While we are landed back in Wisconsin, there are still so many stories to tell! From trailer problems in the middle of the desert to breathtaking landscapes on the northern California coast, we stayed very busy for the last weeks of the trip. While on the road I didn't have the proper down time to chronicle our adventures, but I've got plenty of time on my hands now!
Without further ado, check out the story of our Thanksgiving, where we had the chance to volunteer with the Flagstaff Family Food Center (FFFC) in Flagstaff, Arizona!
Throughout the majority of our lives, most of us had spent the major holidays with our families. Thanksgiving happened to fall right in the heart of our great adventure, so we pretty much knew from the moment we set out that we would spend our time volunteering. The question was, where would we be for the holiday? Due to the EXTREMELY flexible trip itinerary, we didn't choose Flagstaff until about 3 weeks before arriving to the area. Since it was very close to the Grand Canyon, a must visit destination for all three of us, it ended up being the perfect spot.
One of the greatest lessons we learned on the road was how difficult it can be to just hop into volunteer opportunities. Many places (Animal Shelters are a great example) require that you go through a training or certification before you're able to volunteer. The Ronald McDonald House also has some stricter guidelines that make it difficult for the adventurer to make a short-term commitment. Hannah from the FFFC was right on the ball as soon as I left my first message. This was a welcome relief as we usually had to put out multiple messages before hearing back from anyone during the time we were in a certain place. She was enthusiastic and loved our mission to volunteer while traveling. She set us up with the meal prep crew on the morning of Thanksgiving, then invited us to come back and join everyone for the meal later that evening.
A quick background on the FFFC. For all 365 days of the year they provide one hot meal a day, a sack lunch program, and even a daily children's literacy program that is designed to help cultivate a love of reading in the children it serves. It's an fantastic resource for the community it serves.
In a routine that was beginning to become like second-nature to us, we were getting ready for the day at a gas station just outside of Flagstaff around 8 AM. We had spent the last night car camping in a mountain pass at about 9,000 feet. It was a brisk evening, and when we slept in the car we literally slept in our sleeping bags in the seats of the Jeep, so we were all still shaking off the night before. I was enjoying my coffee and gas station sandwich while the girls utilized the sun visor mirrors to throw on a little make up. This is when we met a man named Tim. From the moment he pulled into the gas station, his eyes were transfixed on our motley traveling rig. As he stepped out of his truck, he immediately led in with, "Well, you guys sure look like you're ready to have some fun!". Tim was a man, probably in his 60's, visiting his daughter and grandchildren in Flagstaff for the holiday. His visit to the gas station was an attempt to get some fresh air and maybe some quiet after living in a house with some young kids for a few days. His eyes lit up as we told him about our adventure. It was clear to me that he had always wanted to do something like this, but life got in the way and he never had the opportunity. After a long conversation, Tim gave us big hugs with tears starting to fill the corners of his eyes. He mentioned that he was glad that God put us at the same spot on Thanksgiving morning, and it's safe to say we felt the same way. Ever since I decided to restart my walk with Christ, God has consistently provided me with signs and connections that I did not see coming. Meeting Tim was an affirmation that we were on the right path.
The vibe was set for our day, and it was a beautifully positive one. When we arrived at the FFFC around 8:50 and we followed an older couple that was also volunteering into the back door by the kitchen. As we walked into the kitchen, we were immediately swooped into the hustle and bustle of nearly 20-25 volunteers! I was immediately shocked at how many people were there on Thanksgiving. Many of them were older couples who didn't have as much family to spend the holiday with, but there were also younger families and friends who were there to help as well. We were tasked with making "Bobo Beans", one of the several recipes inspired by Chef Bob's mother. Chef Bob is a towering man in his early 60's (Guessing here...) and he was the man orchestrating the chaos of the kitchen. Essentially, we were opening about 90 cans of green beans, draining them, then adding them to big pans to be cooked into a casserole type dish. We also had to whip up a cream of mushroom base for the casserole, which involved a lot of whisking. If you've never done it before, whisking multiple gallons of a thick soup is a fantastic upper body workout so we took turns reaping the Thanksgiving Day gains.
Other stations worked on things like mashed potatoes, squash, and more. Eventually it was turkey carving time! This was my favorite part of the work. Before we knew it, it was time to clean up and get out of there. We were planning on coming back to have the meal with everyone at 4:30 that afternoon, but one of the leaders at the FFFC asked if I'd come back to work door security an hour earlier. So we left around 12:15 and headed to our hotel for the evening. That's right, a HOTEL! Samantha's mom was very generous and helped us out by booking us a hotel room in Flagstaff for the night (If you're reading this Mrs. White, thank you so much!). It's safe to say we were like little kids on vacation as we piled into the room.
After showering and laying around for in luxury for a while, we bundled up and headed back to have our meal. The security job wasn't much, just helping to prevent any altercations between guests at the door and to prevent anyone who was visibly intoxicated from entering the building. After the flow into the building became manageable, they let me slide in line with the girls and enjoy our Thanksgiving meal together. We sat with a high energy man named Lil Smurf who was a native American man pursuing a music career. His instrument was a native flute, and he shared a bit of his music with us as we ate.
When we were just a minutes away from a food coma, we made the 5 minute drive back to our hotel room to change into some comfy clothes and relax. After we recovered from binge eating, we threw on our swim suits and made full use of the pool and hot tub facilities. After being on the road for that long, it truly felt like we were at a spa. It's safe to say we all slept like a rock that night.
Our time in Flagstaff was brief, but we met some fantastic people and saw parts of the city most people wouldn't if they were just traveling through. That was a great part of volunteering as we traveled. I've learned that no matter where you go, there are people with gigantic hearts who want to help others. While the world might sometimes feel like there is more hatred than kindness, you don't have to look far to find these people.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'" -Fred Rogers