Last week I went along to a local charity called Two Saints, which helps people who are homeless by providing a variety of services and support. I was there to find out more about volunteering, but I confess that part of me was just curious to see what their day centre (the hub of the organisation) was like, having heard about it before.
On my arrival at the day centre, I was given a tour of the premises and further information about the services Two Saints provide for the people who come there. These include basics like mobile phone charging, laundry, showers, a clothing store, access to GPs, housing and debt advice and help with job searches/CV writing. The centre also does a simple breakfast and a cooked lunch (for a nominal charge), with hot drinks available throughout the day. I felt like I was back at Crisis Christmas, but on a far smaller scale.
It was good to get an idea of what life at the day centre is like, and to hear about how I could get involved if I volunteered there. After a few Christmases with Crisis and a year at my local food bank, I feel like I’m ready for a new challenge and would like to take the experience I’ve already got working with homeless people further. Surprisingly, Two Saints only has a handful of volunteers at its day centre; fingers crossed I’ll be able to join the small team very soon!
Earlier this week I had a fun afternoon volunteering to sort food at my local FareShare warehouse. If you’re not familiar with the excellent work FareShare does…
FareShare recently had a Neighbourhood Food Collection, in association with local Tesco stores, to boost their stock. The idea behind the food collection is that when people enter the supermarket, they’re given a shopping list of things FareShare needs, so that if they want to, they can pick up extra items on their way round the aisles.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m no stranger to sorting out tinned food, so spending a few hours getting an insight into how Southampton’s FareShare distribution centre operates didn’t seem like a bad idea for an otherwise unoccupied weekday afternoon! It’s been a year since I was volunteering at the Trussell Trust’s warehouse, and although my role at Southampton’s food bank does involve sorting out food, it’s on a far smaller scale, so I’d forgotten just how weirdly therapeutic organising cans goods into different categories can be! My friend Ania and I were supposed to be there for a four hour shift and didn’t even realise around three and a half hours had flown by, we were so into our sorting! I just wish I’d taken ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of the crates of food stacked on pallets, as between us and two other volunteers, we’d made a noticeable dent in the huge mound at the back of the warehouse by the end of the day. It’s always nice when you’re volunteering to see the difference you’ve made! 😉
Ania and I agreed we’d enjoyed being temporary super sorters and wouldn’t mind popping back again later on in the year. It’s nice to know we’ve contributed (in a very small way) to FareShare’s brilliant work. But after hours of separating baked beans from biscuits, canned carrots from custard, and sweetcorn from sweeties, we definitely needed a nice cuppa!
June has flown by and I’ve somehow not managed to blog at all, until faced by the prospect of not even having a single post this month, I decided I’d better pull my finger out and get typing! My absence has partly been due to technical difficulties (ie. a rubbish computer!), but partly I’ve just been busy with more outdoor, sunshiney activities than blogging.
Anyway, here’s a quick roundabout of some of my activities…
- Curb cooked a thank you lunch for the volunteers at our local repair cafe. I’ve always been curious about the cafe, so it was good to see it in action. The idea behind the cafe is to encourage people to fix broken household items, rather than throwing them away and buying more. We cooked a Mexican themed meal, which was accompanied by smoothies and a fruit crumble to finish.
- Last week, Curb also had a stall serving snacks at Southampton’s first upcycled fashion show. It was awesome to see the creations that local volunteers had worked so hard on, as well as to experience a fashion show – albeit without any supermodels! Among my favourite outfits were two dresses, one made from a re-purposed table cloth and the other from net curtains. It was inspiring to see what can be done with a bit of imagination and a sewing machine.
- Almost a year after I started volunteering at the food bank, I finally got round to having my induction!! It was nice to meet people from the other food banks, and I did actually learn the odd new thing or two, but let’s face it, when is health and safety aspects of lifting trays of tinned food ever going to be exciting?!
- In July, Curb is taking over the Community Corner at our local wholefoods co-op, Rice Up. We’ll be displaying posters and information about what we do to raise awareness of food waste and ways of preventing it.
I’ll have to try harder to balance being in the garden with being in front my laptop next month, although I could simply combine the two…!
Volunteering at the busiest, city centre branch of Southampton City Mission’s food bank means I encounter many clients who have only a basic level of English or, sometimes, virtually no English at all. Like other cities in the UK, Southampton has a sizeable Polish community, along with refugees from countries such as Somalia. While we can obviously still make up a food parcel for somebody who doesn’t speak English, it does make finding out basic information like their date of birth or the ages of their children more problematic. Being an English teacher, I’ve found myself better able to communicate with our non-English speaking clients than volunteers who haven’t had as much practise as me! For example, I extracted a date of birth from a baffled foreign client once by writing down my own birthday to illustrate what I meant. The main set of questions we ask a client when they come in is what types of food they’d prefer in their parcel. I originally hit on the idea of holding up packets of rice, pasta, tea, etc so the client could indicate which they wanted, but then decided it would be more efficient to have a set of pictures all the volunteers could easily use, and came up with this: As we get a fair number of Poles coming in, I asked a Polish speaking friend to translate our standard questions, so clients can read and point at the sheet to indicate their answer: Many clients who visit us are experiencing stress related to their current situation – be it because they’ve lost their job, haven’t received their benefits, are struggling to feed their children, or any number of other reasons. People find it difficult to accept help, even when it’s offered, and embarrassment at having to rely on a handouts from a food bank is a widespread feeling amongst our clients. I know from living abroad myself, things that are straightforward in your own country can be a nightmare to negotiate in a foreign country, particularly when you don’t speak the language. I’m hoping my new sheets will help non-English speakers to feel a bit more at ease when they come to collect their food parcel, and also like we’ve made an effort to try to consider their needs.
Recently I mentioned that I was behind with my blog posts… Well, I’m still playing catch up! Christmas already seems like months ago, but I wanted to share Crisis’ official Christmas 2014 video, which gives a flavour of the impact the project has on the homeless guests who visit centres in London, Newcastle and Edinburgh.
After volunteering in the kitchen this year, one guest’s description of the food he’d eaten at Crisis being ‘excellent’ made me smile (although this video wasn’t filmed at my centre, so I can’t really take any credit!).