May 8, 2011

My Salvation Army experience

When I went to volunteer at the Salvation Army on Friday, I wasn't sure what I'd be doing, what I would see, or what takeaways I'd have from the experience.

Because there was nowhere to leave my purse or a bag unattended for the day, I had to leave everything but my keys, cell phone and big bottle of water in the car. So, no camera. But oh how I wish I'd been able to capture the experience for you in pictures, Internet.

The facility at which I volunteered is a distribution center where donations are brought and are also picked up by families in need. I spent most of my day ripping open bags and boxes of donated clothes, then sorting them by gender and size. Others served as "shoppers," and they were paired with families who came to pick up supplies to help them get back on their feet. Still others restocked the shopping aisles with toiletries, food, clothes, etc., from the unloading/sorting area, and there were groups of volunteers helping load and unload donations, writing receipts for donations and many other tasks. It was a well-oiled machine.

I met volunteers from all over Alabama (many from my workplace alone), but since the storms came through, volunteers have come from all over the country. A couple from West Virginia drove down because they used to live in Birmingham and wanted to help. A large group representing Islamic Disaster Relief came in from New York and New Jersey. And people kept regaling me with stories of the people they'd met who had come from far-flung locations, just because they wanted to make a difference.

People drove up with donations ranging from bottled water to cleaning supplies to diapers ... some had just gone to the store and bought what was needed, and others had scoured their homes for gently used items that would be of use to the people who now have nothing.

One woman drove up, looked around and noticed a dearth of kitchenware. She hopped back in her car and came back two hours later with enough "loot" to outfit three kitchens practically from scratch. She brought three full sets of pots and pans, three complete sets of silverware in separated trays, and three of every kind of utensil you can imagine ... potato peelers, spatulas, whisks, can openers ... she made a huge effort.

As the shell-shocked survivors walked though the doors, they were overwhelmed with what they saw. They were so grateful for the assistance they were being given, and I overheard so many of them say to everyone they saw, "God bless you." It was enough to bring tears to my eyes.

Humbling in every sense of the word.

Something I learned as I unpacked and sorted bag after bag, box after box of clothing: we ALL need to give of what we have, but we need to be RESPECTFUL of those who are receiving it. As our group leader put it, "If you wouldn't ask Jesus to wear it, throw it away."

If it has a hole in it, throw it away.
If it has a stain on it, throw it away.
If it's missing fasteners (buttons, zippers, snaps), throw it away.
If it's ripped, throw it away.
And last but not least, if it has a dead roach on it, for God's sake, at LEAST pull the roach off it before putting it in the bag. PEOPLE.

When I clean out our closets, I generally find enough there to fill three bags to give away. Out of that, maybe two or three items have stains, rips or holes. If I'm giving that much away, surely it's preferable to leave out the three items that are in worse shape. Yes, it is.

And also, I will never again box or bag up clothes without labeling the sizes on the outside. Because guess what: A REAL LIVE PERSON has to sort it all out if you don't. And while I was happy to do it for the Salvation Army and the tornado victims, it's definitely made me more sympathetic to those who have to do it on a daily basis.

Let's all just try to make their jobs a little easier.

And lastly, I encourage you, if there are opportunities for you to get out and make a difference in the lives of those in your community, please take them. You won't regret it.


Rachel said...

Wow! Thank you for sharing your day. It brought tears to my eyes.

Martha said...

Katherine - there's a wonderful article in the New York Times today (Monday) about the Red Cross in Alabama and all they - and Baptist Church Charities - are doing to help people in need after the storms. Check it out on line! -Martha

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...