The Value of a Volunteer

Happy Friday! It’s extra happy for me, because tonight Jacob comes home from Puerto Rico. Never mind the fact that tomorrow morning he leaves for Scout camp; I don’t want to think about that right now. Thanks to modern technology, his absence hasn’t been too hard for me. We’ve texted back and forth each day, and the adults on the trip have been posting pictures to the team Facebook page. It looks like the trip has been a nice combination of work, relationship building, and fun. I can’t wait to hear all the details tonight!

As you may know, I work at a history museum. Although different from hunger-relief orgs, our small educational non-profit faces some of the same challenges – things like fundraising, fulfilling our mission on a tight budget, and doing it all with a tiny (and mostly part-time) staff. I know for a fact that the key to meeting our objectives in a quality way is our other staff – the volunteers.

If you assume that a small non-profit would pay about $10 per hour for help (that number is low, I know. Many of our volunteers are worth far more than that. But it’s a nice round number for this math-phobe, and it makes the point without any chance of exaggerating), then even our most occasional event volunteer is saving us hundreds of dollars per year. Our top volunteer at the museum worked over 400 hours last year – that’s more than $4000 in free labor. But you and I both know that without these volunteers we wouldn’t be spending that much more money – we would be getting a lot less done.

A couple weeks ago, my family and I participated in Feed My Starving Children’s Love Somalia mobile pack event in St Paul. During the four days of packing, volunteers assembled 4.5 million meals. Volunteers. If FMSC had to replace the volunteers with packing machines, they would also have to add staff to maintain and supervise the machines. They would have to work harder to raise awareness and funds. They couldn’t hold special events where 4.5 million EXTRA meals are packed in a weekend.

I found some statistics from the Bureau of Labor that show you just how powerful volunteers are in America. From September 2015-September 2016, 62.6 million Americans volunteered at least once with a non-profit organization. The median number of volunteer hours each person gave was 54 hours per year. The biggest recipient of volunteer labor was religious non-profits. This makes sense, right? If you’re a member of a church, you’re probably doing some kind of volunteer service there – teaching Sunday school, greeting visitors, serving in the kitchen during weddings and funerals, etc. Educational and youth-services non-profits came in second. If you have kids or grandkids in school, it’s hard to avoid the pleas for PTO members, fundraiser parents, and classroom volunteers.

One statistic I found stated that in 2013, Americans volunteered more than 7.7 billion hours. BILLION! If we multiply that by our paltry sum of $10/hour, that’s over $77 billion dollars in free labor given to help others learn, grow in faith, or meet their physical needs!

If you volunteer, and you’re feeling discouraged and wondering if your service is doing any good, think about that number. You are part of something HUGE – something that runs our schools, museums, art institutions, churches, food shelves, homeless shelters, job programs, and many more vital places! If you believe in their mission, make a difference with your time!

What is your favorite place to volunteer? Join the discussion by posting in the comments!

This weekend, my son, Jacob, and a group of 15 students and chaperones from our church are leaving for a week-long missions trip to Puerto Rico. I asked Jacob to help with this week’s post so we can tell you all about his trip.

I chose to go on this trip with my youth group because I think that everyone should experience a missions trip at least once. It lets you see how people live in other parts of the world, and it gives you a chance to get away from the distractions of your life and focus on sharing Jesus with others.

This week in Puerto Rico we will be working with kids at a camp. I have enjoyed helping with VBS at my church for three years, and have attended Bible camp ever since I have been old enough, so this is a good fit for me. We have been practicing songs and skits, some in Spanish (which I do not speak!) to perform for the kids. I’ll be playing the part of Jesus in one of the skits. Some of the students will be sharing their testimonies, as well. We have been preparing some crafts for the kids to do – cutting out tons of little pieces of paper to take along. The airline better not lose that luggage or we’ll have to cut them all out again! There will also be days when we are doing maintenance work at the camp, and a day for sightseeing and going to the beach.

The cost of the trip was $1250, which includes our airfare, housing, food, and supplies for the week. I made the $100 initial down payment from money earned at my part-time job at McDonalds, and some of the cost was offset by fundraisers through the youth group. The rest was raised through support letters which I sent to family. Through their generous support, I made my goal and I’m ready to go! Puerto Rico is an easy location for a missions trip. You get the experience of missions in a foreign culture, but since Puerto Rico is part of the United States, they use U.S. currency and you don’t need a passport or have to deal with customs at the airport.

I am excited to see what God is going to do through the youth of Riverdale Church this week! We appreciate your prayers for safe travels, health and unity for the team, and that many kids’ lives would be changed for Jesus. You can follow our adventure on our trip blog, http://puertorico.myadventures.org/

 

Light it up!

