I started volunteering at my church's food pantry a few weeks ago. I now have some extra time to volunteer because I'm not teaching. It's been humbling.
I've received more from volunteering than I feel I've given. For one thing, I've learned how to collaborate.
Here are 3 Take-Aways:
1. Efficiency is only sometimes the goal.
On the first day, I grabbed a 60 lb bag to move across the church hall. I must have wanted to impress the people in charge, showing them what I could do. I didn't want to ask for help or wait for someone to help me. Our supervisor, Bob, ran over and said, "Hold on, let's do it together!" It was a pivotal moment. Not only did I realize that people are willing to help, but they want to. Sometimes, doing something with others is more important than doing it quickly alone.
2. Working with others is not always about perfection.
The people who come to volunteer are a mixed bag. Most everyone is amicable. However, some voice their criticisms of others and are overbearing. One man started to get angry with the rest of us in a small group as we put together the food boxes. He thought it could be more organized. Someone else told him kindly to back off. It was awkward, but I realized this happens in every workplace, whether volunteering or paid. Knowing how to find peace and keep the work flowing is hard.
This moment was also a good reminder that if there is any slight confusion about a task that needs to be done by a group, there will always be someone who wants to step in to lead, for better or worse. I respect the leaders here for clarifying how to complete the tasks. It is a chance for me to learn how to be clear as a leader in the future.
Sometimes, a task can be done in a variety of ways. There is always room to grow. If I see someone doing something incorrectly or inefficiently, I'd rather say, "Can I help you...?" or "Can I show you what I usually do?" versus "Don't do it that way" or "That's wrong." I'm also learning to take criticism if there is a chance to learn how to do something better.
3. Be humble and have a sense of humor.
Working with others is a chance to get to know people. The job at hand is only one part of the equation. People come into our lives to help us learn and grow, and we can do so by listening to their perspectives. There's no way to understand another perspective fully, and it's okay to disagree with others. However, you can take time to listen, ask questions, and share jokes.
The great (and sometimes challenging) part of volunteering is that there are no significant hierarchies. We're all there to help. That means it's sometimes best to step aside and let others take on the job you thought you would be doing. There is always room for more helpers.