Our Training Weekend: How It Went

After the rousing success of our Volunteer Taster Training Day, turnout for our weekend was lower than expected. There were last minute cancellations, and some no-shows, which I guess is to be expected with volunteers, particularly those you don’t know yet.

 

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a success. Kaizen, the training company, sent us the brilliant Andy, and despite, or perhaps in part because of, the small scale of the group on both days, the training was a wonderful team-building exercise.

 

Due to personal stuff, I was only able to attend the Sunday. I dragged my sister along (she’s fifteen and volunteers in a charity shop on Saturday, so I thought any sort of volunteer training would be right up her street), and we had a great time. Granted, we were very giggly, and at one point had to be separated, but a big part of the day was getting to know each other better, and I find people can get to know me best by looking at my sister.

 

The overriding message, on the Sunday at least, was about boxes, and how we’re all in them, and it’s left us all thinking- or trying to think- slightly differently. About everything. All the time.

 

We’re hoping to run further training days in the future, so I won’t be giving away too many spoilers, but it really is worth coming along next time, anyone who’s interested, whether you come back as a volunteer or not (although we’d rather you did).

 

Our quiz is on Wednesday, and tickets are selling fast, so I’d also encourage anyone who wants to get in on that to speak soon. Tickets are £5 a head, teams of 6, and it’s at Club Kingswood, 8pm. And my team are going to win.

 

I haven’t been in the office now for a couple of weeks, due to the aforementioned stuff, and so I’m a little out of the loop, but it seems like we’re really picking up the pace with the fundraising, and talking to local supermarkets about some weekend fundraisers after Easter, so watch this space for any information about that. Also, I hope you caught us in the Echo last week, and saw the bit about our food collection. If you missed it, and want to see some of my colleagues pulling some super-interesting faces, you can catch it here:

 

http://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/11134367.Supermarket_helps_foodbank_with_donations_trolley/

 

Conveniently, I managed to be out of the office- and completely out of the way- at the time of the photo op! It’s nice to get the recognition as an organisation, though- and the trolley will be in place for a few months to come. So get donating!

 

In other news, and the last bit of news I have for this week, our website seems to be fully up and running and fabulous again. You can catch up on the latest news and find out about us in a much less rambly way at:

 

Choicesfamily.co.uk

 

Next week: ‘Let’s Get Quizzical: Why I’m No Longer Allowed to do Puns, and Also How My Team Beat Everyone’ (working title, dependent mainly on my team beating everyone).

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Fundraising, and Other Ways of Getting Stuff

Our quiz night is fast coming up! I’m mega excited, because so far, I haven’t been directly involved with any fundraising activities. Since I joined Choices, we’ve had one town centre collection, while I was at work, which didn’t go with very much of a bang. There were other groups collecting in the town that day, and we were all mistaken for one another, meaning none of us came out as an overall winner.

The quiz, on the other hand, will have an overall winner, and is going to be great fun. Tickets are £5 a head, teams of 6, and it’s from 8pm at Club Kingswood, Sparrow’s Herne, on the 16th April. And we’re going to have a brilliant time.

My family and friends are excited, too- or at least, they tell me they are. I get very excited for them to see a bit more of what I do. I brought my mum to the office once, because she bought some stuff to donate, when we went shopping. She loved it, especially when I answered the phone, and we had to make up a food parcel, and drop it off. She thought it was very exciting and I was terribly clever. Of course, she was right. It is very exciting, doing something that has a positive impact on someone’s life, like providing them with food.

She also tried to hoover the office, with a very beaten up little hoover she found in a cupboard, and nearly succeeding in burning the place down. For some reason, I’ve never yet taken her back.

Recently, I was wandering through Basildon Town Centre with my sister, when we popped into Asda, and walked past a trolley full of food donations, with a sign on it saying ‘Support Your Local Food Bank.’ I prepared myself to be indignant, since the other large local food bank is Trussell Trust, and has Tesco exclusively onside- until I noticed the ten foot board behind it with the Choices logo. Thank you to anyone who reads this and put anything into our collection- it’s always gratefully received.

We’ve also got our training weekend coming up,a follow-on from our successful training taster day in March. It’s in Eastgate again, and it’s a great opportunity we’re providing for current and prospective volunteers to learn a bit about what we do, and pick up some skills along the way.

