At the beginning of Salt & Light’s existence as an organization, we were a typical food pantry and clothing closet. This type of operation functions as a large, assembly line style business, and so for the first ten years of our existence, our operating model was perfectly suited to utilizing large groups of volunteers, all being assigned to sort clothes, unload boxes, bag food, or some other uniform task. Churches, youth groups, Scout troops, corporate staff teams, student organizations, class field trips, mission organizations, service fraternities, clubs, homeschool co-ops, and all kinds of groups came to lend a hand in accomplishing our weekly emergency distribution.
Now that we have changed our model to one that is focused on developing individuals and building community, the inner workings at Salt & Light are more complex. People often wonder, is it still a good place for our group to come and volunteer together? The answer is yes, for two important reasons.
The first is the way that having groups of volunteers benefits Salt & Light. Our operations have grown exponentially in the past several years, and we have kept our staff lean—just around 50 paid staff for the entire organization, both locations, including everyone all the way up to the Executive Director. As a result, our stores are primarily staffed by volunteers seven days a week. Many of our regular volunteers are members who are earning credit here to spend on their groceries or household items, but we still need community volunteers to manage all the daily tasks involved in running our programs. A group of volunteers together can help us accomplish a lot in a short period of time. The entire group may work together to sort an enormous backlog of household or clothing donations. Or, they may be split up into smaller groups, some working in the thrift store, some in grocery, some in donations, and some directly helping customers. Either way, there are a lot of bases to cover every day, and a volunteer group goes a long way toward getting them covered.
It’s not just the work that volunteer groups get done, though, that is an important benefit to us at Salt & Light. When groups visit us here, each one gets the opportunity to hear from one of our staff about what we do here—how our programs work, the amazing things that are happening in our buildings every day, how their volunteering will be a part of it—and to take a tour of our facility. It’s our experience that this makes a huge impact in getting our message out to the community. While people often hear about what we do on the news or social media, or in churches or community groups where we speak, it is completely different to come to our building and see, hear, and experience for yourself. No one goes away untouched. For this reason, volunteer groups who come to Salt & Light are almost inevitably moved to get engaged in our mission. Not only is that same group likely to return, but people in the group tell their friends about us and post about us on social media. They donate and shop. They bring other groups that they are a part of. In many, many ways, groups come back.
The second reason Salt & Light is a good place for your group to volunteer is because of the way it will benefit your group. The time you spend together, if it’s spent looking beyond yourselves, at a way to invest back into your community and accomplish something worthwhile, will be an experience that is satisfying individually, and bonding communally. It is inherently a team-building experience. Not only that, but it’s likely that your time with us will be one of learning. Like the preschool class that spent an afternoon with us processing purses, bags, and backpacks while also practicing buttons, zippers, and snaps, it’s our goal that the experience of every one of our volunteers will be uniquely beneficial in moving toward new skills and development. This may mean learning how to do a new task, and it may mean growing in an ability like patience or persistence or teamwork. We hope it will also mean building new relationships that may be lasting, and that we believe are the foundation for personal growth.
And the most important benefit to your group we hope will be the challenge you’ll be offered for the future, to live intentionally, relate respectfully, and engage your community in ways that are healthy and strong. While you will definitely go away with a fun and satisfying experience for one day, we believe that the ideas we are promoting, the principles we value, the relationships we foster, and ultimately, the people we bring together, can be a change experience for a lifetime.
To serve with your group at Salt & Light, contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.