Have you ever experienced the exhilaration and gratification of participating in a mission trip?

Missionaries and volunteers travel to far-off lands and impoverished countries to provide this important service, but many of us feel that we don’t have the time, energy or finances to get involved.

What if I told you that anyone can go on a mission trip, right here, right now, right in McKinney? Come with me right here in our own community.

Community Food Pantry

Our first stop is a tiny building at 307 Smith Street on the east side of town. The Community Food Pantry sign in bold white letters and a bright pink Crepe Myrtle tree, welcome visitors.

When you open the door, you are greeted with friendly smiles, brightly painted murals, and encouraging words. Director Carol Bodwell is very proud of the highly trained teams who provide this desperately needed community service.

“From my position as director down to the clerical staff, the Community Food Pantry is an all-volunteer facility that has served the area for well over 30 years,” she explained. “Volunteers are asked to commit to one day a week for at least one full year of service, but many have stayed on for several years. More than 50 local churches and organizations sponsor food drives which are scheduled well in advance and updated with the particular needs of the pantry for each given month.”

The day I stopped by, volunteers Matt Johnson, Jenny Zurchin and Nicole Seals met me at the door. I asked them a few questions and was amazed by their commitment and sincerity.

Johnson said, “This feeds my soul as much as the souls I’m helping to feed. I have young kids and my family is very important. When I was a kid, we had some rough times. We had to ask strangers for help, so this is my way to give back.” He has been volunteering for over five years and often brings his 8-year-old son to help during the summer.

Jenny Zurchin also felt a need to give back to her community. “I would drive by the pantry all the time when the kids were little, and now that they’re in school all day, I wanted to feel useful. I’ve had to ask for help before, so now it’s my turn to help someone else. I speak a little Spanish and I am happy to share a few hours a week for my community.”

Nicole Seals recounts, “My husband lost his job a few years ago and things were tough. We had to ask for some help until we got back on our feet. We’re doing great now, so it’s my turn to give back and help pay it forward.”

Director Bodwell stated, “Last year 6,502 adults and 6,869 children were assisted at the pantry. That’s more than 4,400 families who needed our help. The need is great, and right now we desperately need cash donations to expand our building. If everyone helped a little, great things could be done.”

For more information on how you can help, call 972.547.4404 or e-mail info@mckinneyfoodpantry.org. Pantry hours are Mon.-Fri. 1-3 p.m. and Sat. 9-11 a.m.

CASA of Collin County

Now, follow me over to CASA of Collin County at 101 E. Davis Street, right off the Square.

The letters stand for Court Appointed Special Advocates, but what it really stands for is the hundreds of volunteers and staff members who stand up for abused and neglected children who cannot stand up for themselves.

CASA of Collin County is celebrating 20 years of giving hope to abused children. Established in 1991, the goal of CASA is to train community volunteers, ordinary people like you and me, to be the court appointed voice for a child in the foster care system and to see that each child is placed in a safe and loving home.

Executive Director, Susan Etheridge explains, “Child abuse and neglect does not discriminate between race or religion, the very wealthy or the very poor. There are very few volunteer opportunities that can change the future of a child or even save a life. CASA volunteers do this every day.”

A startling statistic of child abuse is that it is the number one killer of preschool children. Three children die from abuse and violence every day.

When Volunteer Training Coordinator, Rick Cooke gave me a tour of the facility, he confided, “People ask me all the time, how can you do this job and see these terrible things that happen to children, day in and day out? I answer, how can I not?”

Etheridge, Cooke and the staff all know that it takes special people with loving hearts to become trained advocates, but the rewards are enormous. Volunteers typically work with only one case at a time and often become the only constant and caring adult in that child’s life.

Many volunteers work full-time jobs, yet make the time to help a helpless child. They are men, women, doctors and housewives. They range in ages from 20 to 80, but they all have one thing in common. They are appalled by the abuse and neglect of children in our so-called civilized society. They have to help. How can they not?

There is a critical shortage of advocates. More men are needed to become positive role models and mentors. Bi-lingual volunteers can provide comfort. Nurturing, caring volunteers can give a child love where none has been. It is a big commitment with enormous rewards.

But, there are smaller commitments that anyone can make. There are fundraisers and events that depend on volunteers. Office and clerical help is appreciated. Toys, games, school supplies, and books can be donated. There are endless possibilities. If you think you can help a child, call 972.529.2272 or search casaofcollincounty.org.

If our American way of life fails the child, it fails us all.

– Pearl S. Buck

Free Dental Care

Now, last but not least, we travel to 1760 W. Virginia to the beautiful new facility of mckinneydentist.com.

The doctors and staff have made it their own mission to serve their community by offering one day in February that offers free dental care to anyone in need.

Dr. Marvin Berlin commented, “There are needs all over the world. We could go to other countries, but we have neighbors right across the road who need our help too. So, every year around Valentine’s Day, for more than 20 years now, we open up our doors and our hearts to offer free dental care to anyone in need.

"No one is turned away. It’s exhausting and rewarding at the same time. People line up as early as 10 p.m. the night before,” Dr. Berlin added. “This might be the only time they have access to any dental care. We do everything from routine cleaning to root canals. We get tons of thank you notes, hugs, homemade cookies and pies, but the real thank you is in the smiling faces of the people we have helped.”

The most recent Free Dental Care Day offered by Doctors Marvin Berlin, Jeff Lynch, Mathew Markham and Aaron Wood and their amazing staff was on Feb. 18. A team of about 45 doctors and volunteers, including colleagues from nearby cities, were on hand by 6 a.m. to prepare for the long day. They stayed until every patient was seen.

In 2011, they saw 310 people, and 415 procedures were performed, totaling nearly $120,000 in donated treatment. A generous mission, indeed.

More information can be found at mckinneydentist.com or by calling 972.547.6453.

I hope you enjoyed travelling to a few missions in McKinney and are inspired to make a journey of your own. Hundreds of volunteer opportunities can be found at volunteermckinney.org or by calling 972-542-0679.

Under Volunteer McKinney’s umbrella, check out Make a Difference Day, held every year on the fourth Saturday of October. For more information about next year’s opportunities, visit volunteermickinney.org.

Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him.

– Albert Schweitzer

About the author: Toni Andrukaitis is a Chicago native, artist, freelance writer and community volunteer.