It’s going to be a busy month for us, and hopefully we’ll be able to keep up the momentum with fundraising, donations and public awareness. With our new volunteers fully trained up, we’re aiming to open our Lottery-Funded Community Kitchen very soon indeed, and after that there’ll be no stopping us from doing good things for the community. Watch this space.

Image

Next week: Our Training Weekend: How It Went

After the rousing success of our Volunteer Taster Training Day, turnout for our weekend was…‘ (I can’t finish this quote because it hasn’t happened yet. Is that cheating? Probably.)

Hello Again! (My Experience in a Nutshell: I, Not We)

So, given that last week I gave you a super-quick introduction to all of us and everything we ever do, I thought this week we could slow things down a bit. I’ll do my best not to make it the ‘India Show’, but as the blogger, I think I’m probably going to end up making this more and more about my personal involvement with volunteering for Choices. This week, at least.

I started volunteering here in January 2014, and it’s been pretty full-on from the word go. The whole website needed rewriting, to start with, and I took that task home from my interview, and worked on it all week. I also had to give myself a crash course in how to use Twitter, since, as far as Susanna knew, I was already proficient. 

That done, I spent my days Tweeting and Retweeting, before Susanna asked whether I’d be interested in helping her write funding bids (a resounding yes, in case you wondered). This is interesting, although not as much fun as you might think (if you thought it sounded even remotely fun). I can most liken the writing of funding bids to the taking of what, at school, we called a ‘Comprehension’ Test. It’s all about reading the questions properly, and answering what you’re actually being asked, rather than trying to shoehorn what you’d like to say into the boxes. That sounds easy enough, but actually, it can be quite difficult to avoid repeating yourself. Also, it can be quite difficult to avoid repeating yourself.

It hasn’t all been sitting behind a desk, of course, as that would be unbearably dull. There’s also been a good deal of sitting on the sofa, when there haven’t been enough desks to go around. And then there’s been some standing, and some running around, and even some trips to meetings.

I was given a key on my third day of volunteering, after Connor and I turned up to find that the warehouse was locked, and we had to stand outside in the rain. A shortage of people with keys meant that, because everyone who works here is unpaid, we couldn’t always have someone available to come and unlock for 9am every day. We spent the morning sitting in the reception area of the jolly nice Solicitor’s next door and upstairs, talking about our brothers and sisters. Luckily, we’ve got about twelve between us, so that covered us up until Susanna arrived.

Since then, we’ve extended our opening hours to 8pm on a Monday, which has generally involved me sitting in the reception area playing music, singing to myself, and jumping at loud noises. We’re hoping that, once the later hours are advertised better, we’ll be seeing more clients at these times, since it’s making us the most accessible food bank in the area. People who need food parcels, but work 9-5, or have other commitments during these times, have struggled to reach us, and requested an extension, and we have seen a few people on these late openings, so it’s worth keeping going with.

Now, I volunteer every Monday (so keep an eye out for new posts on these days), and do a little bit of everything, but a big bit of writing. It’s a busy day at the office, since we’ve always got Michael, and usually Jemma and Mark, in the warehouse, Kary in the back office, Ben or Susanna at the desk, and various others popping in and out. I’m not so involved in food parcels, since we have such a big warehouse team, and my most important role is that of Chief Teamaker (although the others take turns when it’s quiet- Mark just stitched himself right up, making a round of seven because he asked at the wrong time!)

I work part-time in a shop, as well, because I still need to live off of something. It’s the job I’ve had since I was sixteen, and I love it as much as you can love scanning things, but I come away from one day at Choices feeling like I’ve made more difference than five in a row as a salesgirl. 

Next Week: ‘Fundraising, and Other Ways of Getting Stuff.’

I brought my mum to the office once, because she got some stuff to donate, when we went shopping. She loved it, especially when I answered the phone, and we had to make up a food parcel, and drop it off. She thought it was very exciting and I was terribly clever. Of course, she was right.’

Hello! (An Introduction)

Hello! (An Introduction)

Choices Family Logo_web-01

 

 

 

 

 

Choices Family Support Service is a not-for-profit social enterprise.

Our main aim is to provide affordable assistance to families seeking help in their time of need, and support them through various issues, providing them with a sense of security and family.’ 

