Last year, The Caring Place adopted a new mission statement. It wasn't different than what we were already doing, but more reflective. That mission statement is “to provide for the basic human needs of all people in our community in a welcoming, respectful and caring way.” Next, we pondered new ways to act out this statement in the everyday life of our organization, so that there was no question it was an inherent part of our culture. On a personal level, I loved this. The process of giving this statement a bigger platform set forth a positive shift in this organization. A shift, I should add, I didn't know was possible for a nonprofit that was already touted as a community gem.
Acting out this mission was done in hundreds of little actions by staff. We say our mission at meetings, we have it printed in newsletters, letters and in digital locations and we keep it at the forefront of our day through daily messages on the intercom. We compiled a list of micro-actions like saying hello, smiling, helping others, not judging, showing kindness, being supportive and remaining respectful in every situation. Finally, we pushed all of these ideas to our many volunteers so they could help us bring the mission to life in an even bigger way in every corner of The Caring Place. We knew with our volunteers on board our mission would be obvious to the public.
One unclear aspect of this mission-based culture implementation was, how would it hold up during a pandemic? That’s not something you normally plan, and we didn’t plan for that. So, how do we live out this Mission during a pandemic? This is a time when 90% of our volunteers have not returned. It’s a time when many of our services have changed to contactless or by phone only. Our interactions with the public are 6 feet apart and our smiles are behind masks. How do we create impactful moments throughout the day so that The Caring Place remains known as “welcoming, respectful and caring” when our actions and words feel barely seen or heard at times?
When I took a moment to look for caring moments I’ve witnessed in the last few months, they were easy to find. When our organization first re-evaluated our services to offer during a health crisis, our Programs & Services staff coordinated intake of information for neighbors in the Food Pantry Drive-Through. The Programs & Services team seemed to relish making signs, waving and writing inspiring chalk quotes on the driveway. When Programs & Services reopened financial assistance, which took them away from the food line, there was a genuine sense of loss among some of the staff. They had created bonds with people in their cars. I knew they would carry that same sense of community to their new way of serving neighbors in need with finances via phone.
After the Programs & Services Team shifted to a new role, I had the opportunity to fill in for a co-worker to work the food line. It was a further reminder that the genuine concern in that food line continues. The team had so many connections with people who used our drive-through. Our staff asked about pets, health, grandchildren and so many things you wouldn’t think they’d know about neighbors by simply taking some basic information like name and zip code in the line. As the line moved, more than once I heard the cry, “Hi Lisa!” calling out to our Food Pantry Operations Assistant or “Thank you” or “Have a good weekend!” These were the voices of people who are welcomed and respected at The Caring Place. I remember I interviewed a neighbor once named Tim. He said to me that you aren’t a number at The Caring Place. You are cared for. My conversation with Tim came to mind as Lisa returned those calls from the line with personalized greetings. This team knows their neighbors and cares for those coming through the line; you could see it in every interaction. You can feel this same kindness in our stores too in the smallest of daily exchanges from those who open the doors for you to those who run the registers as you leave.
In this critical time, I am grateful this organization is focused on the task at hand, to help others. The compassion, respect and collaboration I see daily is a breath of fresh air as the number we help increases. From day 1 to now, with all its turns, pivots and shifts, my co-workers never dropped the reins on carrying out the Mission of The Caring Place in its entirety. We remain welcoming, respectful and caring, and here for our community. Collectively, there is nothing we want more than to be that gem in the community because neighbors need us.