Tell us about your role and typical volunteering shift
I volunteer at Street Alternatives, helping out in the kitchen at weekends. Generally, it's two hours of food prep and two hours of serving. Some days, the two hours of prep fly by…other days, usually when you're chopping onions or shredding chicken by hand, it really feels like 2 hours! You are never really doing the same thing every shift – you pick up whatever job needs to be done as it needs doing, whether that is chopping, baking, cleaning, setting up the dining room, etc. Everyone pitches in and does their bit.
How did you find out about volunteering at Aberdeen Cyrenians? What made you want to volunteer?
I can remember the first time I ever heard of the charity, years before I moved to Aberdeen – there was a team of staff/volunteers on a local TV quiz show, and the name Cyrenians stuck in my mind for some reason, I thought it was a really unusual name! So I had heard of the charity, and some of the work they do, but didn’t know a lot about them. I come from a small town where no one begs on the streets or sleeps rough so moving to Aberdeen was an eye-opener. I had been intending to do volunteer work for years but hadn't actually done anything about it! I was clearing my flat one day and was looking for a local charity which would accept new & unused cosmetics and phoned the Cyrenians who said they would be happy to take them. While I was dropping off a bag, I picked up a leaflet and found out there was an open day for volunteers coming up soon. I went along, found out more about the charity and what work volunteers would do, and signed up.
If a friend wanted to volunteer, what would you say was the best thing about volunteering with us?
I think it's great meeting so many other volunteers and there is a good comradeship in the teams/shifts.
Has your understanding and perception of homelessness changed since you have been volunteering here?
I still feel as though I only see the tip of the iceberg of what goes on in their lives and the full extent of what they go through – but maybe that's for the best in some ways, as the dining room may be a little break away from whatever else is going on in their lives. I do see a lot of familiar faces when I walk through town now.
I think the thing which has had the biggest impact on me was the death of one of the regulars last year. It was someone who I had served in the kitchen many times and who was always in good humour, polite, very well dressed – far removed from the stereotypical image of someone who is homeless. I think the shock of his death made me realise that I was still making judgements about people I knew nothing about, and reminded me that we don't always know what others are going through.
What’s the one thing in your role that you did not expect?
I was a little apprehensive that once I signed up, I wouldn't be able to follow up and commit as much time as I thought I would. But it's given me a bit more focus on a Saturday and Sunday morning – I used to fritter away time in the mornings, but it's good knowing you have a shift on and something purposeful to do that day (and when you don't you sometimes find yourself thinking "I wonder who's on shift today, what meals they're preparing etc..!") Also, I was a little unsure about putting "cooking" as one of my skills! I can easily whip up a meal for myself, but can I cook for and feed 30 people?! But I needn't have worried, as there are other, more experienced cooks volunteering and you end up learning from them, or repeating recipes/food combinations you've seen them use. You're never left alone to deal with things like that – you work as a team and combine your skills and experience.
Volunteers' Week runs from 1-7 June 2019, providing a chance to recognise and thank the amazing contribution that volunteers make to our charity.