Hi, my name’s India. I volunteer with Choices, taking care of the social media and doing bits and pieces of writing- like this blog. I’ve got a degree in Creative Writing and I’m trying to put it to good use. I work from our Laindon Food Bank, which has a warehouse, an office, and some super-comfy sofas.

I’m not in charge- that’s Susanna, our Managing Director. She’s a little lady with big ideas for her organisation, and she keeps us all in line (including herself, most of the time).

Mosh is Susanna’s co-director. He does all the techy webby bits that none of the rest of us understand, and I think he does them well (although it’s difficult to tell when you have no idea what they are!)

Jamie does our accounts, and when I want facts and figures he makes them up for me, and puts them into charts which he then has to explain, and does so with infinite patience, while I pretend to understand.

Ben- well, who knows what to say about Ben? He came in and turned us around, getting everything into some kind of order. We call him a project manager, but just think of his project as all of us!

Mark, Michael and Jemma do our warehousing stuff. Th

ey’re responsible for getting some kind of system up and running for booking goods in and out for our food bank, making up food parcels, and knowing what to do when I run out to them panicking because I’ve accidentally closed a programme or misplaced a form.

Kary and Scott are our interns for Marketing and IT, respectively, from Essex University, and Connor is on a volunteer placement from college.

Larisa’s role comes under administration, but she does a bit of everything, with a good deal more enthusiasm than most people demonstrate in their entire lives!

And then there’s our Chairman. I’ve never met Andrew Baggott, but I’ve heard Susanna on the phone to him, so I can vouch for his existence, and he chairs our organisation, so I like him already.

That’s our team, and that’s what we do individually. But really, it’s what we do- and, even more, what we’re going to do– collectively that I want to tell the world about. At the moment, we run the food bank, Tins & Things, from the warehouse in Laindon. We’ve given over 1,000 meals to local families, since opening in November 2013, and we’re getting more referrals by the day.

We also run a Community Kitchen every Wednesday at the George Hurd Centre, which has been very well-received by users.

online pink

In the future, we’re going to run a second, Lottery-Funded Community Kitchen. We’re going to extend our warehouse opening hours and stay open weekends and evenings, to reach as many members of the community as possible. We’re going to buy some land, start farm, and create our own produce, making our warehouse and kitchens largely self-sufficient, and bringing all of our projects together.  We’re going to become a registered City & Guilds Training Centre, and train people up in warehousing and administrative skills.  

But not yet. Before we can do all this, we need to raise funds- so many funds- and we need so many more volunteers, and so much more awareness.

Don’t get me wrong, we are a fantastic team. We’re doing a fantastic thing (fantastic things, actually), and we’ve made so much progress already, which is what makes it such an exciting thing to be part of, as a volunteer. But there’s more to do. There’s always going to be more to do, and by writing this, I want to include as many people in our journey as possible.

So what can you do?

Right now, we need food and money donations. You can bring food to our warehouse, at

26 Saffron Court,
Seax Way,
Laindon,
Basildon,
Essex
SS15 6SS

OR

donate money online at http://www.choicesfamily.co.uk/donate.php

We also need volunteers to join our dynamic, crazy little team. In return for a few hours of your time, as often as you want, you’ll get a couple of introductory lines and regular mentions on a pretty exciting new blog, a warm fuzzy feeling, some fabulous, life-changing work experience, and the chance to meet some amazing people.

Or, you can just follow the blog. Share our website. Follow our Twitter, or add us on Facebook. We’re always running fundraisers, or volunteer training days, and sharing interesting bits and pieces. Go on, give us a go:

https://twitter.com/ChoicesFamily

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Choices-Family-Support Service/290681900960507?fref=ts

http://www.choicesfamily.co.uk (down at the moment, but will be up and running and bigger and better than ever before long!)

This is us, then. What we do and who we are and what we’re going to do and who we will be. But I’m going to keep this blog going- next week, and the week after. So what is it going to tell you?

I want to tell you what it’s like to be a volunteer for an exciting, up and coming organisation, working for social change.

I want to tell you what it’s like to be a volunteer at all.

I want you to care about Choices. Really, I just want you to know about Choices.

Next week: ‘Hello Again! (My Experience in a Nutshell: I, Not We)

I was given a key on my third day of volunteering, after Connor and I turned up to find that the warehouse was locked, and we had to stand outside in the rain.’