Volunteer Focus - Mary Birch – Warehouse Volunteer

Published on August 12, 2021

This is part of a short series of posts to highlight our volunteers and how their roles have changed.

I first became involved with Start Up Stirling some six years ago, as an organisation that might make use of the contents of my late mother’s linen cupboard. Good-quality bedlinen and towels can be used in the Starter Packs provided for those entering a new tenancy. Gerry McPeake, our warehouse manager, gave me a quick tour of the charity’s previous premises in Munro Road. After some thought, my husband Anthony and I decided to volunteer to help in the warehouse. We have continued to do so, except during the time in the current pandemic when those over seventy were ineligible to volunteer. It’s good to be able to return to Start Up, even though working practices have inevitably changed from what they were two years ago.

There are currently some 120 volunteers on the charity’s database, although approximately one third are not currently volunteering, either from their own choice or because the task they previously undertook is not feasible at present. I realised recently how little I knew about what other volunteers do for Start Up when away from the main building. We are all like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, making up the complete picture. Here is a description of my volunteering role in the warehouse.

While of course financial support is welcomed, the bulk- literally, of the donations to Start Up are received as goods, largely foodstuff, from individuals and supermarkets. These need to be sorted, checked and stored before distribution to our clients. I usually find myself “sorting and dating”, taking crates from where they are initially stacked to a long table, putting non foodstuffs aside for storage upstairs, examining cans and packets to check that they are sound and in date, and writing the expiry date on the side or lid with a marker pen. Items are stowed in crates, for example tinned meat, fish, fruit, soup, pasta and rice, tea and coffee. Breakfast cereals, which come in large boxes, are stacked on top of the shelving. Filled crates are stacked in the main storage area in date order, all the crates containing, say, tinned fish dated 2022 adjacent to those with fish dated 2023 and 2024 onwards. It is essential to use goods in date order to avoid waste. Occasionally we receive what we suspect are the contents of an elderly person’s kitchen cupboards when they are no longer housekeeping- some things may have passed their” use by” date some years ago!

Another task is assembling emergency food packs, sometimes referred to as “Kettle Packs”, designed to keep a homeless person fed for 24 hours until other arrangements can be made. The recipient may not even have the basics of cup, plate or can opener, so cans of meat and fish with ringpulls are issued, plus instant soup or pot noodles, hence “Kettle pack,” also oatcakes or crackers with meat or fish paste, or jam. I find myself thinking about the recipient of a pack, and wishing him or her well; it seems more personal than sorting and dating, though that is equally necessary.

Back to sorting and dating- just where have the manufacturers of this jar of sauce hidden the expiry date?