Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner

Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner
Blue Ridge Smoky Mountains

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Day 108 - Volunteering at the Food Bank

For years whenever the Boy Scouts or the United States Postal Service or the Church announced they were going to have a "food drive," I looked through my cupboards and found a brown grocery bag full of extra canned food or cereal or pasta that I could give to people less fortunate than we were.  Years.  I have this philosophy that giving especially when you have very little to give always returns the blessings when you actually need it the most. I've looked in my closet after losing jobs (5 jobs in 4 years!) and decided to give away thousands of dollars worth of suits and clothes to Salvation Army and Goodwill.  I save one or two to wear for an interview but somehow I just know that the powers that be will see to it that I have not more and not less than I actually need.

When I first went on unemployment after losing my job this time I wanted to donate at a food bank as I really believe food banks are a life line for many people.  We may not have ever had to need to go but there are times when there is only the choice of going to a food bank or not eating.  Easy decision especially for people with children.   These are the people I really think about when I think about the goodness of the food bank.

I went down to the food bank and asked if I could volunteer.  They took my name and number.  I waited.  I waited two months and went back again, they told me at this particular county food bank that each month a different church got the responsibility to stock and staff it.  I asked for someone, ANYONE to call me as my church wasn't part of this group. Six months later on a Tuesday morning at 9 AM I got a call from a frantic woman at the food bank saying that the Catholic Grade School had just made a large, she emphasized very-large donation and that nobody could come in to help.  Could I come and help unload and stock the over 50 bags of food?  Could I?  I would LOVE too.  I've been waiting for over two months for this opportunity.  The caller was surprised when I said, "I'll be there in ten minutes!"

I arrived and learned where everything went.  Each 4'x2' cupboard had its own vegetable.  The peas, the beans, the dried milk, the canned meat section etc. We had those fifty bags unpacked in less than 2 hours just the two of us.  Just when we were wrapping it up, the phone rang, they were on their way with thirty more bags of food!  She asked if I could stay?  I said, "No problem, I'd love too."  I was soaking wet with sweat and happy as a pig in mud.  I love volunteering when you know it makes a difference in people's lives.  The right thing to do is NEVER EVER throw food out.  Donate it to the food bank.  Volunteer if you have time. 

Now that I had proven myself, the lady told me she was affiliated with the local Catholic Church and that they would welcome me to be on their volunteer team.  A few months went by and I was called upon again.  I ended up donating every Tuesday for four hours for an entire month.  I did the heavy lifting.  I pretty much kept my mouth shut and worked like a dog.  The other women were all over sixty and I was clearly the youngest of the group.  I lifted the cases of canned vegetables from the lower cupboards off the floor to the tables so that the older women didn't have to strain themselves.  We were having great female bonding as teamwork often provides and I loved being a part of their team.

I had just gotten home on the last Tuesday of the month and the Volunteer coordinator asked me to come back in Thursday as they were short people this last week.  I said, "No problem. I'd be glad too! Thanks for another opportunity to serve."  I went in on Thursday and quickly realized I didn't know any of these ladies.  Same church but different group.  After I introduced myself, I heard one of the Tuesday ladies come in and we laughed as she recognized me and my bike. She made sure I had already been introduced to everyone.  This is the right thing to do when you know people in a group and recognize that there is a new person.  Make them feel comfortable by breaking the barrier of unfamiliarity.  She made me feel good when she did that.  I was a part of the "sisterhood."

There was another new person that day, Vicki . So new in fact that this was her first day EVER in the food bank.  A "sister" showed Vicki the system and we started to bag the food for our clients.  On a break in the action, I did what I had done all month long and made use of my spare time.  I lifted the canned vegetable trays up so we could unpack and restack the cans in the higher cubicles to save the ladies backs.  The "sister" came behind the new girl. With her hands on her hips, she said to the new volunteer in a condescending tone, "You're not doing that right."  She showed her again and stood there watching and said, "Good job"  while standing directly behind her. I smelled something fishy and since we only carried non-perishable goods it wasn't real fish. The "sister" then told her to take all the cans and turn the labels around toward the aisle like they do in the grocery stores!  What? I thought to myself.  Criticizing another volunteer?  While you are trying to volunteer?  I had worked for over thirty years with bossy micro-managers I just hoped that my dear "sister" didn't start that crap with me.  I was donating my time and surely didn't need to be "supervised" by another "volunteer."  I didn't sign up to be bossed around especially since I wasn't getting paid!

Sure enough, the "sister" came over to me and told me to immediately "Stop that!"  I asked her, "What do you mean?  I am helping all the women who can't do the heavy lifting.  I've been doing this all month and most of the women said they appreciated me doing this.  I have gone home every Tuesday all month soaked with sweat because I've been working my butt off!"  She said, "Well I've been here twenty years."  That pressed my button.  (You know my saying about twenty years experience.)  I lost it.  I said, "You know what, I've seen how you treated our new volunteer today and you are just not making this very fun.  You don't have twenty years experience you have one year experience twenty times because you're doing things the same way they were taught to you twenty years ago.  And frankly if I wanted a boss to supervise me, I'd go get a job.  You are just not a very nice person. I can't work with you."  I picked up my bike and walked out the door.

There is something liberating about telling off someone who is just a bully when everyone else is afraid to tell them.  I heard in the background of my mind, "Take this job and shove it! I don't work here anymore."  The times are tough enough but I'll be damned if anyone is going to treat me that way anymore.  I don't know if its old age or wisdom but I do know that they have not asked me to return.  I hope that the "sister" can use all her twenty years experience to do the heavy lifting.  I'm sure she's good at that given all her years of experience of doing it by herself. She'll still be doing it for twenty more years by herself as they can't seem to keep any "fresh meat" around the place with her "working" there too.

Volunteers don't need a supervisor, they need a team leader ~ BJ Winchester

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