Recently I did some volunteering over the Christmas period for Shelter, a charity providing advocacy in housing rights for homeless people in the UK. I worked on the shop floor re-arranging bric-a-brac and ornaments to make nicely presented displays, sorting through the rails of generously donated clothing, signing people up for Gift Aid ( charities are able to reclaim tax that donors paid on their donations), serving customers and managing the tills.

During my short time at Shelter I met lots of interesting people and had lots of interesting experiences. I remember one woman came in exasperated that her son who also volunteered there, had donated her mother’s precious blue china plates by mistake. She described them to me, frantically waving her hands in attempts to show me how big they were, as she rushed into the shop.  Luckily we found them, having not yet been sorted and priced at the back of the store room; to her relief. Her and her husband donated some money and she gave me a hearty hug and left the shop with huge relief.

Even from working a few days there, I saw a much kindness from strangers which was almost profound and out of the usual. Many came in to enquire about what it was that Shelter did to help the homeless, to which we pointed them to the services and  helplines available to find housing for the homeless. People came in for sleeping bags to give to people on the streets, just down the road. One woman was particularly concerned about a homeless woman she had seen nearby and offered to pay Shelter money to help her find somewhere to stay. It was experiences like these that touched me, seeing people express kindness to strangers and their willingness to help those less fortunate than them.

I felt that I was doing something useful with my time and having a positive impact. It was good that it got me out of the house and out of my normal routine, doing new things I wouldn’t have done otherwise. I am a believer that all new experiences are good for you and help you to learn new things.

It was interesting for me to learn about the inner workings of an organization, about the business aspects of running a shop. I learnt a lot from those few days about how that shop, and business (albeit a charity) was run.

Many people donated things everyday. There were lots of good finds to my surprise! They say one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. I bought countless books happily and acquired a whole new collection!

Unfortunately on my last day of volunteering we came in to open the shop to find that someone had smashed the front window, broken into the shop and stole some jewellery not worth very much and attempted to break into the already empty till. The police came and did an investigation, the window was then boarded up and we opened later than usual. It was a shame that someone would break into a charity shop and steal from charity, literally. So on my last day I got to witness all of that drama and helped out with cleaning up the mess they had made, making the shop floor presentable for opening so that they could still make money.

Volunteering did me a wealth of good. On a surface level, it gave new skills such as operating a till, creative window and floor displaying and talking to customers but on a deeper level it opened my eyes to the kindness and compassion of strangers and helped me to realise that yes, one individual can make a difference. 

Volunteering is a cathartic experience. You should volunteer at least once in your life – you’ll enjoy it! Maybe it’s not something you’d consider life-changing (not all volunteering is) but it certainly is worthwhile as it is impactful. Overall volunteering had a positive effect on me and made me realise that, in helping others, you help yourself. 

For more information about Shelter and the work they do, visit http://www.shelter.org.uk

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