Volunteering During Lockdown
We talked to Elena, a young PR professional, about how she (and her puppy!) have been volunteering during lockdown and what she would recommend to anyone interested in joining a programme.
What sort of volunteering have you been doing?
‘Before the coronavirus restrictions were introduced, I was really enjoying volunteering for the Felix Project, which is an amazing London-based food redistribution waste charity tackling both food waste and hunger. The charity rescues good, surplus food from the food industry that cannot be sold and would otherwise go to waste, including a high proportion of fresh fruit and vegetables, baked goods, salads, meat and fish, and delivers the food to a huge range of charities for people who need it. As a volunteer, I collect food from supermarkets, restaurants and delis in a specific area of London and deliver it to various charities based nearby, meaning that food which would have gone to waste reaches vulnerable people like the homeless, people with mental health issues or those who simply cannot afford to buy regular, healthy food.
Clearly the lockdown has meant that I am unable to volunteer in this way at the moment but I really wanted to help people in need during the coronavirus crisis, so I started looking into local groups and charities and came across the app, OnHand. This is a service which matches vetted volunteers to those needing help. During lockdown, volunteers can help with tasks such as medication pick-ups, shop drops, errand running and befriending phone calls. I have been doing weekly shop drops for a lovely gentleman who lives nearby and I am so pleased to be able to help him in some way.’
What made you decide to volunteer?
‘When lockdown started, clearly there were going to be countless people who couldn’t leave their homes and really needing help. I felt pretty helpless hearing about the NHS heroes across the country doing everything they can for us all in ICU. So, I thought ‘how can I make a small difference?’ and helping people in need locally seemed like a sensible place to start.’
How do you feel now you’re doing it?
‘It has definitely given me a sense of purpose. I feel so pleased that I can make a difference to someone’s life at a really challenging time. I’m going to continue volunteering for OnHand and I look forward to returning as a Felix Project volunteer as soon as I can. It’s a small portion of my week dedicated to doing something to help someone else and it feels great.’
How do you help people who are in very different circumstances to you?
‘Ask them questions about themselves and get to know them – it’s unlikely that you won’t find some common ground! If you’re visiting someone regularly – like doing a weekly shop drop – you get to know the person and their interests and even if you don’t have a huge amount in common, you can ask them how they are, what they’ve been doing, how their week has been etc. Just show them that you are engaged and that you care.
In fact, the gentleman I am doing shop drops for has become a friend – I genuinely look forward to seeing him and we have a socially distanced cup of tea when I go round now and I take my puppy with me because he adores dogs. He’s one of the most inspiring individuals I’ve ever met and I like chatting to him as much as he likes me doing his shopping!’
Volunteering can push people out of their comfort zone or place you in some difficult situations – have you felt this? If so, how do you deal with it?
‘I suppose you never know what the person you are helping may be going through or may have gone through, and you have to be very aware of that and sensitive to whatever situation they might be in. You soon get a feel whether someone is keen to chat or whether they just appreciate the help they require with whatever you are doing.
Make sure the company you are working with is credible and that you feel completely comfortable with what is being asked of you. There should be other volunteers you can speak to and there should always be a volunteer coordinator who will be able to answer any questions. They should also give you some kind of induction so you are clear on what to expect.’
What is the best thing about volunteering?
‘Just feeling that I am helping someone in some way. It’s hugely rewarding and I genuinely enjoy it.’
What is the most challenging part of volunteering?
‘Honestly, not having enough time to do more. With OnHand, I’d like to be doing shop drops and errands for several people in my area multiple times a week because it’s so easy! But I just don’t have the time with a full-time job!’
What are your recommendations for anyone thinking of taking part in a volunteering programme?
‘Read up on the programme before you commit, and only commit if you have the time and ambition to fulfil what they need. Don’t try and do too much at once; just sign up to something you think is manageable and that you feel passionate about, and go from there. Enjoy it!’