21 December 2014

Oxfam

I have recently completed three four-hour shifts at one of our local Oxfam shops. It sells a range of goods from good quality second hand clothing to books and bric a brac. There's also a section where new goods are displayed including "Fair Trade" coffee and chocolate as well as greeting cards and craft products from distant lands. The shop raises around £100,000 a year to support some of the many charity projects that Oxfam are involved in around the world.

I have supported Oxfam since I was a schoolboy. My mother supported them too and at her funeral in 2007, all the money collected from attendees was donated to Oxfam. One of the very laudable things about this charity is that the majority of projects they fund are aimed at self-help. There's a big focus upon providing clean water - digging new wells, improving sanitation, setting up village pumps and so on. They are also involved in agriculture and the active encouragement of economic and gender justice. And where there are crises such as famine or flood, earthquake or hurricane disasters, Oxfam is usually there to help.

Anyway - back to the shop. I had to put in an application with references and everything but at last I finally got round to it. The last till I operated was back at Butlin's, Filey in the summer of 1974 and it was nothing like the glorified computer you have to use now. There are lots of little touch-screen buttons and lots of things to remember - Credit Card or Cash? How much money has been tendered by the customer? What is the sub-total etcetera? It does my head in and my fingers are like bananas so I inevitably risk pressing the wrong button. I am scared in case the super-efficient shop manager Catherine shouts at me! I hope the needy in foreign lands are appreciative of my battle to come to terms with that damned till!

I have also been upstairs sorting out books ready for sale. Some donations end up in rubbish bags -especially out of date academic doorstops. You have to decide on prices following Oxfam guidelines and place the books on appropriate shelves - Fiction, Crime and Thrillers, Children's, Teenagers, History, Biography, Antique and Collectibles, Travel and so on. This is more up my street than wrestling with that bleeping till.

Last Wednesday I had to help another volunteer to cash up. Let's call him Ringo simply because he has four or five rings on each digit. And he's also got a dozen or more bracelets on each wrist. His head is shaved but with little red nicks in it and yet he has a big grey beard. Around him hangs the aroma of stale cigarettes but I admire the fellow greatly as he has mastered the electronic till so well that you might think he had invented it. In comparison I must appear like a hopeless dunce!

One of the nice things about being an Oxfam shop volunteer is that I can walk away when ever I want to and at least for the time being I am only working one afternoon shift a week. I will be there on both Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. Let's see how it goes. Click here for the official Oxfam site.

11 comments:

  1. Well done you Sir. I am sure you will master the till in time. For those of us who have never worked in retail, I am sure we would be in the same situation faced with a till and an EFTPOS machine. I visited one of our equivalent charity shops on the weekend to replenish my holiday reading supply. This particular shop has a good supply of both fiction and non-fiction in excellent condition. I limited my purchase and left plenty behind for others.

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    1. I am forwarding this comment to Saint Peter for when you finally arrive at them pearly gates Carol. You will have some credit in his little black book.

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  2. We all have challenges to face in this life YP. I'm sure you'll soon be edificated enough to work the till. As for banana fingers I'm told that one of the best dentists ever to practice and teach in the Edinburgh Dental Faculty was called Banana Fingers because of the size of his digits.

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    1. Graham, could have been worse he may have decided on gynaecology.

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  3. This is admirable.
    I'm not taking the piss but does Mark Goldring really need £102k a year and a pension to save Africans without water and patch up holes they have shot or stabbed in each other. Americans are always putting holes in fellow Americans and Oxfam couldn't care less.. He has no end of well paid underlings.
    I admire your work but think you would be better employed asking for his job and splitting his salary with me. I could become a consumptive. I meant a consultative. Compulsive. Whatever one of those tossers who know nowt but persuade charities to offload half there cash my way.
    He and his merry band will also have expenses...of course.
    I doubt he has an altruistic bone in his body. I think altruistic is what you are. I struggle with big wurds. Consupative. I think he is a greedy sod is that the antonym of altruistic?
    I stopped drinking Bells when I found out how little help Help for Heroes got. Have fun in the shop.

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    1. A huge and complex international organisation like Oxfam needs a very capable leader. He is being paid as much as the headteacher of a big comprehensive school or a doctor who is a partner in a big GP practice. I do not think that is at all unreasonable.

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  4. Good for you YP! However, I am with Adrian on Oxfam after seeing a job vacancy advertised about 20 years ago with a salary of £40K. Some kind of management job. It put me off Oxfam. I'd rather give to smaller charities.

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    1. Big and influential charities like Oxfam cannot be run by bumbling amateurs. If you pay peanuts you get monkeys Molly. It amazes me how many cynical reasons people come up with not to support big charities - reasons that are at odds with the facts.Out of every £1 Oxfam receives 9 pence are spent on running costs, 9 pence on fund-raising costs, 44 pence on development work and 32 pence on emergency relief and 6 pence on campaigning for change. This break down has been independently audited.

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  5. I'd be like you re the "till", too, I'm sure. When I was helping out at the local RSPCA Op Shop here a few years ago all they used was tin box to hold the takings (and the giving of change). Back in the early 80s when I had my greengrocery/healthfood shop, I used similar....not quite a tin box, but a crude excuse for a till!

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    1. I must say I would much prefer the tin box kind of cash register, as long as it was big enough for me to get my banana fingers in.

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  6. It is very good of you to do this voluntary work. My Dad does something similar, only that he - as far as I know - is never asked to man the till. Instead, he mostly unloads and unpacks deliveries (they sell groceries more than anything), stocks shelves, makes sure only a certain number of people and only those who are entitled to this type of benefit come in, and generally keeps things running smoothly. He does that every Monday afternoon and is totally knackered by the time he gets home, but he likes the work and would never skip a shift - in fact, I don't think he's ever missed one, instead he takes over shifts from others who call in sick or don't turn up.
    I totally agree with your reply to Molly. Someone who dedicates really ALL their working hours to a charity has to be paid accordingly, and has to be competent in what they do.

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