Stumbling Into a Great Service Project for 30 Hour Famine


By John Sorrell

When we started the 30 Hour Famine at my last church in Singapore, we began looking for service project ideas for the students to do on Saturday morning. We searched for the typical service projects, like a soup kitchen and food pantry. Then, one of our church members connected us with a service project at the YMCA. This YMCA organized volunteers to clean elderly peoples’ homes in a neighborhood block area. The homes were actually super tiny 200-300 square foot studio apartments.

We signed up to help. Before we arrived, we were only given a few instructions. We were told to bring rubber gloves, general cleaning supplies and trash bags. We were also warned to be ready to move large amounts of trash in case they were hoarders. We definitely didn’t know what we were getting into or if we would even be able to do what we volunteered to do.

On our Famine day, we showed up with forty students ready to divide and conquer, or at least as much as we could twenty hours into fasting! We formed cleaning teams, divided up the cleaning supplies and entered the apartments.

The homes were not at all what we expected. Most of the elderly people lived extremely simply. They had a small table, a radio (maybe a TV), a bed, and a dorm room sized fridge. Most of the residents didn’t have dishes for us to do, because they only owned a few and used them for each meal. They lived life with much less than any of our students could have imagined.

We began cleaning, and quickly realized that most of our students had never deep cleaned before. They had no idea how to thoroughly clean windows, disinfect a bathroom or prep a mop bucket to mop floors. They didn’t know to change mop water between cleaning the kitchen and bathroom or how to mop in such a way that doesn’t trap you in the corner. Some of the elderly residents worked up enough strength to show our students how to clean, which was a neat sight watching them pass down lifelong skills to our students.

We encouraged the students to ask the residents to share stories. Students sat and talked with the residents and learned real life stories of Singapore history and life lessons. Some of the elderly even offer us drinks from their small fridges as a way to say thank you.

The first year we stepped into this new service project with uncertainty. We had no clue what we were getting ourselves into. Our students were understandably nervous knocking on a stranger’s door to ask if they could clean their house. But, it quickly became our youth group’s favorite service project. Some students even joined a team with the YMCA to continue cleaning regularly.

I am thankful we stepped out into what seemed like a random service project that first year, because I continue to see how much it blessed not only the elderly, but our group as they expanded their perspective of the world in new ways. I continue to be amazed that many times you go to help someone and in return you find they have given you more than you did them. Each year, our students would be challenged by the humble gifts of a cold drink or snack the elderly offered and the stories they shared. Students walked away from these apartments more grateful and thankful for what they have. And, they polished their cleaning skills!

I think there is a certain beauty in going to help those in need. It can’t always be controlled or clear-cut, but the impact it has on students is usually profound. I hope you too have the opportunity to step into some new and challenging service projects in your coming famine (or before). In the midst of the uncertainty I think you’ll find it’s worth it.