Every year, for National Volunteer Week, a group of us get sent to places where we can cause the least harm, to volunteer for a morning. Sandra Rickey, manager of Volunteer Whanganui, has been organising this for years, now. We see what life is like from the perspective of a volunteer, and, in the process, learn a skill or two.
This year, I found myself surrounded by books in my version of Heaven. I spent a morning "helping" at the Red Cross Bookshop in Liverpool St. For a couple of hours I was classed as a "bookshop assistant".
At 10am the shop is meant to open. I got there a little bit early, only to find the volunteers are so keen they get the doors open as soon as possible. This is not unusual.
Lynn Walker met me and introduced me to the two volunteer staff rostered on for that shift, Glennis and Colleen. Both of them have been volunteering at the shop since it opened in its original location in Guyton St in 2012.
"Both of them have been our longest serving volunteers," says Lynn.
Also helping out that day was young Ben, and Lynn would return at 1pm to relieve Glennis and Colleen.
The day was cold and the heat pump needed professional attention, which it would get before long, but keeping busy and warm would not be a problem. I also had some books to donate to the shop.
I am no stranger to the Red Cross Bookshop, having donated and purchased for years, so the layout needed no explaining. I did some book pricing, learning how to operate the ticketing machine. Glennis was most patient. Music played, courtesy of the large collection of CDs for sale.
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Colleen likes to fuss among the shelves, putting books away and keeping everything tidy.
Customers were coming and browsing all the while. Steady business. Colleen showed me how to operate the till, using the book code and price.
A sizeable donation was made that day when a woman arrived, parking her vehicle close by. She was moving to an apartment in Wellington, so downsizing included donating a huge number of books to Red Cross. Ben and I gave her a hand to lug in the big, heavy boxes filled with books.
The shop keeps a book in which are recorded books and authors sought after by particular customers. Some of those books made an appearance among the donations, so Colleen was on the phone asking if ordered books were still required.
A woman rang, looking for Winnie the Pooh. A fellow of my acquaintance came in, looking for a copy of Huckleberry Finn. We found it in the stockroom and he went away happy.
Both Colleen and Glennis are readers, so for them the bookshop is a special place. They are volunteers in every sense of the word, giving their time, gladly, and making no note of what it costs them to get to their shift and home again.
Of course, they could always do with more volunteers.
I loved those two hours at the Red Cross Bookshop, and I showed remarkable restraint. I bought a mere seven books.
Volunteering at the Red Cross Bookshop is not for everyone, but if you like books, love helping people and get a thrill when you find a book someone has spent a long time searching for, then this is for you. Call Sandra Rickey at Volunteer Whanganui, 347 9430, and turn the next page of your life. Become a volunteer..