I like working remotely as much as the next person, but there comes a point when even the perks of my home office’s pants-optional dress code and canine co-worker fail to fill the void of a regular commute. In other words, I am desperate for an excuse to go for a drive. Even if it means returning to a formal office place where I will inevitably partake in repetitive conversations about the state of the morning coffee (“Are you sure that’s a fresh pot of Joe?”), give uncomfortable hellos to co-workers whose names I still cannot fully remember (“Hey, you. “), and semi-regularly—and embarrassingly—jiggle the locked door to an occupied bathroom stall (“Sorry!”). Fortunately, I discovered a workaround that allows me (or any other remote worker) to get behind the wheel during the workweek: Volunteering to deliver food.
It’s a Lincoln, Top Box
There are many organizations in need of help getting groceries or meals to those in need. However, I ultimately decided to volunteer my time with Top Box Foods, a non-profit that works to provide affordable and nutritious food to those with limited access to stores that sell fresh items, such as fruits and vegetables, to those living in the Chicago and Rockford, Illinois, areas, as well as New Orleans.
Coined food deserts, these low-income localities pockmark the nation. As a result, tens of millions of people living in America—a large sum of which lack access to a vehicle—must travel more than a mile to reach the nearest grocery store or supermarket. Sadly, the health and safety concerns of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the accompanying rise in unemployment, only exacerbate the issue.
“Before the pandemic, we had like 12,000 customers [and] we were doing once-a-month deliveries,” Sheila Kennedy, the co-founder of Top Box Foods explains. Now, the organization boasts more than 13,000 customers and delivers groceries multiple days each week.
So on a Friday afternoon, I drove to Top Box Foods’ Chicago warehouse in a 2020 Lincoln Corsair Reserve. There, I picked up a delivery route and enough groceries to fill the Lincoln’s 34.0-cubic-foot cargo hold. Out of the home office and in a test car, I was multitasking, doing my part while evaluating Lincoln’s latest compact luxury crossover.
Prior to the coronavirus crisis, Top Box Foods’ volunteers and customers met at central locations and shared idle pleasantries with one another. These days, though, volunteers drop deliveries off at individual households, and social distancing etiquette means almost all communication comes courtesy of text messages or phone calls. Given that I am liable to get lost in a studio apartment, I relied on the Reserve trim’s standard in-dash navigation system to guide me along the entirety of my approximately 20-mile route, most of which went through the South Side of Chicago—a notorious food desert within the city.
In order to ensure the food remains fresh, Top Box Foods limits the number of deliveries its drivers make on their given routes. In my case, I stopped at a mere six households. Besides calling or texting a few minutes prior to my arrival and getting out to drop off the correct groceries at each location, my time was generally spent in the Lincoln’s available 24-way power driver’s seat with the massage function on while simultaneously listening to music through its optional 14-speaker audio system. Admittedly, volunteering to deliver food takes time, but it also requires minimal effort. And if you have something cushy like the Lincoln, it’s almost relaxing.
Look, I know spending an afternoon driving around in a $60,910 luxury vehicle and distributing groceries does not make me Mother Teresa. That said, such volunteer opportunities are some of the simplest ways to help your community and go for a drive. In short, it turns out altruism can be self-serving.