By Meg Walburn Viviano
Altruism is a beautiful thing. “The belief in or practice of selfless concern for the well-being of others,” as Oxford defines it, is the idea of helping other people even when there’s nothing in it for you.
The beauty of altruistic behavior is that many times, you do get something in return: a human connection, a new perspective, or gratitude for what you have.
Prior to the start of the pandemic last spring, volunteers at my church had been making and collecting casseroles to be served at Beans and Bread, an organization in Baltimore City that helps people with issues of homelessness, mental health, and more. At the edge of a southeast Baltimore housing project, they served the homemade casseroles to hundreds of people as family-style meals.
When COVID-19 forced the center to stop serving sit-down meals, church volunteers quickly problem-solved. The solution? Bagged lunches, distributed to folks who, in many cases, would not get any other meal that day. My family jumped into the effort—each week we add extra quantities to our grocery list, and every Tuesday morning, pack 20 brown-bagged lunches. Each bag gets a bologna and cheese sandwich, a bag of pretzels and a pack of cookies, along with an orange for fiber.
We write a small note of encouragement on each bag (my 5-year-old helps come up with ideas) and decorate it with stickers (both kids get involved there). Our 20 bags are added to as many as 900 other homemade lunches and delivered to Beans and Bread. The effort has been so successful, the lunches are now distributed to Helping Up Mission, an addiction treatment center, as well.
Seeing folks lined up waiting for lunches on Tuesday mornings is a dose of reality for us and our young children. While it’s hard for privileged 3- and 5-year-olds to grasp the concept of poverty, “making the lunches” is an effective weekly lesson. It’s altruism on a small, lunch bag-sized scale.
Community efforts at any scale are powerful, both for those being helped and those doing the helping. We meet a few of those on both sides in this week’s issue of CBM Bay Weekly.
In Annapolis, the tight-knit team at Graul’s Market is touched by autism, so they’re helping to make sure others with autism are well-taken care of.
In Pasadena, a new coffee shop by day/pub by night is modeled after a firehouse and has a mission of giving the volunteer fire company the support they need. Sounds like a good excuse for a coffee (or a beer!) to me.
And at the waterfront, a new campaign aims to clean up the Bay one tiny cigarette butt at a time. Yes, there will be special receptacles around Annapolis just for recycling cigarette butts—and their plastic parts will be reused in construction materials.
Each of these community efforts has a clear mission: to help. But each one also benefits the community at large—now that’s a win-win.