Volunteering for the holidays

Volunteering for the holidays

The community Bogarden is at Rutledge Avenue and Bogard Street downtown.

On Sunday mornings, when most people are asleep in bed or getting ready to watch football, Fritz Stine is in a kitchen cooking 300 pounds of leftover produce.

Stine is a member of Food Not Bombs, an international non-profit group that cooks vegan and vegetarian food for the homeless, or whoever wants to eat, once a week.

We can’t really say that Stine’s the leader of FNB, because the organization is nonhierarchical.

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Every Sunday, however, you can find Stein cooking in a kitchen with friends by his side.

Studies show fulfilling relationships are vital to one’s sense of personal wellness. You can meet hundreds of social acquaintances, people who come and go in our life, but where do you find the ones who care?

In Charleston, there are people who volunteer simply to find more satisfying relationships. They donate their time to be where the good people go. Every week, Food Not Bombs gets its vegetables from Fields to Families, a nonprofit that gleans farms for over-ripe produce to give to the hungry.

The food Stein and his team receive are leftovers from Saturday’s Farmers Market. And on Sunday, they spend hours tossing salads and simmering tomato stew. They chop and roast rutabagas. They drizzle olive oil on rosemary red potatoes.

“We’re just cooking food and hanging out with friends,” said Stine. “It’s sacred, but has nothing to do with service or charity.”

And then at 3 p.m., the crew delivers the meal to an abandoned building on Meeting Street. They put the dishes on collapsible plastic tables; serve and talk with the people waiting to eat. It’s a communal experience, cooking with peers, and then watching people from all walks of life enjoy it.

There are people who build houses while building friendships. At the Habitat for Humanity build site on 66 Lee Street, volunteers learn from coordinators how to use miter saws and nail guns. They caulk baseboards to freshly painted dry wall and work with each other.

With many nonprofits, volunteers spend most of their time one-on-one with the people the organization serves. At Habitat for Humanity, volunteers spend time solely with other volunteers. “I just love the people I’ve met,” said Michele Summers, who works with Women Build, a chapter of Habitat, especially for women. “They’re into conservation and saving energy. I learn a lot and it’s nice to be around.”

But you can’t expect to show up to one of the hundreds of nonprofits in Charleston, and make lifelong friends immediately.

You have to stick with the organization, make connections through it and then develop relationships with the people you meet outside of it.

You’ve got to be like Summers, who recently invited her Women Build group over for a barbecue luau.

There is something different about getting to know someone while picking fresh collards greens. There’s a level of depth, a positive attitude, and a degree of wholesomeness involved.

“I keep in contact with the people I’ve done community service with,” said Indigo Burroughs, a member of the Bonner Leaders Program at College of Charleston, who works with Fields to Families . “They’re passionate. They haven’t backed down from their dreams, and it gives me motivation to keep going.”

Stein, who also works avidly with the Bogarden, Elliotborough’s community garden on Bogard Street, says he doesn’t dedicate his time to projects such as Food Not Bombs and the Bogarden with the motive of doing charity.

He says he doesn’t believe he’s in a position to “serve” others. Stein doesn’t even think “service” is what people truly crave.

They just want to be seen. And not seen, as in physical presence, but acknowledged as a part of a larger community, for their joy and their concern.

“I regret I waited this long,” said Stein. “Dive in head first. Charleston is full of faces and characters. There’s a lot of tenderness to be shared and so much humanity.”