Not everyone wants to get involved with community organizations and do volunteer work in the name of charity whereas I always look for opportunities to extend a helping hand and make a difference in the lives of those who are rather a less fortunate. Family members and friends say I like to work for free. They think I rather use my skills, time and energy in the right place so it brings me some extra cash. From my end, I never regret investing time to serve the hungry and the helpless, making those extra efforts toward creating mass awareness and advocating for a social change while empowering them to achieve a better living or at least help them dream for a secure future ahead of them. In fact, volunteering gives me an extra vibe of positive energy in the body and soul. There is nothing as pleasant as letting someone know that you will be there for him no matter what.
I used to be a frequent volunteer at a homeless breakfast Center in the downtown area of Little Rock, the capital city of Arkansas. Of course, going to work was a priority, but there was a sense of enthusiasm on those mornings when I was scheduled to arrange, organize and serve breakfast to the hungry and homeless at the Center. Like other volunteers, I was always ready to embrace the unexpected, and welcome the unknown faces at the Center. There were days when the number of visitors would outnumber the stack of bread and cases of eggs, but we always ensured everyone got a warm cup of coffee. We were always motivated and team-spirit kept us going. Those who consider themselves a little fortunate, and professionals from all walks of life gathered every morning to serve a cause that they believe in and work diligently.
Later the group moved to serve breakfast under the Broadway bridge near Riverfront Park since downtown neighborhoods and businesses complained about the congregation of the homeless people coming together in the morning. Right now there is no fixed place to serve breakfast to these people. Under this uncertainty our long-standing volunteers fell apart. The recent addition of a Homeless Day Resource Center, as part of the Ten Year Plan to end chronic homelessness, within the River City Ministries building in North Little Rock gave some solace to both the homeless and those serving them including volunteers and their patrons. This facility is aimed at providing services like food, clothing, and healthcare apart from helping them out with housing and employment. But until there is a separate and suitable permanent home for the Day Resource Center, confusion regarding service delivery to the homeless will exist. Mayor Mark Stodola recently said that the City is still in the look out for an alternative site for this Resource Center but failed in its efforts as many possible sites have been objected to by neighborhood associations.
The sad reality is that with this floating group of population, the volunteers who serve them are also floating. There are days when I am able to join them but there are times that I cannot guess where they actually are. I hope there will be a day when the City of Little Rock will understand and determine the need for starting up a full-fledged Breakfast Center for the hungry and homeless population of the city and end the dilemma of juggling for these homeless people before they begin their journey on the streets of the city which has unfortunately failed to ensure public housing for them, let alone a confirmed bed in the city operated shelters day in and day out. Meanwhile, though some people may support prohibiting organizations feeding the homeless in the parks or under the bridge, the volunteers will continue to chase them from one place to another to serve both food and smile.
Reefa Mahboob, M.P.A.