Matthew 5:13-16 – You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Last weekend my family and I packed meals for Feed My Starving Children‘s #LoveSomalia mobile pack event here in the Twin Cities. Our first shift was on Sunday, so of course I came down with a migraine that afternoon. Some prescription meds and a nap later, I called on my faithful prayer warrior friends to pray that I would have “a supernatural burst of health and energy” for the event. God answered our prayers, and a burst of health and energy is exactly what I got! By the time the introduction/training portion of the event was done, I felt great. And as we developed a rhythm on the packing floor (I run a sealer and Jacob is a pro boxing coordinator/table lead. Scott usually helps in the warehouse, but for this event he stayed with the fam and scooped the vitamins and veggies), I was having a lot of fun! Jacob and I had a rhythm going. As I finished sealing a bag, I tested the seal then flipped it into the air, and he would reach out and snatch it up and put it in the right place. (We were very careful. I never threw them high enough to damage a bag if he didn’t catch it, and I tossed them over the sorting table so they didn’t hit the floor. One actually missed the table and landed right in the box!) We laughed, we sang along with the music playing in the arena, and even danced a little (or what passes for “dancing” in our family…) I physically worked to pack meals for about two hours, yet I left with more energy than I had going in! When Scott and I talked about it later, the only way I could explain that energy and why I keep signing up for events like that was to say that it “lights me up.”

Do you know the feeling of being lit up? Maybe you LOVE babies, kids, or teens, and spending time with them gives you that burst. Maybe you’re an actor, musician, comedian, or public speaker, and you feel the thrill of the live audience. Maybe creating artwork, playing a sport, or writing your novel gets you too excited to sleep. I’ll bet that there is something in your life that energizes you in spite of the calories it burns. This is passion. This is what you were put on this earth to do.

That may leave some of you baffled, or even insulted. The first time I heard a sermon on giftings and passion, I was hurt. I remember sitting in church and praying, “God, I make good cookies. What are you going to do with that?” I didn’t see my passion for food as something God could or would use. My “spiritual gifts” test always came out as “helps” which means pitching in where needed. So my passion was food and my gifting was pitching in. I thought that was pathetic. I thought it relegated me to bake sales and funeral lunches. But I wanted to make a difference in the world!

It took time for me to mature and for my interests and giftings to come together into something I could think of as a calling. Now here I am: writing, sometimes raising funds, and volunteering to my heart’s content for the cause of global hunger relief. I believe that when I asked God what He could do with my talent for making cookies, He had a fatherly chuckle and said, “Watch me.” Your talent may seem small, or like something that doesn’t coincide with spreading the gospel or changing the world, but God doesn’t make mistakes. He gave you your gifts and personality because He needed just that you in just the life He gave you. Let your light shine!

Cheap Summer Recipes

Summer is just around the corner, yay! On the upside, fresh produce is abundant and lower in price. On the downside, it gets too hot to cook! So today I’m bringing you a few of my favorite summer-friendly cheap recipes.

Alternative pizza nights
Grabbing a pizza is a reasonably-priced way to feed a family or group of friends, but it’s hard to accommodate everyone’s tastes, and you pay a delivery fee to wait 45 minutes for a pie! We have two alternatives to pizza night that are fun for the family and pretty economical. The first is a simple idea called “pizzadillas,” and the second is a make-your-own pizza night on the grill. All it takes is a pizza stone or one of those grill mats so your pizza won’t fall through.

Pizzadillas:
Shredded mozzarella
Pizza sauce
Tortillas
Pizza toppings of your choice

Put a little mozzarella and the toppings of your choice between two tortillas, and heat on the stovetop until the cheese melts and the outside is browned. Cut the pizzadilla with a pizza cutter and dip into pizza sauce.

Make-Your-Own Pizza Night: Crust recipe originally found on Food.com

2 1⁄4 teaspoons yeast
1⁄4 teaspoon sugar
3⁄4 cup hot water
1 3⁄4 cups flour
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
Pizza sauce, cheese, and toppings of your choice

Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the warm water. Let sit 5-10 minutes until the yeast mixture becomes frothy. Add the flour and salt, and mix well. This makes one pizza for 2-4 people, or you can divide the dough in half (or thirds – I have a teenager and a husband who runs distances, so they eat bigger than your young kids will) and let each person make their own. I usually double the recipe and make four individual pizzas. Roll out the dough and top with sauce, cheese, and toppings of your choice. Cook on a hot grill until the cheese is melted and the crust begins to brown.

Quiche
Eggs are an economical source of protein, and quiche is a great way to turn leftover meat, cheeses, and veggies into a brunch or dinner for the whole family. Quiche consists of two parts: the crust and the egg filling. You can buy a pie crust to save time and effort, but making pie crust is really not that hard. Here is my go-to pie crust recipe; I got it years ago from my friend’s aunt who is a terrific cook!

