After seeing conversations about it on Twitter I decided to look into volunteering at a Crisis homeless shelter over the Christmas period. I will admit to being a bit of a wuss, so much so that I don’t read newspapers or watch the news, as the constant barrage of bad news is too much for me to deal with. Hollyoaks, X-Factor, films any minor sign of affection, sympathy, happiness has me choked up. Over emotional? Possibly, but that’s the way I am, so I tend to live in my own little bubble, unaffected by the devastation of the outside world.
To say I was apprehensive is an understatement. I was really nervous and wished I’d signed up with a friend so I’d have someone to hold my hand. Having only American TV depictions of homeless shelters and ‘soup kitchens’ as my point of reference I was expecting it to be pretty dire. But it wasn’t. It was amazing. It was in a girls school, where the guests were provided with bedrooms, storage for their belongings, hairdressers, manicurists, a masseuse, entertainment, 3 meals a day with endless amounts of snacks, a television room, a clothing service where they had their pick of donated garments and the help and assistance of willing volunteers.
It was actually difficult at times to differentiate between the volunteers and the guests. I met some really amazing people that I will never forget. One of my favourites was the elderly lady with the wild white hair, who told me the top I was wearing reminded her of rags and I should dress more elegant. She was such a fun, vibrant character who so fully embraced the Bollywood dance class, even though she came half way through, that she was awarded a standing ovation. There were those I couldn’t believe were homeless and had I seen them on the street I would’ve assumed they were going to work or the shops or something. Another favourite was the lady who asked me to accompany her to the shop, we spent ages walking while she fantasised about living in one of the houses, she touched me greatly, even more so when she wanted to go to church and the only church we came across was closed. There was also the guest who went for a walk and came back with an elderly lady she’d seen who looked lost and disoriented. Would I have done the same thing? Doubtful. These women had huge amounts of pride and spirit and I hope from the bottom of my heart they get the help they need to change their circumstances.
Volunteering at Crisis is one of the best things I feel i’ve done. Giving money to charity is always worthwhile but I do often wonder how much of the money goes to those who need it. Giving my time felt like I was actively helping, even when I was just talking to, eating lunch with or going to the shop with the guests. I will definitely be doing it again next year, although it feels like a long way away and I will look into ways I can help between now and then. A great way to spend a period that was once about family and is now about gifts, it made me remember how much I have to be grateful for.
Did you know: That sellers of The Big Issue have to buy it themselves? They buy it for £1 and sell it for £2. I shall be laden with Big Issues from now on, as I will not have the willpower to stop myself from buying from every vendor I see.
Told you I was a wuss.