Earlier this week, I worked five hours–from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.–at a well-run local soup kitchen. I made about 30 gallons of soup with three other people, washed a heap of cherry tomatoes, and made a quart of salad dressing. Then we served the meal, stacked the dishes, and cleaned both the kitchen and the serving area.

Every time I do this, I have to stay up until one or two in the morning preparing my CM blog for the following day. I don’t mind though. It feels good to work hard for someone else.

But guess what: I’m getting far more than an altruistic rush out of this. In exchange for working at the soup kitchen monthly, I receive work/membership credit from the Park Slope Food Co-op, which then enables me to purchase every conceivable kind of health food at a discount. Because the Co-op is owned and operated by some 8,000 unpaid members like me, it doesn’t need to mark up its prices the way a conventional store would. Plus, the Co-op has the best produce in Brooklyn. Dare I say, all of New York? Only the local farmer’s markets are as good.

Of course, I’d like to think I’d work in a soup kitchen monthly without the Co-op membership perk. And I have volunteered my services many times in the past, but never on as strict a schedule.

I’m confident that most of you volunteer through your house of worship or some other venue and out of the goodness of your heart. But I know that if the Food Co-op didn’t regularly lure me into the soup kitchen, I wouldn’t help feed the hungry as often; activities with my kids would intervene. I know I’m opening myself up to ridicule for confessing that it takes a perk to regulate my volunteerism. But as more companies are encouraging their employees to do something for their community in exchange for work credit or another reward, I’d love to engage you guys in a conversation about how it might be okay to foster helpfulness throughout society this way. I’m grateful to the Co-op. The whole exchange is good for everybody.

Are you employed by a company that encourages you to tutor, cook, pick up trash or in other ways give to your community? Tell us about it. If you’re on your own or volunteering through your church or synagogue, are you loyal to your community service commitments? What keeps you going? Has volunteering with a friend you wouldn’t see as much become an extra incentive? Let us hear your story!

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