Every time I talk about volunteering with someone who has been doing so for a long time, the same nodding-in-unison happens about two minutes into our chat. No matter what kind of volunteering we’re talking about, we always agree that we get as much as we give. We don’t volunteer regularly because we have to. We do it because we want to. This never-ending circle of giving and receiving is a beautiful thing and one that will enrich your life as much as the ones around you.
One of the ways both Grace and I give back is our regular cooking shift at Angel Food East, a wonderful program near us that provides fresh, lovingly-prepared meals to clients who are homebound for a variety of reasons including chronic illness. Every single Thursday morning, we wake up before the sun comes out and drive half an hour to the church kitchen where Angel Food East is located. We roll up our sleeves with a few other people to cook a meal for at least 60, and sometimes up to 70, people. We package up the meals so they’re ready for the delivery crew. I have never been a morning person, but I’ve come to look forward to Thursday mornings more than any other day of the week. I love this group of people and the food we make and it means so much to have a tangible way to give back to our community.
It was community work like this that inspired my new book, Feed the Resistance: Recipes + Ideas for Getting Involved. Feed the Resistance is a cookbook and a resource guide for activism. A lot of people have been asking me what one has to do with the other and the answer is simple: both food and activism are about community.
The book itself is a community effort. It contains content from over 20 contributors from a wide range of backgrounds, including over 30 practical and personal recipes, inspiring essays, and a few lists with direct and simple suggestions for how to get involved and effect change. And the icing on the cake? All proceeds go to the ACLU, so purchasing the book is, in and of itself, a meaningful way to support the protection of civil liberties. And we’re giving away FIVE signed copies today (see below for details)!*
Putting together this book has changed my life in so many ways, including expanding my own community (if you want to make some amazing new friends, ask group of smart people from all over the country to contribute to a meaningful project). It’s also given me a chance to reflect on the different ways I give back to my community and how that service positively impacts not only the people I serve, but also myself.
My community work has:
- Helped me meet people I may not have met otherwise. I can’t imagine how else Grace and I would’ve met Georgine and Diane, the two other women we volunteer with at Angel Food East. We’ve gotten to talk to them about everything from our families and our interests to local and national politics. Getting insight into their experiences and opinions has been invaluable. Our lives are better with them in it.
- Helped me have an anchor point in my schedule. As a freelance writer with a bit of a peripatetic life, regularly volunteering has given me the routine I so often crave. Even if you have a more “normal” daily life than I do, a regular volunteer shift is a really wonderful thing to plan other things around.
- Helped me step outside of myself for a little while. In the age of social media, #FOMO, and more, we live in a “look at me!” and a “I want more!” world that can be as self-involved as it can be exhausting. I am saying this from firsthand experience. Regularly volunteering is a wonderful opportunity to pay a little less attention to yourself and more to others. This is healthy. And this momentary distance from yourself also allows you to return to your life with some new perspective. My own issues and challenges always feel smaller, never bigger, after I volunteer.
- Given me the satisfaction of seeing something through from start-to-finish. I always leave Angel Food East with a sense of accomplishment. Whether you’re shelving goods at your local food pantry or building a house with Habitat for Humanity, most volunteer work has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Finishing something concrete, even if it’s just helping to collapse cardboard boxes or labeling containers, feels very gratifying.
Every week I post photos on my Instagram feed of the things I cook for our community, whether it’s for clients at Angel Food East or the food I prepare for the members of Citizen Action New York, our local advocacy and policy group. And every week I get messages asking how other people can get involved in similar volunteer work near them. So today I’m sharing my tips for getting involved in your area (as well as a delicious recipe for Baked Oatmeal + Apple Squares from Feed the Resistance that you can bring with you to your first meeting or gathering!).
- If you want to volunteer but aren’t sure whom to approach or where to begin, my best advice is, seriously, to Google your location plus the word “volunteer.” On a local level, it’s also good to contact your nearest food pantry (click here to find more food groups near you) and see what you can do.
- Religious organizations in your area (even if you are not a member of them) are also great places to start. Churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship and community gathering often have programs that serve their communities and tend to be very open to any and all volunteers.
- Other resources include: VolunteerMatch, which will direct you to opportunities in your area, and national organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and Habitat for Humanity.
The best way to volunteer is to find something you enjoy doing. And then just keep doing it. Below is one of my favorite recipes from Feed The Resistance to take with you to community meetings, gatherings or volunteer sessions. –Julia Turshen
*Giveaway: Let us know in the comments section about a tangible way you feed your community (‘feed’ can be literal or figurative). We’ll choose five responses at random and send you a signed copy of the book.
Baked Oatmeal + Apple Squares
These baked oatmeal bars are the easiest way to make oatmeal not only portable, but also really packed with flavor and long-lasting energy from things such as grated apple and ground flaxseed. They’re great whether you’re headed to a march or just driving your kid to school and need something healthy to eat on-the-go. If you don’t have or like apple, you can use two handfuls of fresh or frozen blueberries or raspberries (no need to thaw if frozen), or even grated sweet potato or carrot. These can also be served for dessert if you warm them up and top them with ice cream.
MAKES NINE 2 1⁄2-IN [6-CM] SQUARES
2 large eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp honey
1 cup [240 ml] whole milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 Tbsp ground flaxseed
2 cups [170 g] old-fashioned rolled oats
1 large apple (any kind), peeled, seeded, and coarsely grated
Preheat the oven to 350°F [175°C]. Spray an 8-in [20-cm] square baking pan with nonstick baking spray.
Line the bottom with parchment paper and spray that too just to be safe.
Place the eggs and honey in a large bowl and whisk well to combine. Add the milk and vanilla and give it another whisk. Sprinkle the baking powder, salt, and cinnamon on top and whisk well to combine. Add the ground flaxseed, oats, and apple and stir well to combine everything. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking pan. Spread it out so that it’s in an even layer and press it down with a rubber spatula.
Bake until the oatmeal is firm to the touch and golden brown on top, about 35 minutes. Let the oatmeal cool for at least 15 minutes and then transfer it to a cutting board.
Cut it into nine 2 1/2-in [6-cm] squares. Serve warm or at room temperature. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or wrapped well and frozen for up to 3 months (defrost and warm in a toaster oven or 300°F [150°C] oven before eating).
**Oatmeal Bar photo by Sasha Israel Photography
**Headshot of Julia by Gentl + Hyers