I’m hardly Mother Teresa. Instead of the front lines, I assemble care packages in the agency’s back room which consist of personal hygiene items, needle-cleaning supplies, and my favorite: lubes and condoms. Sometimes we see clients who come in for classes and counseling. To my surprise, most of our patrons don’t look like junkies.
Duties are light in the back. Led by a white-haired English chap, volunteers stuff things into bags, gossip and eat lunch. The hardest part is when the toothbrushes or razors don’t fit into the ziplock. Condoms — both male and female — prompt the best conversations, especially when the lube is fruity and the staff chatty.
“What is this used for?” we ask.
“It’s a clean-up towel,” explains a front-desk guy in a red bow tie.
“How do you use a female condom?” we ask.
“Would you like a demo?” (To find out how to use, you'll have to join us.)
Once when my parents were visiting from Indiana, I brought them to Condoms. Mom and Dad, who are a little old fashioned, were hesitant at first. Then they met my fellow volunteers: two marketing executives, a couple of Australians, a journalist and an entrepreneur whose product made it to Shark Tank. When my father witnessed the lively conversations, he joined the assembly line and kept a tally of his progress in units per minute. My mother peppered the entertainment journalist with questions.
“What’s Brad Pitt really like in person?”
At the end of each session, my face hurts from laughing. Condoms gets me off the Internet news cycle, cultivating positive social interaction and a feeling of altruism. Research supports my experience. Volunteering can lower blood pressure, according to a 2013 study in Psychology and Aging. Meanwhile, a 2012 study in Health Psychology revealed that people who volunteer regularly may live longer.
For me, the best part is when my team leader sends out thank you emails. I’m a sucker for the warm elixir of gratitude. Who doesn’t love praise?
I wish I felt comfortable with a picket sign and felt guilty for a while that I wasn’t going to the Million Woman March. But I realized that my regular service was my way of standing up and showing that I cared.
Aristotle once explained the purpose of human life was “to serve others and do good.” I prefer the sentiments of Muhammad Ali: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”