Chances are good that at some time in your life, you have donated – or have been invited to donate – nonperishables for a food drive in your community. Have you ever stopped to wonder where that food goes, and how it gets to the people who finally receive it?

Many years ago, my father joined an organization called St. Vincent de Paul, a nonprofit group affiliated with the Catholic church. According to their Web page, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul “offers tangible assistance to those in need on a person-to-person basis. It is this personalized involvement that makes the work of the Society unique. This aid may take the form of intervention, consultation, or often through direct dollar or in-kind service. An essential precept of the Society’s work is to provide help while conscientiously maintaining the confidentiality and dignity of those who are served. The Society recognizes that it must assume, also, a role of advocacy for those who are defenseless or voiceless. Some 12 million persons are helped annually by Vincentians in the United States.”

One of the main ways my dad contributed was by making house calls to deliver food boxes to those who’d called our church to request material assistance. For a short time (less than a year) while I was in high school, I used to go with him on these calls. I’d honestly forgotten all about it – both the need people had for the assistance and my own participation, once upon a time – until a few days ago, my sister asked me if I’d be willing to go with her to make some SVDP calls. In fact, until she asked me to help her, I don’t think I even realized she’d gotten involved in the organization, since moving back to Phoenix from New Jersey in the last couple years.

I agreed to go with her on the calls, as her usual partner has become unreliable – and for safety reasons, they always go in teams of at least 2 people.

While I have no real memory of how I felt when I accompanied my dad on his calls all those years ago (although I do have a slight recollection of feeling somewhat uncomfortable), this time around, I felt humbled. What a thing, to be frustrated that we didn’t get the tree up till Christmas Eve or to worry about not getting all of my personal stocking gifts finished on time … when in other houses within our very community, people have real concerns – like how they’re going to put food on the table for themselves and their two small children.

We went on two calls. One was a single man, probably in his 30s with squarish, horn-rimmed glasses. The other was a couple with a 2-year-old and a 2-month old. The man’s home, on the second floor of a rather run-down apartment complex that faces a busy street, smelled like an ashtray. Although it was not my place to judge, I caught  myself wondering whether he was spending on cigarettes money  he could have been using to purchase food. Good thing I’m neither in charge of the organization, nor do I make the rules. Based on the charitable vision of St. Vincent himself, they judge no one and do their best to serve all who ask … including the strung-out, unwashed, uneducated, crude, and otherwise untouchables we’d probably never  give the time of day under normal circumstances.

Even at my lowest point financially (trying to stretch $100 to last a month, back in college), I have never really wanted for anything. Food, clothing, shelter, clean drinking water, friends, family, entertainment … freedom. The problem is that when we have so much, it’s way too easy to take the bare basics for granted.

I don’t believe any of us who are blessed with abundance should feel guilty for what we’ve achieved or for the possessions we do have. But I think it makes us better people … kinder people … when we can remember that not everyone on earth – or perhaps even around the corner from us – is as blessed as we are. And more importantly, our own lights shine just a little brighter when the opportunity arises to serve or help lighten their load, and we respond with an unqualified, “Yes!”