they really connect with our guests.

So for one of our orientation sessions I created a song parody, and helped sing it badly. It’s corny and barely singable. (It helps if you’re really loud). But it’s heartfelt.

Here it is. Give it a try -- and thank God for the volunteer.

-- Larry Matthews 

(Sung loudly, to the tune of Thank God I’m A Country Boy. With apologies to John Denver)

THANK GOD FOR THE VOLUNTEER

Well life on the street is tough – it’s a fact
Ain’t much that people like me can’t hack
It’s walkin’ all day, and watching your back
Thank God for the volunteer!

Life out there can do you lots of harm
Making your way takes a lot more than charm
At least in here I don’t feel alarmed
Thank God for the volunteer!

Well they shake my hand and ask me how I feel
They get me a mat and a good hot meal
When I leave the next day it’s kind of surreal
Thank God for the volunteer!

Smiling faces’ are always at the door
And really nice people in the used clothing store
Working in the kitchen you’ll find even more
Thank God for the volunteer!

It’s always good to get off my feet
And see some people I truly want to meet
Life ain’t good but this is kind of sweet
Thank God for the volunteer!

Well they shake my hand and ask me how I feel
They get me a mat and a good hot meal
When I leave the next day it’s kind of surreal
Thank God for the volunteer!

Volunteers do more than I can recite
From mopping the floors to talking all night
A new crew comes before its daylight
Thank God for the volunteer!

We depend on these friends both big and small,
It’s not required but they care for us all
What a relief both winter and fall
Thank God for the volunteer!

Well they shake my hand and ask me how I feel
Get me a mat and a good hot meal
When I leave the next day it’s kind of surreal

Thank God for the volunteer!