One by one, they file out of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, offering a heartfelt thank you and a smile.
We'll be back soon, they say. These grateful people aren't hungry clients of ours.
They are volunteers.
Every day, they thank us for the opportunity to give back.
They are college students and corporate executives, scout troops and senior citizens, the well-to-do and the working poor.
All have given time from their busy workdays, weekends and evenings to help people they will probably never meet.
Here at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, the state's largest anti-hunger and anti-poverty organization, we couldn't do what we do without our volunteers. Part of it is their emotional contribution - the love and goodwill and generosity that fill our 285,000 square foot headquarters whenever volunteers visit to lend a hand. Part of it is their economic contribution - the monetary value of that time they give so freely.
In the past year, our organization had 50,589 volunteer visits, totaling 129,201 hours. The latest estimate puts the value of volunteer time in New Jersey at $25.68 an hour. So for the FoodBank, that comes to more than 3.3 million dollars. That's what we mean by making a difference!
April is National Volunteer Month, a time when we, as a country, offer our collective thanks to the more than 62 million Americans - a quarter of the adult population - who give nearly 8 billion hours a year to the causes close to their hearts.
And when it comes to their hearts, it turns out volunteering is good for... the volunteers! The scientific evidence keeps mounting that volunteering is good for physical and mental health. Researchers have the statistics and say the benefits are clear. Lower blood pressure, less stress, even longer lives are all associated with volunteering.
Statistics aside, I keep thinking about Virginia McLaurin, who smiled and danced her way into America's heart in February when she got to live her dream of visiting the White House and meeting President and Mrs. Obama. Mrs. McLaurin has spent decades volunteering in the Washington, D.C. area. These days she volunteers as much as 40 hours a week at a charter school as part of a foster grandparent program, mentoring and nurturing special-needs students. That's just one way she's involved in making her community a better place.
Virginia McLaurin just turned 107 years old. She has lived through 18 presidents!
Her unbridled joy, her beaming smile and her amazingly spry dance steps in the Blue Room endeared her to millions. But "Grandma Virginia," as her students call her, is more than an Internet sensation. For anyone who has seen her dance and heard her story, she is an indelible inspiration, and the embodiment of the volunteer spirit.
Mrs. McLaurin says she always tells people to "live the best they know how." Now in her second century of life, she knows a lot. The power of service and volunteer work is one of those things.
National Volunteer Month is a chance for us to honor and thank those 62.6 million Americans who give of their time and energy and talent.
Everyone from 107-year-old Virginia McLaurin to the girl 91 years her junior who recently passed through our doors. This 16-year-old volunteer says while she doesn't personally know the people she is helping by packing food boxes for seniors or meals for hungry kids and families, she tells us "I feel like I'm changing somebody's life."
You can't put a price on that.
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.