So from Thursday through to Saturday the Tesco Neighbourhood Food Collection is taking place, in association with the Trussell Trust and Fareshare UK. These events are taking place in Tesco stores up and down the country and I put myself forward to volunteer for two stints, in two different stores, one for the Trussell Trust and one for Fairshare UK and I had two very different experiences.
We’ll start with the bad. On Thursday I was down to volunteer for Fareshare and I went to that store. First things first, when I turned up they had pretty much got nothing sorted and this was deep into the afternoon. All they had was a table, a trolley, the shopping lists to hand out and the tabards to wear so people knew what you were there for. I went to the customer service desk to sign in as instructed and the lady there told me that a guy was also volunteering, went up and spoke to him and he said he was leaving and that all I had to do was hand out the shopping lists, simple enough really.
The problem was that there was no-one else there to help so people walking in would generally see you and go the other way. You can’t cover the whole of the entrance alone and quite quickly I became dispirited. With no staff to help or any other volunteers it was also quite lonely and to be honest pretty boring. I know that some good was happening as some food was being donated and that would go to needy people but it certainly what I would call an enjoyable afternoon. I have done plenty of charity/voluntary work in the past and this was certainly the least enjoyable situation that I’d been in.
After an hour or so I was really thinking about how long I could stick it out. The public weren’t taking the shopping lists and it just wasn’t a good experience. About an hour or so later I’m presuming a manager of some sort came up to me and said they would put over some announcements on the tannoy to announce what was going on to help and then said words that would resonate in my brain, ‘it is always nice to have an extra pair of hands to help’ and all I could think was that no-one at that store was helping that food collection in any way at all. It felt like that had no desire to be involved at all. That really annoyed me that they welcomed an extra pair of hands but did nothing to help at all. About 45 minutes later and still no tannoy announcements and I decided enough was enough. I knew there were no other volunteers for the rest of that day to hand over to and I had planned to stick it out until the end of the day but I just couldn’t do it.
So I felt pretty down that despite having done some good and a trolley brimmed full of donated produce, I had not felt either a) wanted or b) respected by my experience. I know volunteer work isn’t really about what you get out of it but when you feel that badly about your experience, it doesn’t really make you feel good.
On to today and a much better experience, the local Food Bank here is overseen with the help of six local churches and they had divided the shifts into two hour slots. One of the guys picked me up and there were three of us so we could cover the the whole entrance area and indeed there were people to talk to and bounce off of each other. This time there was a whole display that had been set up and a whole area devoted to the event. The people I was with said that it wasn’t as good as last time as that Tesco store had put on an excellent display in previous collections.
Again no Tesco staff were actually on hand to help although this time with the food bank having organised the volunteers etc. – there wasn’t as much of a need but looking on twitter and you can see in many of these collections, Tesco staff seemed to mingle and help out with the volunteers, that didn’t happen at either store where I volunteered. This was disappointing. More so yesterday than today.
Today was more enjoyable and more productive. It certainly felt good to see people you’d spoken to as they had walked in donate and we took away probably 10-14 crates of food to the food bank warehouse after our two hour shift.
Two things of note. The 12:00 minute silence for the Tunisia victims was observed but I certainly had no idea of it until it actually happened. The store stopped and went silent and people were walking in and were completely confused by what was going on. That was surreal.
Secondly we had one person take umbrage with what we were doing and claimed that food banks were ruining this country because food banks stopped people from getting jobs. He walked up to me going on about how people would line up if people were handing out ten pound notes and whilst some would, many people wouldn’t but he kept going on and on about it and one of the food bank regulars took over and spoke to him but he was going on for a good 15 minutes, it was madness. I know there is a lot of misinformation about food banks out there but the fact of the matter is the vast majority, the vast majority, are in real need of a meal. I don’t know the ins and outs but poverty is a real issue and poverty is not a choice, no matter what anyone thinks.
So my two stints volunteering were wildly different. I felt down after one and the other I felt some real good was done (a lot more food was donated today). As I said earlier, doing voluntary work isn’t about what you can get out of it but more what you can do to help others but when you feel as though no-one wants you there then it is really tough.
One thing I did notice though was who donated more, who took the shopping lists more and who went out of their way to ignore you and not make eye contact. Step forward the women of the world for being the far more polite sex on this front. Also age ranges, the best sections were clearly women who were mothers, women who were grandmothers were amongst the worst, the retired generation as a whole didn’t could away well from my unscientific survey of my memory. Most men who declined though would at least make eye contact and say no thank you whereas the majority of women who didn’t take one would avoid you or look at you like you were beneath them. It was quite eye-opening.
I’m not sure I’m recommend it to anyone else, if I could guarantee they had a similar reception to what I got today then I would but yesterday was so bad. I think I’d tell anyone planning on doing it to ensure they weren’t doing it alone and to rope in a friend or colleague to go with them. I think I was just really unlucky yesterday but it did really make me feel like shit. The food banks do such great work and those of us who are lucky not to have ever dealt with them are indeed just that, lucky and there but for the grace of God as they say.
Food banks need all the support they can get and I think Tesco do a great job getting involved centrally but at a store by store level the experiences seem to be so different. I’m not sure if that is a management issue at stores locally but looking at photos on twitter you can see the differences between the stores that really go out and promote the event and those who bury it in the background.
If you are in Tesco at any time between now and Saturday then please don’t be rude to any volunteers and donate what you can. The Tesco Neighbourhood Food Collection will no doubt happen again in November/December and there are always plenty of ways to donate to your local Food Bank, whatever you donate goes straight to people in need and knowing that is part of the reason why I think volunteering for such an event was a good one to do. This isn’t money going to pay whatever overheads but this food goes straight to those who need it, what could be better?
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