While we at HRW work hard to contribute to our internal team environment with lots of fun initiatives throughout the year, we are also encouraged to participate in activities that help those in our external communities, ranging from paint work to being companions to people with dementia. In this vein, we are each given an annual volunteering day that we can use to help further a cause we believe in. Last November, Nicole Shalette and I spent our volunteering day at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) in New York City by aiding in serving a free lunch time meal to clients of the centre.
We arrived early in the day, around 10 am, to help in preparing the ingredients and setting up the eating area before the clients arrived. The remarkable man in charge of operations, Brian, offered us aprons and hairnets to don, which made for a very interesting look! He explained the setup of the service: Nicole and I, alongside a team of volunteers, were to assist in serving food, cleaning the dishes, manning the floor of the dining room, and assisting the clients who came in for a meal. Nicole and I quickly got to work; Nicole in the kitchen preparing ingredients, and myself on the dining room floor ensuring that everything was properly set up to accommodate more than 250 diners. As the clients began arriving around 11 am, eventually a long lunch line formed as our team of volunteers served food to well over 250 hungry individuals. We were on our feet the entire time, but the hours sped by as Nicole and I performed our volunteering duties.
Part of the service involved a free meal for the volunteers, which Nicole and I happily devoured. During our meal, and throughout the day, I got the chance to speak with a few of the patrons of the centre. I learned the important role that GMHC played in their lives. For one of them, GMHC was the difference between being able to afford his treatment and going without. Another came to GMHC for access to a social network of like-minded individuals, whose lives had been touched by HIV or AIDS. A third started out as a client at GMHC and eventually was hired to help run their client services centre. It was immediately clear to me the enormous role GMHC plays for these individuals, and by volunteering, I knew Nicole and I were taking a small part in helping the centre’s process run smoothly and more importantly, put a smile on someone’s face.
After all the patrons had left, Nicole and I helped clean up the eating area and kitchen. We handed back our aprons, thanked the team running the meal, and walked out back onto the windy streets of New York. On my subway ride home, I reminded myself that as someone who works in the pharmaceutical industry, it is always important to remember the lives that are touched by innovation in medicine. By volunteering at GMHC, Nicole and I were able to at least have a small hand in improving a day for New Yorkers involved in the fight against AIDS. Although it was ultimately just lunch, sometimes a friendly smile, a welcoming atmosphere, and a warm meal on a chilly autumn day can be enough to remind anyone that they are more than their diagnosis.
By Dylan Brown