Growing up, I’m sure most of you heard someone at some point say, “Finish your plate, there are starving kids in the world!” Especially when your mom decided to try out that new broccoli soup. Yuck! Ever since then, I’ve always had a hard time watching food go to waste – and I take this sentiment truly to heart – to the point where I always carry snacks with me just in case I see someone who needs it more than I do.
I’m currently on the Engineering Early in Career team in Human Resources, and we plan numerous events throughout the year where we order food through Catering. As an Event Planner you try your best to estimate attendance for your event – sometimes you’re spot on and sometimes you learn from your mistakes. At one recent event, we were in charge of ordering both breakfast and lunch for two days. We expected a large turnout, but unfortunately, we were left with a lot of leftover food.
So what would you do with leftover food that could feed a small army? Most people would probably leave it, right? Or worse yet, throw it away. Not being able to bring myself to either option, I pitched another idea to my manager, “What do you think if we box up this food and take it to the homeless in San Francisco?”
Initially, he looked at me like I might be a little crazy, then a smile cross his face, “That’s a great idea!”
Seconds later, my team and I were boxing up all the extra food and loading the boxes into my car with our Tetris like skills. The thought briefly crossed my mind that maybe this was a crazy idea, but I brushed that aside and text my friend Brittany who lives in San Francisco, “I have a bunch of food leftover from my team’s event today and I want to deliver it to homeless people in the city tomorrow night. Do you want to come with?”
Usually down for anything, Brittany’s response was the one I had been hoping for and we began to plan our evening. Brittany’s husband also came along for our food deliveries, and before the sun event set – we had made it to a little camp just down the way from their apartment where some homeless were living in small vans or RVs, others had tents and cardboard.
Not wanting to waste any more time, we got to work and started handing out the food. What surprised me most was that everyone was so modest in what they took. They even asked if they could have more than one bagel or juice drink or dessert. We encouraged everyone to take whatever they wanted, there was plenty to go around!
The scene played out throughout the evening as we drove around looking for those who might be hungry. We met people along the way that forever changed my view on the homeless. They were friendly, kind, generous, humble, and had some amazing stories.
On our last stop, we stumbled upon another “homeless camp” where we knew we could unload the last of the food. We parked our car, and headed over with the goodies. Again, everyone only took what they thought was acceptable and nothing more, until we encouraged them to take whatever they wanted.
One of the women said, “I have some friends around the corner that could really use some food if you don’t mind walking with me.” The moment just struck me. She could have whatever she wanted right here and now, but she was thinking of her friends.
We followed the woman around the corner to a couple spots where we found her friends, and we gave away the last of what we had to hand out. The last woman we gave food to told us how her “home” had been vandalized by people walking by. She said she came back one night after she and her husband got into a fight and her “living room” had completely caved in on itself and there was garbage all over the place. Hearing these stories impacted me so profoundly because, especially after getting to know them, I just don’t understand how people could do this to anyone. They have so little already.
This night changed my life, and I was left with so many thoughts swirling through my mind. I was overwhelmed with emotion and compassion for the people we met. Time after time, they offered the food to their friends and others in the area. They took only what they thought was necessary, although they needed so much more. I learned humility, kindness, and loyalty from every path I crossed.
It certainly changed my perspective on how I live my own life. Cisco has such a big part in volunteering and serving our communities and this is why. Sometimes you may think you are just one person – you can’t do much. But you can! And within Cisco there are so many resources to connect you to opportunities that can enable you to give back in ways you never dreamed.
I’m extremely grateful that a mistake like ordering too much food for a Cisco event turned into such a beautiful and positive experience for so many. Some may say that I served the homeless that night, but they also served me in a really big way.
Want to join a team that gives back? We’re hiring!
The neighborhood where I live in a Philadelphia – a well-off neighborhood right in Center City – has an annual holiday party right before Xmas. In the previous years that I’ve led this initiative, I’ve generally nailed it, coming up with exactly the right amount of food and beverages, or – worst case – not having enough.
But this year – and for no particular reason I can point – I had too much. By quite a margin, too.
So in a seat-of-the-pants response, without a plan, we followed nearly the exact same approach as described here and methodically moved to the remainders to a homeless hospice that’s also downtown.
While I didn’t get to partake in the distribution on that end, it says something about our neighborhood and the fellow workers who assisted me in this event that it never occurred to us to toss it.
Well done to the Cisco team in San Francisco.
Cudos to you, Alejandra for caring and executing your great idea!
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