I want to volunteer, but how?

I bought this sculpture at a silent auction and I love it. But buying art doesn't really feel like charity to me.

I want to do something good. Something that not only makes a difference in my community, but that will make me feel good about my place in it. The only problem is, I don’t know what to do and I don’t know how to get started. Do you?

Throughout my adult years I’ve toyed with volunteering. I say toy because I’ve never been very committed. I joined the Junior League right out of university. I met some lovely women there, and did some cool stuff but when I moved to Oakville everything sort of fell apart. Getting to the meetings became a drag and since I didn’t feel like the stuff I was doing (personally) made much of a difference, it was easy to write the experience off as something from my Toronto life.

For a while there, my charitable work consisted of writing cheques and getting gussied up to attend galas in the name of wonderful organizations. I don’t underestimate the fundraising power of such events —  I’ve worked on them and a successful one can raise thousands. But once again, I didn’t feel like I was directly helping anyone.

Nowadays I volunteer in my kids’ school. I listen to kids read out loud and deliver lunches on hot lunch day. It’s fun, and I love being part of my kids’ classroom life but I want to do more for the needy people of my community. I am very lucky — if I didn’t have so many wonderful people watching out for me and a whole lot of blessings, I could just as easily be using the food bank or living in my car. It might sound a little holy-roller of me, but every time I see someone begging for money in downtown Toronto I think, “there, but for the grace of God, goes I.”

If I hadn’t been born into such a loving an supportive family, or if I’d grown up in extreme poverty, who knows where I’d be now? Probably not here, worrying that my wonderful life making me too shallow.

You see, Oakville’s a funny place. It’s really, really pretty; there are lots of affluent people here (there are lots of normal people too, but some people hear the word Oakville and assume you live in a mansion that fronts onto Lake Ontario.) If you just take a superficial glimpse around, that’s all you’d see. But there is a food bank here, there are people who live in their cars because they couldn’t make their rent, and there are kids who go to school with an empty belly. We’ve got all of that, it’s just better camouflaged than it is in other towns.

So what’s the best way to start volunteering? Through my church? Through an organization like the Junior League? Or, should I just call up the foodbank and see what I can do? Do you volunteer? Where? Do you have any suggestions for me?