It’s every potential employee’s worst nightmare: sitting down at an interview and hearing, “So I see you have a gap on your résumé. Can you explain that to me?”  This was me, almost two years ago, when I first interviewed at Chicago Cares.  I graduated from college when the economy wasn’t the greatest.  My friends had jobs but I was struggling to get my foot in somewhere, anywhere.  I spent most of the day at home with my roommate’s cat, applying to job after job “to whom it may concern.”

One day, I realized enough was enough. I needed to get out of the house and do something.  I had seen a few flyers in the neighborhood advertising a food drive for a local pantry: Lakeview Pantry. I Google-d around to find out where it was and found that it was relatively close. The next day I walked in and was surprised at how small the place was.  A nice elderly lady helped me inside and asked me if I needed food.  I said I was just there to help out and she got me started right away. I was unloading boxes, sorting produce, packing bags… and I was there a whole day before I realized that this wasn’t Lakeview Pantry at all, but Common Pantry, a small site located in the back of a United Church of Christ. They distribute their food on Wednesdays and sort produce and donations on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

All of a sudden my week had structure. I had something to get out of bed for, and my pile of jobs to apply to began to look far less daunting. I was talking to people, and I was humbled by the stories of those receiving food. At first I thought I would be sneaky and try to work at Common Pantry, but I realized with only one full-time staff person (the executive director) that would never happen.  I didn’t even really meet a lot of people to network with.  But what did happen was that I was able to take a step back from my computer screen and endless e-mailing of résumés and cover letters… and have some perspective. I was able to realize that maybe I wanted to look harder for not just “any” job, but a job in a field that I cared about, like improving the quality of life for others.  And I was definitely able to say something more than “catching up on my telenovelas” when the inevitable “what have you been doing during the gap on your résumé?” question came up.

For more reasons why to volunteer when you’re unemployed, click here.