Volunteering during the coronavirus pandemic

Steve Finbow is our business change project manager. After being put on furlough, he decided to volunteer his time at local charity, That Bread and Butter Thing, as its volunteer coordinator.

The Bread and Butter Thing (TBBT) helps to deliver food to individuals and families going through financial hardship and is helping anyone who has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and it has now recently been awarded the Queens Award for Voluntary Services.

We caught up with Steve to find out what the average day volunteering looks like and what it feels like to be able to give back to his community.

6.00- Wake up

After my alarm goes off, I switch the telly on and watch GMTV for 30 minutes. I like to keep myself informed on all the latest developments of the pandemic, but I don’t want to be fixated on the news all day. 

I volunteer for four days a week, around half a day, though I’ll come in as when I’m needed. I wanted to add some routine to my week while I was furloughed and had heard about the charity as one of our board members, Greig Lees, is heavily involved with them.

7.00- Arrive at warehouse

I get to the warehouse before the other volunteers arrive so that it gives me time to work on the rota for that day as there are always some last-minute changes to be made.

Social distancing is a challenge that we have to overcome every day as we need to make sure that everyone keeps two metres apart - this impacts the amount of people we can have safely working at any one time.

There are three roles that volunteers can work in. We have the bag packers, who come in for 8am and work until around 1pm. They pack the foods into bags and load the bags on to the vans.  We then have drivers who mainly collect food from some of our providers or transport the food to our hubs. Our suppliers Casey’s, Diamond Decorators & Sneddon’s have been involved with donating some of their employees’ times.

Finally, we have cleaners who come in at 1pm until 4pm to help clean up the warehouse after the food has been distributed, preparing the workstations for the following day and carryout a full covid clean to ensure all touchpoint surfaces are disinfected.

By following strict cleaning and safety processes, we can help our warehouse to be a safe environment to for both our staff and volunteers to work in.

7.45-9am- Volunteers start arriving

When the first volunteers arrive for their shift, I greet them and carry out the COVID-19 check questions. This is when I ask them whether they’ve had any symptoms, been around anyone who has symptoms and whether they’ve been told to self-isolate.

We have volunteers from all walks of life here and I have to say, they’re all amazing. We’re all getting along really well and as new volunteers start, they’re taken under (a socially distanced) wing by the others.

There’s lots of people from other housing associations volunteering at the project, but we also have dental nurses, school cooks, estate agents, council workers, police officers, rugby players, actors and some university students.

9.30 -12.00- Admin 

Once the volunteers have started their work, it gives me time to make phone calls and go through my emails. I’m in constant contact with companies across the region, sourcing both volunteers and donations.

Before the pandemic, the bulk of TBBT’s volunteers were over 70 or are in the vulnerable category. With a lot of them having to shield as advised by the Government, and most of our hubs being run out of Church Halls and Community Centres the way we operated changed overnight. 

When I first started, we had around dozen volunteers to fill roughly 100 shifts over the week. I’m proud to say that I’ve managed to grow the team of volunteers to over 120 volunteers and operate with 275 shifts a week.

I am so proud of both the volunteers and the staff at TBBT as seeing them all adjust, develop and gel together has truly been inspiring and has really made my job easier to fill the positions with so many people being furloughed and wanting to lend a helping hand.

With restrictions being eased and people being recalled in to work, we are however starting to see a dip in numbers again. We’re hoping that their employers can spare them for a shift or two a week, but we know that may not always be possible.

I know it’s a cliihé to say that no day is the same, but it’s true. We never know what donations are going to be delivered to us, so it’s a case of sorting through them and making it work. I’m a very hands-on person, and don’t mind rolling my sleeves up to help out whether is driving a van or breaking up boxes in the warehouse I will jump in as and when I can.

12.00- Hometime

Working half days allows me to decompress and do the type of things you don’t usually have time for when working full time from decorating my house and sorting my garden out.

I’ve been using my free time to do some online courses. At the moment, I’m studying the Level Two Mental Health First Aid course. It’s good to be able to dip in and out of it at my own pace.

I am looking forward to going back to Salix as I miss my colleagues, but for now I am really enjoying the challenge of my new role at TBBT. I’ll also miss the volunteers, as we’ve all formed such strong bonds. I would recommend volunteering to anyone, especially if they’ve been furloughed. Not only are you giving back to your community, you’re also helping to boost your own mental health with a strong sense of purpose.