Belonging

When clients come to the food bank at Southampton City Mission, we offer them a hot drink while they wait for their food parcel to be made up. This can sometimes take a surprisingly long time, especially when it’s for a large family, so we have an area where clients can sit, drink their tea and chat to each other or to the volunteers. As you can see, it’s nothing flash, but it does the job.

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The volunteers take it in turns to make the teas and coffees, although usually the person who innocently wanders into the kitchen to get themselves a cuppa ends up being roped into making several more for the clients who have just arrived. I confess I generally stay away from drinks duty, purely because I’m rubbish at it! No sooner have I asked a client how they’d like their coffee and turned round to switch on the kettle, I’ve forgotten whether they said one sugar or two, or if they wanted milk or not.

Last Monday, I’d successfully negotiated a drinks order and went over to the sofa to give a couple their tea (both white, three sugars), when I heard someone say my name. I looked up to see a young man with long, wavy brown hair smiling in my direction. I wracked my brain. Where could I know him from? ‘Zahra’, the man said again. ‘That’s what your name badge says’. Ahh! The penny dropped. I’d finally got my volunteer’s name badge earlier that day and had completely forgotten I was wearing it.

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The guy turned out to be quite friendly, as many visitors to the food bank are, and after (correctly) observing I have long legs, we ended up comparing hand measurements, talking about the origins of my name and why he happened to be wearing glittery nail polish. I find the food bank lends itself to some fairly unique, but always enjoyable, conversations.

With a name like mine, I was deprived as a child of having personalised pencils, party balloons, mugs and all other manner of kiddy paraphernalia, and I don’t think I’ve ever got over how secretly aggrieved I used to feel. Which is why I was rather excited at the arrival of my volunteer’s badge, and took it home to give it an extra, personal touch:

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I bet my smiley stickers will be the envy of all the other kids on the playground next week! It’s nice to have the badge though, because it means I’m officially part of the team. Even though thanks to the fact the other volunteers are all utterly lovely and have been so welcoming, I’ve felt like that for ages really.

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