Imagine a world without volunteers.
So much essential work would never get done; so many people would be marginalised because there would be no one to speak for them, advocate on their behalf, keep them company or be their friends.
What would happen to the Rural Fire Service, our ambulances, community patrols, Māori Wardens and so much more? Would we have op shops? How would our essential charities cope? Who would do all the things that no one is prepared to pay anyone to do?
A world without volunteers would not be much of a world at all, which is why celebrating our huge volunteer workforce is something we should do every day, or at least during National Volunteer Week, this year held from June 20 to 26.
Whanganui has a high ratio of volunteers per capita, which is something we can be proud of, especially if you are one of them.
Every day, an army of unpaid, skilled, patient and enthusiastic people leave their homes to do essential work in the community. They do it for all sorts of reasons, but mostly because "someone has to do it" or "I'm available, therefore I will". Selfless, wonderful people, stepping up and keeping the country going.
Every year for some years now, on one day in National Volunteer Week, the Midweek editor is asked to be one of those volunteers, just for two or three hours.
Sandra Rickey, manager of Whanganui Volunteer Centre, started the scheme in 2014, calling it 'I Dare You', in which people from all walks of life, some high profile, spend a little while doing what other people do every day.
She took the idea to one of their national hui and the idea has been picked up by other volunteer centres around New Zealand.
Mayor Hamish McDouall joined the raffle team at Trafalgar Square on Tuesday.
To be honest, I don't contribute a great deal, but I do get to see our volunteers in action, and I get to talk to people whose lives would be very different if volunteers were not a part of it.
Last week, I was lucky enough to be able to help, in a small way, at the Blind and Partially Blind Craft Group, a service run by Beverley Rees to assist sight impaired members to do crafts on a Monday or Tuesday afternoon.
The group has a room at the Blind Centre in Peat St, where they store everything they need to create wonderful things. A long table is in the centre of the room, providing a work surface for the many crafts in which members and volunteers partake.
Members create, they chat, they exchange stories and encourage each other in their work.
The things they make are extraordinary, showing high levels of competency in spite of the obvious impediment. Sitting alongside them are the volunteers, including a recent Volunteer of the Month, Helen Ammundsen.
It was a small group last Tuesday, with just three members attending and three volunteers assisting. Mind you, in this weather ...
They make all kinds of things, using skills members have acquired over busy lifetimes.
The group has a small display at Mobile Auto Care in Heads Rd and staff there sell their craft products for them.
Beverley says they make moccasins, fleece mats, which often end up as pet beds, and they do a lot of knitting. At the end of the table Dawn McCormick was painting terracotta plant pots and bases to be put upside down in the centre's scented garden as colourful, giant mushrooms.
She has been attending for about two years. Waiting for her paintbrush and test pots were wooden wind butterflies. Her failing sight means more intricate work is difficult now. She turns 96 soon.
Macrame plant pot holders hang on a nearby peg, and there are examples of all sorts of intricate and wonderful crafts around the room. Boxes filled with essential bits and bobs sit on high shelves with more on the table, ready to use.
Plastic milk container tops are being used to create a kind of beaded curtain, with a colourful image in the design. Beverley has made a plan for the curtain, and has drilled four holes in the lip of each bottle top. To make it easier for members to do the threading the bottle tops are sorted and bagged by colour.
They were waiting for more from the Whanganui Environment Base (WhEB) at the Resource Recovery Centre so I volunteered to go and get them. Well, it was the least I could do, a quantity I specialise in. I returned with a large bag filled with tops of all colours.
Volunteers pick members up from their homes and take them back again after afternoon tea. Some stay and help, making them volunteer drivers and volunteer craft room helpers.
"They do a big job for us, and sometimes they go above and beyond. They are really committed." Beverley says they may not bring particular skills, although many do, but they bring compassion and caring. "They are so unselfish about it." They all, including Beverley, do it for the members.
She loves working with the older generation and hearing their stories about growing up in simpler, less technologically sophisticated times. Through such conversations she learned what the 'tin man' did for a living.
I remember him being referred to as the 'night soil man'. He was paid so poorly he might as well have been a volunteer.