Earlier this year, I read the letter from a reader who wanted charities and others to “stop enabling” people who arrive to pick up food and other goods.

After I retired, I volunteered with several local charitable organizations. It was a never-ending panorama of stories. I remember when I was working, there was a 60ish guy doing building maintenance. He and I spoke a few times, and I remember him being excited about his nearing retirement. Years later when helping fill and carry food boxes, I saw him waiting in line. We spoke and I asked about his retirement. He said he was still working and needed the food box support because his pay barely covered his needs, to say nothing of the three grandchildren he was raising. There was no retirement in the foreseeable future, and this man was in his 70s.

Another person in line was a middle-aged lady with a serious limp. I carried her food box out and she opened her trunk. I noticed a book, with a title that looked like Turabian’s Guide. If you have ever written a paper in college you may remember the late Kate Turabian, author of several books on how to write dissertations and research papers. I commented on the book, and the woman’s story came out. She was single, had been working as a college instructor, had a stroke, lost her job and gained a serious limp. She was working out of her trunk doing private tutoring. She, too, needed food.

I remember of volunteers who also were clients of the organizations where they gave of their time. They were reaching out to help others as they themselves needed help. Volunteer at the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place and strike up a conversation over dinner with one of the guests. I guarantee you will learn something and probably enjoy meeting a few interesting people.

Especially in these days of COVID-19, we need to take a longer-term view of our world. Believe me when I say there are many things we see that are not as they appear. Seeing with only our eyes is not as full a view as understanding with our hearts and minds. Everyone has a “backstory,” and until we are willing to accept that, we are missing a lot, things people can enjoy or learn from — and yes, maybe fear or choose to ignore.

But you will never know the world around you until you try. Curious to learn more? Volunteer — whether at The Food Depot, your church, the New Mexico Wildlife Center, St. Elizabeth Shelter, Habitat Re-Store, Bienvenidos Outreach, the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place, Literacy Volunteers or the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society. The list is endless. Take a long view of your life and those people around you. You will help yourself.

Ken Earle is retired and lives in Santa Fe.

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