3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
1 cup cold butter (cut in small chunks)
1 egg
1 tsp. vinegar
cold water

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter chunks and mix until it resembles pea-sized chunks. Add the egg and vinegar and mix. Add the cold water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together. Remove from the mixer and divide in two. Roll out the dough and place in pie pan. (makes 2 pie crusts or one double crust for fruit pies)

Filling:
5 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup of cream or milk
cheeses, meats, and veggies of your choice

Mix the eggs and milk. Pour into pie crust. Add cheeses, meats, and veggies of your choice. I’m a big fan of cheddar, onion, and leftover ham. Sometimes I throw in some spinach if I have it on hand. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Top with cheese and bake for another 20-25 minutes. Quiche is done when the filling is firm and the top starts to brown.

Stretching seasonal produce
Summer is the ideal time for the freshest produce at the best prices. And if you’re gardening or subscribing to a CSA box, you might have produce coming out of your ears! Don’t let it go to waste, learn some basics of freezing and preserving produce.

My excess usually comes in the form of raspberries and zucchini, which both freeze well (shred the zucchini, squeeze out some of the liquid, and put in a plastic freezer bag. Remove as much air as possible and freeze). There’s nothing like fresh sweet corn in season, and it’s possible to preserve that flavor for winter too.

Summer Sweet Corn: From on a post on Little Dairy on the Prairie
15 cups raw corn kernels (shuck the corn and cut off the kernels. I like to use a Bundt pan. The little center part makes a great stand for the corn, and the kernels can fall into the round pan in any direction)
1/8 cup salt (I know. 1/8 of a cup. I just half fill a ¼ cup measuring cup. It works out)
½ cup sugar
4 cups hot water
¼ cup butter

Put all ingredients in a large pot. Heat slowly to a gentle boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Ladle into freezer bags and seal. Lay bags flat and freeze.

 

I hope this gives you some new ideas for affordable, summer-friendly recipes. Share some of your favorites in the comments!

 

My Confession: Off the Wagon

I have a confession to make: I fell off the wagon. No, I’m not becoming an alcoholic. I haven’t even failed at another diet. No, I’ve failed at a different goal. Back in January I made a plan to go through all of 2017 without purchasing any clothing, shoes, or accessories for myself that were not fair trade produced. I thought I could pull it off because I have a bathing suit that fits, and I didn’t need new athletic shoes. Those are typically the hardest things to find fair trade. But I only made it to May.

This week I went looking for a sundress or two for some summer events we have coming up. I found a couple options on Amazon that were made in the USA. Since there is a minimum wage in America and labor laws in place to protect workers, I figured it was safe to buy American. I’m not sure where the fabric was produced, just that the construction was done here, so it was a bit of a compromise.

Then my favorite bra turned on me. There is nothing quite like being stabbed in the heart… There are a few companies making fair trade under things, I’m a big fan of my Pact Organic socks, and I buy their undershirts for my guys, but I haven’t found a company that caters to plus sized people. In fact, everything fair trade is hard to find in plus sizes, but undergarments and swimwear are the worst.

Since I was already making an order, I bought a few other things. That’s how it goes, isn’t it? If I mess up my diet, I eat the whole buffet. If I break my shopping fast, I make it worth paying shipping. I didn’t max out a credit card or anything, but I picked up a bathing suit cover-up and a pair of pajamas along with some underthings.

My husband is turning 40 this summer, and he decided that rather than throw a party, he would like to go on a short trip, just the two of us (as an introvert, this was more his style). So we booked a birthday weekend in Vegas. In August. Yikes. August in the desert… Since I already failed at my goal, I bought a second bathing suit for the trip, and a pair of cute shoes that were really cheap.

I did it. I messed up. I can’t change that (well, I could return some things. But that’s not always an option). But I have to pick myself up and start again. I went four full months without buying anything that wasn’t fair trade. That’s pretty good. I learned some things about need vs. want and making do with what you have, and I practiced saying no to my urge to medicate my feelings with shopping (it’s like eating your feelings, but more expensive…). Because of my commitment, I also learned about some great fair trade companies. There were some wins, for sure. Now I need to dust myself off and start again. It’s never too late to do the right thing. One binge does not make me a bad person. I’ve only failed if I don’t pick myself up and get back on track. (I’m trying to convince myself here. Is it working? I think so.)

I’m always looking for fair trade retailers, especially if they carry hard-to-find items like swimwear, plus sizes, and athletic shoes! Share your favorite fair trade or American-made company in the comments!