Today was my last day of National Citizen Service (awwww). But it was totally the best day ever.
The last few Saturdays, we’ve been preparing our Social Action Project, to help a good cause in the area. You don’t get to pick the charity, you’re just given one, and we got Haven House, a hospice that looks after children (from birth to the age of 19) with life-threatening or life-limiting illnesses, and supports their families. My team was already signed up to do bag-packing for them at a local supermarket, so we came up with several things that could be done hanging around outside Tesco’s: henna, cupcakes for likes on the special Facebook page we were going to create, get people to handprint a banner for the kids, collect donations, hand out balloons and wristbands and leaflets, and (before) make some goody bags for the kids. About half of those went to pot- no-one could be found to do the henna and the iPad, leaflets and wristbands never arrived.
But who cares? We still did great.
The one thing that really worried me was the weather. Whether or not we could be outside our supermarket, and still be sheltered from the rain, was a complete mystery, and we didn’t have the money to buy a cover.
We were in unbelievable luck, though: when we got a shelter-less Tesco’s, our senior mentor, Princess, successfully asked that we got the Barkingside Tesco’s instead. (I thought at first that she’d said Parkingside.) Not that it would have mattered, anyway- although it was freezing cold, there wasn’t a single drop of rain. In fact, as I remember, it was gloriously sunny! We complained with light-hearted bitterness about the cold and strong winds, but it was probably a good thing that we scrapped the henna- no-one was going to want to sit, with their hands exposed, in the freezing air for however long henna takes.
Before I write about the day though, I want to write about our Dragons’ Den-style pitch, to get funding for the things we had to buy.
It was pretty scary- I ended up in charge of the Communications team, and among other things had to deal with a list of scary practise questions: What if some of your equipment doesn’t arrive/is wrong? And in my own imagination: What will you do if the supermarket won’t let you sell things on the premises? Or if the weather is bad?
And that’s not to mention: I assumed that, because the Social Action Project is compulsory, we’d be getting the necessary money whatever. So when we heard that previous teams had been given zilch, I started to freak out just a tiny bit. (I do that a lot.)
But actually, the Dragons (Redbridge Borough councillors) were unexpectedly nice. Tulisha saved us from the only question that really stopped us short, and we got our £80. Our day of spending it went fine, although I was seriously annoyed when it was taken for granted that we would buy gender-stereotypical toys for the goody bags.
I was kind of pissed off, too, when we never used the banner I’d helped painstakingly decorate, not even back at the Youth Club (thanks to the owners of Frenford Youth Club, btw- it was a fantastic venue) with the other teams. But at least we had the goody bags to show support for the kids.
(I keep forgetting that I’m not writing an essay for Drama coursework, so I don’t have to be careful about the number of words I use!)
So, we came to the day itself. Freezing (seriously, we’d better get some snow after putting up with this!) but blissfully sunny. I got bag-packing first, which I’ve done before, but often found kind of embarrassing- don’t people think it’s weird when someone offers to pack their shopping (a relatively quick process) for them? But whether it was something different about the customers or the awesome cause we were doing it for, I finished it feelingly wondrously satisfied. Problematically, we only had two donation buckets, but they seemed to fill up quickly. I rather embarrassed myself by telling people who’d declined my help where the collection buckets were (‘if you’d like to make a donation’), forgetting that they could donate at the door, and get a sweet treat for their pains. Jesus, I really help I didn’t put them off.
After a hasty lunch break (incidentally, I recommend red onion in sandwiches for a bit of variety) I got down to the really satisfying part. First icing the cakes and biscuits (which was actually quite therapeutic) then, when they ran out (well, when I mistakingly thought they had-sorry, guys) selling them. You might remember that no-one brought an iPad to do the ‘Facebook likes’ business, and luckily, the Tesco’s management didn’t object to an ‘items for donations of any value’ scheme on their premises (when I heard that they might not let us sell items outside the shop, my anger was literally overwhelming: it’s for charity! And exactly how much profit could they possibly lose?). Anyway, they didn’t object, and this small kindness was incredibly gratifying. I’d been sure that the hospice would benefit more from hard cash than from relatively meaningless, brief nods in the bottomless ocean of social media.
And hell, did we get a lot of hard cash. At least, it seemed like a lot- we’ll find out, hopefully, just how much we raised at Graduation on Wednesday. The generosity of so many people was truly humbling. For every person who said ‘No thanks’ or just point blank ignored us, there was a person who took a cake or biscuit- when the cakes ran out, Princess bought more and when those ran out, she got mini brownies- and gave a donation. And for every one of those, there was someone who gave us the money, but declined a cake, freeing us up to make more sells. (Thanks, guys. It meant the world.) Although I wouldn’t make a town crier, I definitely grew in confidence when it came to loudly offering our wares. Young children, of course, were suckers for the treats, and 99% of the time their parents would give in and cough up. Really, some of them were utterly adorable.
Sadly, we didn’t find out how much we raised at Graduation (which was mostly rather boring) on Wednesday. But combined with our sponsorship money (over £300!), we definitely gave Haven House a lot more than we expected to. I think the volunteering was the best part of my NCS time. People who say that compassion, and helping others, makes you happier, are so unbelievably right. I got home exhausted, and cold, but feeling like that day, I’d actually helped make a difference.