Adam and I got surrounded by smiles almost instantly. I glanced at my watch and noticed we were fifteen minutes early–yet the room was jammed full from corner to corner with volunteers. Cases of water blocked the doorway and yellow sticky notes were scattered over several tables. It was almost 8:45 am and it was time to MAKE LUNCH!
We were at an event called #HashtagLunchbag creating boxed lunches for the poorer communities of Nha Trang. In only one hour, we were going to create over 600 protein-packed lunches, box them up, then hand-deliver them to individuals all over the area who need them most. The restaurant was going to open at 10 am, so we had to act fast.It all started one day before, when Adam and I ate dinner at a restaurant in Nha Trang named Lanterns which has gathered strong community support for its commitment to helping those in need in the Khanh Hoa area (as well as incredible, fresh food!!). During that meal, we were inspired by different photos throughout the room showing volunteers from around the world helping Lanterns initiatives and thought–I wonder if we have enough time to volunteer in Vietnam?That night, we reached out via email to Robert Costabile, the owner of Lanterns, to see if there was a way for us to get involved while we were visiting the area. Almost immediately, we were surprised to be invited to volunteer at Lanterns the very next morning and fast forward 12 hours–we were at the #HashtagLunchbag event!
Right away, dinner tables for two started getting pushed together to create a long assembly line station for making lunchboxes. Then, piles of sticky rice, steamy vegetables, fluffy omelets and seasoned meats were put on the tables. At one end, hundreds of empty white boxes were waiting to be filled. At the other end, little yellow sticky notes, each with a hand-written note hoping for a nice meal, a good day and other well wishes.Adam was recruited to write notes (which is funny if you’ve seen Adam’s handwriting or spelling), while I helped box up the food. Among the several groups to donate time today, the University students were the first to start eagerly introducing themselves. At one point, I looked over at Adam and couldn’t help but laugh. He was SURROUNDED. Dozens of English students were watching Adam make wish notes, and teaching him how to write in Vietnamese. He looked like a rock star signing autographs!! The English students may have been the funniest group of people we have met on this trip. Using jokes and smiles, they made us feel a little less like travelers and more like friends.#HashtagLunchbag is a non-profit that started in Los Angeles, California to share a meal and some encouragement with local communities. The non-profit has extended its hand worldwide and is new to volunteer in Vietnam, so Lanterns gladly helped to gather resources for the cause.
Volunteers worked as an energetic team. Forty-five minutes and 600 lunches later, Adam and I were pointed towards a van to go help make deliveries. Incredible. A unique aspect of working with both Lanterns and #hashtaglunchbag is that volunteers get to actually be part of not only putting together donations, but actually making the donations. This way you can experience meeting the individuals who benefit from the campaign. Some volunteers took their own motorbikes to the distribution points, but we all met up to give out food and share some laughs, visiting an area that Adam and I would not have probably seen otherwise. Lunchboxes were distributed carefully to people who came to pick up their food following a list of those who had registered. However, Adam and I got to help deliver to one man who needed a home delivery. He had recently celebrated his 103rd birthday and prefered to have his lunch catered at home. What a pleasure to meet this man who kindly introduced himself, entertained us with some jokes and stories, and ultimately spread his high spirits among the volunteers.After the last lunchbox had been given out, it was time for us to say good-bye. We met some wonderful people from the Nha Trang area and were included with open arms into their friendships and fun. What a rewarding day! One email completely changed our time in this area and fueled us to continue giving back as we travel. Thank you to all of the volunteers, #HashtagLunchbag and, of course, Robert Costabile and the staff of Lanterns for making it possible for us to be part of your commitment to giving back. We haven’t laughed so hard in a long time–what a great time with an awesome group of people!! If you are planning to be in the Nha Trang area and would like to volunteer in Vietnam, please contact Lanterns as early as possible to schedule a time to be part of one of the Lanterns initiatives including providing food and supplies to local orphanages.
For another way to volunteer and make new friends on vacation, read our story: Organize An Underwater Clean-Up: Give Back While You Travel!