Saturday, January 9, 2016

Thrift Break?

I'm thinking I might take a break from volunteering at the Thrift Store.
I've worked there at least once a week (often more) for 2+ years, and I'm afraid I've become like one of the mechanical donations that still works, but only if you angle it just so...

Yesterday, I took in a case of 24 cans of Diet Pepsi (as I'd blogged I was going to--let me just add, these cases are not designed to strap onto a bike rack---it kept falling off, and finally I parked my bike and took the bus the rest of the way).

As I was putting the cans in the fridge, one of the paid staff members commented that it was a bad idea to give volunteers free pop because "some people will drink five cans on one shift, and some will even slip a couple in their bags..."

I got so mad, I actually yelled at him!
"SO WHAT?!?! Do you know how cheap this stuff is?* We work for nothing. So what if someone drinks five cans?"

He looked alarmed and offered to pay me back, but I said, 
"The money is not the point! Why doesn't the store do anything to support the volunteers?"

He suggested I take it up with the Board.

He must have felt really alarmed to suggest this, as he knows the Board well.
I just scoffed, "You know the Board is useless!"

Whereupon, he turned and walked out of the room. I would rather someone yell at me than walk away, (though I sense this guy could have a dangerous temper, and maybe it was just as well he did that).

Maybe I looked dangerously mad, like this great old cover for The Midwich Cuckoos (made into the classic 1960 movie Village of the Damned).

Anyway, I don't think I'd have gotten sooooo mad ** if I hadn't already been so fed up.

The thing is, most of the other regular, longtime volunteers are from the same Methodist Church that started the store thirty-five years ago, and they get the social benefits of that, even if the store doesn't take care of them in any way. 

While we who aren't part of that clique have to find our satisfaction elsewhere.

And I have---I find it satisfying to sort and display old stationery, sewing ephemera, fabric, etc., and it's meaningful to me to be part of the re-use cycle (and more so, since researching garbage) and to meet the customers, who are a range of types you usually wouldn't find in one place. 

Mostly I like the other volunteers, and some have even become friends.

But I've been saying [to the staff] for a while now that the store needs to work on Volunteer issues, especially recruiting and retaining new people.
 I don't think there's any longtime volunteer who's not part of the Church. And the problem with that is, a lot of them are 70, 80 years or more, so they won't be here forever. 
There is no plan for keeping the store alive after some of the key players are gone. It might survive on its own, but why not think like an astronaut and help it out ahead of time? 

Volunteer retention---it's just simple stuff like providing drinks. I don't know why the Board (and some staff) thinks this is such a terrible idea. They have some idea about human nature that I don't share. 

I don't know how other people manage to work closely in groups with other humans for a long time... I sure don't seem to be very good at it. (Actually, the ones I see doing it aren't usually very good at it either, they just keep doing it . . . badly.)

Anyway, I love the Thrift Store, but maybe it's time to step away myself for a while.

*How cheap is pop? I never buy it by the case so I was surprised how very weirdly cheap it is; it's so much cheaper than bottled water, I don't even get the economics of it. 
At the grocery store, I paid $6 for 24 cans of Pepsi--a name brand. That's 25 cents/can. It was on sale, but even full price, it's about 32¢/can.

** I asked one of the volunteers who witnessed this exchange, one of the sweetest people, if I'd been really over the top.
"No," she said, "you just feel passionately. I'll buy the pop next time! I don't think people will really drink it as fast as [X] thinks..."
Godbless her.


Zhoen said...

Funny, I'd much prefer someone walk away from me than yell.

Is it that the politics are so ugly, because the stakes are so low?

Fresca said...

Yelling vs. Silence
Both can be an abuse of power.

Silence was my father's power play: he used it as a kind of shunning. He would keep it up for days, not even saying hello. Shudder.

I can see how yelling would silence a kid too (or an adult!).

With my history, and for my temperament (since I can yell back), I'd prefer yelling, though I *don't* like it.
What I'd really like is a discussion!

I've heard that said about academia---the fights are vicious because the stakes are low,
but I don't think most human conflict is only, or even primarily, about the physical stakes (the corner office, shared resources, letting the dog on the couch)---
I think the "stakes" at the Thrift Store are the usual culprits:

fear [you are making me uncomfortable],
pride [how dare you threaten my sense of worth?],
habit [we've always done it this way],
control [this is my turf (emotional, physical, spiritual, or whatever)],

I think the "answer" to the conflicts is good governance:
fair, inclusive, regular meetings of the people involved, with smart rules of engagement (like, set amounts of time people can talk, established voting procedures, etc.).
The Thrift Store doesn't have that.

Fresca said...

P.S. I can't believe I sound as if I am advocating for more committee meetings!

But, yeah, I think that's what's needed:
a forum for discussion and decision making.

But committees have to be well regulated, not like the farce of a committee I sat on for the Thrift Store last year.
That wasn't a committee, it was a Rubber Stamp that read

A well-regulated committee... it seems like an impossible dream...