Last night, I did something I’ve never done before. I snuck upstairs after the kids were in bed and I called 10 strangers on the phone. I have never made cold calls, for any reason, ever before in my life. Well, there was that time as a kid I dialed at random, giggled into the phone then hung up. But this time, I wasn’t going to hang up. This time, I was talking to the strangers. I was trying to show my support and share information with complete strangers who live on the other side of the country.
You see, I volunteered to help CA Right to Know reach out to their database of people who had expressed interest in volunteering to support the Yes on Prop 37 campaign to pass a law to have genetically modified foods labeled in California. Apparently, the response had been so great that the campaign needed volunteers to contact the volunteers. And this could be done from anywhere, by anyone.
Volunteering is not new to me. I learned the value of giving back, giving up and giving it your all from my mother who volunteered with her garden club, at the hospital, in schools, in parks. I volunteered when I was a kid, in college and after. I’ve volunteered in many different capacities with many organizations for many years. I currently volunteer as a Food Ambassador for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. And for the past 10 years I’ve been a volunteer with the Junior League. Volunteering is just what I do when I have the time. But with all my years volunteering I have carefully avoided the phone.
“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time’ they just have the heart.” Elizabeth Andrew
I would have to say that on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being not that busy and 10 being very busy, arguably too busy, I would be a 15. But I am also the kind of person that when someone asks for help, I try to say “Yes, I’m here. I’m showing up. What can I do?”
And with the vote on Prop 37 so near, the importance of transparency in our food system, of raising awareness of the state of our food system and the need to educate people to pay attention to their everyday choices, I wanted to help.
And so I helped in a way that I was able. I called strangers from 10 PM to 11 PM, in my dark office, wearing my pajamas while my kids slept. I expected to reach voicemail, dial tones, annoyed people, irritated people, and interrupted in their dinner people. (Time change of 3 hours meant it was possible and likely they were eating dinner.) Essentially, I expected to reach me on the other end.
I do not like telemarketers or cold calls or robot calls. I rarely answer my home phone and I never give out my cell phone. If I don’t know who is calling, I don’t answer and sometimes when I do know who is calling, I don’t answer. I’m not a fan of the phone. If I do answer and it is a robot, I hang up immediately. If it’s a person, I wait for them to take a breath, tell them I’m not interested and hang up. They could be offering me a million dollars and I would never know because I don’t like to be interrupted by calls.
So, I was bracing myself for the rejection and for the feeling I may have wasted my time in a fruitless task. And guess what? People answered. Those smart, passionate, active people in California who were on my list answered their phone when a stranger called. I tried the script, “This is Kathryn, I am a volunteer from North Carolina calling for California’s right to know Prop 37 …” And the script felt all wrong but no script felt more wrong so I stumbled through with the script and then took a breath and said, “Do you have a minute for me to go over some of the volunteer opportunities and for me to tell you how you can sign up?”
Yes, always yes. These voices on the other end breathed out yes like FINALLY. They have been wanting to give their time, they were desperate to volunteer for the effort and finally, here is this stranger from North Carolina telling them the details.
And there we were on the phone, kindred spirits. Volunteers. We shared an interest in health and food and in advocating for transparency, advocating for information, advocating for each other. We wanted to give our time and energy freely to a cause that meant something to us.
I called 10 people. I reached voicemail for 4 and talked to 6. Of the six, I talked to one who had what sounded like 10 kids in the background, but maybe it was just 2 or 3, it’s so hard to tell. Kids can be so loud when mom gets on the phone. But she was ready to volunteer. “Tell me where to show up,” she said.
Another struggled with her English. I had a hard time understanding her but when she said, “I want to help educate my community.” I knew her heart. I knew. I knew!
The last woman I spoke to was full of energy. She was excited and passionate. “I get so many emails” she said. “You guys are sending me so many emails!” I braced myself thinking she was about to complain about the volume of emails and my jaw clenched. “And I read every single one of them!” She exclaimed. “I’ve been waiting to find out where to go and what to do! Thank you for calling me. Thank you!”
She and I got to chatting, across this great country, on the phone (what is that? A phone? That old thing?) She told me about what it’s like in California right now. “The ads are on TV and radio,” she said. “All day long, sometimes it is one commercial after another telling people that labeling will increase their food costs by $400 to $600 a year. There is so much money behind supporting the campaign against labeling, over a million dollars a day on ads. It’s almost the only thing we hear about. And the only way to counteract it is with the people, with volunteers,” she said. “Like you.”
“Well, I’m not really, I mean….” And right there I almost diminished my own efforts because who was I, really? In my PJs? In my dark office? Calling strangers at night? Compared to her, with her pickets and her flyers, her passion and her voice, her feet on the street volunteering. But I stopped myself because my role was important too. Me, losing sleep, calling strangers, being uncomfortable, reading from a script, sending follow up emails and putting myself out there to do something I’d never done before, had never thought I’d do, for a shared cause. I was just like her, a volunteer. It was an hour of my time given freely to a cause I cared about that needed me. And when you’ve worked with non-profits you find at some point, there are more people willing to give money than give time, so any time spared, is valued.
I am a volunteer. And as a volunteer every effort from the person stuffing envelopes to the person organizing events to the feet on the street volunteers building homes, digging gardens, folding clothes and feeding bellies, every volunteer is priceless.
“Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.” Sherry Anderson
My experience leaving clumsy voicemails, sending pre-written follow up emails and talking to perfect strangers was a good one. It reminded me of a valuable lesson. People do answer their phone. They do show up. They WANT to help. Just give them a task and they will give themselves to it fully. We all care about something, if we are not giving ourselves to it on occasion, we are really missing out on some fantastic experiences and some amazing people.