My weekend as a volunteer wrapper

I volunteered this weekend along with many others to assemble and wrap gift baskets.

Day One: Students know when it’s right

The first day I found a station and wrapped…for 5 1/2 hours. I was surrounded by high school students who were there to fulfill their community hours. Many of these kids were a little lost, so I soon found roles for them.

I turned one into my decorator delegating the big decisions of what colour ribbon and bow. There was great pride in this task. Other helpers were turned into runners bringing supplies and expediting baskets. The kids brought other kids with the request “Miss, can you find a job for my friend?”

As we worked there were great discussions of school/university, phones/technology and eventually the inefficiency of the basket operation. Many of our baskets didn’t look too appealing. Overstuffed or imbalanced, the kids thought they looked bad. After returning a few they brought the issue up to event management and were told the baskets were fine.

So I get these big brown eyes starring up at me saying “this isn’t right.” And I had to agree and say that life isn’t always great, so do what you can and fight for what you think is right. So we fixed the baskets and no one noticed. End of shift, many beautiful baskets later, hugs all around, Facebook pics and a hope to see each other the next day.

Day Two: Cheer-leading for volunteers

Now knowing the operation a bit better and getting no direction other than “there’s lots to do, go find something” from the event staff, I decided to do a little quality assurance and expediting. I added a second layer of quality control (responding to the issues of day one) and ensured there was a consistent supply of baskets to wrap (another problem we had faced). The kids from day one were glad to see me focused on these things and I got big smiles from across the room.

I encouraged the shy boys to be runners and was a creative cheerleader with “that’s beautiful,” “great basket,” and “can you add a little more love to that one.” When some of the kids lost their focus I reminded them of the cause, “imagine that woman in a shelter with not much but the cheer that this basket would bring.” They popped back up and gave it their all. Even the adult volunteers rose to the occasion and I got a high five from one as she left her shift.

What I witnessed

  • Volunteers streaming in and no greeter; no one to give them an orientation and a task
  • Youth volunteers doing it for the community hours credit but not really understanding the cause and their impact (on the good side many parents worked along with their kids, on the bad side some parents wanted their kids working an 8 hr shift each day just to get through the requirement quickly)
  • A disorganized production floor leading to inefficient use of people and donated product
  • Lack of matching skill to task; so folks that shouldn’t wrap but could easily expedite, lots of junior volunteers with nothing to do and event staff doing tasks rather than supporting volunteers
  • Lack of encouragement for efforts or a reminder of what we were doing – what was the goal? Where were the shelters?
  • A lot of good folks, good donations and a good facility

Maybe it’s okay to “stuff envelopes.” Occasionally instead of doing all this strategy work, I should get tactical and be that process champion that gets the most out of a volunteer crew and makes that crew feel like they made the world a better place that day.

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