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 Some donations end up in rubbish bags -especially out of date academic doorstops.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.