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I’m Biking Across the Country for Charity — Here’s Why

I’m Biking Across the Country for Charity — Here’s Why

I recently joined a team of students who are biking across the country this summer to raise money for a soup kitchen in our local town. What I loved about the idea wasn’t just the biking-across-the-country part (although that did sound pretty incredible as it is) but the fact that we would be biking across the country for a purpose —- one that would extend far beyond my own life and deep into my surrounding community.

The team that I am part of is on a mission to raise a total of $42,000 for the soup kitchen, and to volunteer our time at the kitchen as much as possible. I’ve been volunteering there on a regular basis and I really wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I do. My usual duties are anything but glamorous — preparing and serving food, wiping tables, washing dishes, and sweeping the floor — but the other volunteers I meet there are some of the kindest and most interesting people I’ve ever crossed paths with, and that’s part of what makes the experience so incredible. I also found that I learned a lot about the reality of social issues in my area and how certain populations are hit pretty hard by them. The conversations that I’ve had with people who have been victimized by the social order have been truly eye-opening.

A particular story that stands out is one that I was told on one of my first shifts at the soup kitchen. A young woman with a slight limp approached me as she was leaving the building and told me that her 50th birthday was the following Thursday. My jaw dropping, I told her that she genuinely did not look a day over 30. My expectation was that she would wave off the compliment, but she seemed to truly enjoy it, responding with several gracious thank-you’s and a story about how her entire family seemed to have great genes. Her 90-year-old father didn’t look a day over 60, she said. He just passed away.

I expressed my condolences, and she continued telling me about her family and how her brother was drugged and murdered in a church basement. I expected her to stop there. But she didn’t.

She was kicked out of an apartment she was renting and was told she had 30 minutes to pack up and leave. She couldn’t pack everything, and was living off of her essentials for a long time. She looked at me and asked me to pray for her, and told me to never take anything for granted. With a degree in Psychology, she said she was considerably privileged for most of her life; she was used to giving, and having enough to give. Now she was in a situation where she had no choice but to rely on the help of others, and she didn’t know how to ask for it.

Stories like these really open your eyes to the nuanced realities of life. Here I am, attending university where my biggest struggles involve midterm papers and waking up on time for class, while there are people like the woman I met whose struggles so exceed my own that they are almost incomprehensible to me. But hearing the emotion in her voice and learning about how she felt about her life made her situation really digestible. I was able to sympathize with her, relate to her like I would any other human being, and understand the reality of the mental turmoil involved with poverty. It’s an element of inequality that is so often glossed over in mass media. We read statistics about unemployment rates and destitution, and we send our old clothes off to Salvation Army not quite thinking about who they’re going to. The real meaning and nuances of homelessness and what it means to be “just getting by” have been completely lost.

But seeing it first hand — seeing poverty in my own community — makes this issue a thousand times more real to me. I am able to see not only what poverty looks like, but what it feels like. And it’s making me a lot more passionate about my mission to raise money for this soup kitchen. Volunteering has given me a really clear picture of what and who I’m fundraising for, and I am more excited than ever to embark on this journey over the summer for a cause I really care about.

If you are interested in supporting me and this cause in any way, please feel free to contact me at jusleenonwheels@gmail.com!

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