Why People of All Abilities Volunteer at Salt & Light

Why People of All Abilities Volunteer at Salt & Light

If you ever volunteered or visited at Salt & Light during the years we were an emergency food pantry, you would have found many people with various types of disabilities standing in line for food. This is a reflection of the face of America’s poor. Only around 30% of the people living in poverty in our country are considered able-bodied, fully employable people who are searching for work. The other 70%, while it also includes children, the elderly, and others, is comprised of a significant number of people who are considered disabled and unable to be employed.

In the United States, people who have a documented disability can qualify for permanent disability benefits and receive an income from government support systems. But the disability system, like many others, has drawbacks. The income received is usually barely sufficient for survival, and then only when used in combination with other benefit programs. And if recipients find a way to bring in any additional household income, benefits are cut in response, resulting in no net financial gain—in fact, people often experience a significant financial loss in this situation, since not only disability income can be cut, but other benefits the person was receiving will be decreased as well as a result of any new income.

When we began our system of member credit at Salt & Light in 2014, the first explanation of our system of volunteering to prospective members was often met with the answer, “Oh, I can’t do anything—I’m on disability!” I lost count of the number of times we heard the phrase “I can’t do anything”, almost always said with genuine fear and distress. The fear created by these systems is obvious and understandable, when people are confronted with the thought of doing anything that could jeopardize their survival, or cut a family off from their only systems of support. The other, less obvious effect is the communication of the message that disability means you are not able to do anything, especially not anything that will make a meaningful contribution, either to change your own situation, or to benefit others.

Now that we are no longer operating as an emergency relief organization but instead are a development-oriented community model, one of the main ideas underlying what we do is that every human being has skills, talents, gifts, and abilities given to them by God. There are no exceptions—disability is not a dis-qualifier. In other words, every human, no matter their age or ability, has some important contribution to make to the world, and everyone’s contribution is equally needed and equally valuable. As a result, there is a place for everyone at Salt & Light.

For our members, volunteering here earns store credit that supplements their household income without threatening their systems of support, so we can allow people to help themselves and their families without fear. But even more importantly, we are putting the lie to the message that any disability makes a person incapable of contributing meaningfully to the world. We are often thanked for the opportunity to earn the credit that helps many families move from surviving to thriving, but most often, we are thanked for the opportunity to work. Among our members and volunteers, you will find people with wheelchairs and walkers, oxygen tanks, canes, hearing aids, and a variety of other assistive devices. Our Salt & Light family includes those who are recovering from stroke or head injury, who live with autism, blindness, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and the list goes on, with many other physical, developmental, and cognitive delays and disorders. These are the people who run our stores every day. Alongside their friends, neighbors and community members, they bag groceries, stock shelves, sort donations, answer phones, manage data, greet customers, and welcome donors. We could not operate a single day without their efforts. No one’s work is more important or more valuable than another’s. Each person’s unique gifts, smile, struggle, heart, are what come together to create the place that makes our work possible. We would not be Salt & Light without each one of them.

So why does this matter to you as a customer in our stores, or a donor in our drive-thrus? There are two reasons. The first is that the expectations for what you encounter in our stores should be a little different than those in other retail settings. As you drop off your donations or browse through the clothing racks, you’ll notice that our team is made up of this beautiful, wide, diverse array of people. As a result, our environment is saturated with grace, because sometimes we need it. Sometimes we operate at a slower pace; sometimes our social interactions are a little awkward; sometimes we need a little help. But also, all the time, we are grateful. We are appreciative. We are happy to be here. This grace is what makes our stores a happy place. In our buildings, you’ll find more patience, more weirdness, more acceptance, and more joy.

The truth is, everyone sometimes moves a little more slowly. Everyone has bad days, limitations, weaknesses, quirks. Everyone needs help. And that’s the second reason why all this is important for you. The grace that is present for our volunteers and members is available to everyone, and that means you too—there are no exceptions. The contribution you make with your presence is equally valuable, equally needed; you will be equally accepted and equally loved. There is a place for everyone at Salt & Light.

Stewarding Your Donations Through Recycling

With a spent Pepsi can in hand, a customer asked, “Do you recycle?”  I quickly responded, “You have no idea.  Yes, we recycle.  I won’t say we have a recycling program; it’s more that we are a recycling program.  Every donation that comes through the door goes through a recycling process.”

All thrift stores recycle to some extent.  Thrift stores give used items a second chance.  Salt & Light is all about this.  We make every effort to move your donations to our sales floor so that someone who needs it has a second chance to get it. 

Honestly though, not every item will make it to the floor.  Donated items compete for limited space.  The best items make it because our customers demand it.  If an unusable item does make it to the floor, it will be rejected by our customers…and eventually pulled from the shelves by our staff.  We have a second secondary route for the following items:    

  • Metal
  • Cardboard
  • Books
  • Purses/belts
  • Household decorations
  • Kitchen Items
  • Clothing
  • Linens

Even if these items can’t be used here, many places around the world can use them for a variety of reasons.  Metal and cardboard can be molded into something else.  Wearables, linens, household items are shipped overseas to be worn or used.  It’s good for our environment, our employees and participants, and makes a more complete use of your donations.

Recycling reduces what we send to the landfill. 

Garbage is a real expense for Salt & Light.  Even with our massive recycling program we spend thousands every month to throw away items that can not be used or recycled.  This has an impact to the ministry.  Dollars spent on garbage removal cannot be spent on education or credit to purchase food. 

Salt & Light redirects 200,000 pounds a month away from the landfill.  That’s over 300 thirty-yard dumpsters a year!  Not only does this have a positive impact on our our environment, but it also saves us over $39,000 a year.

Recycling allows Salt & Light to maximize your donation in this community.

Yes, recycled items are used elsewhere.  I believe that’s a good thing.  We also see a huge benefit here because in addition to cost savings listed above, we generate a substantial income from our recycling program.  These dollars help fund our ministry and keep the lights on.  It is safe to say that Salt & Light would not be able to exist as it does today without these funds.   

Recycling creates jobs.

Geoff Mulgan said, “Recycling is an area where jobs could be created at low cost.  Green collar workers.  That’s not very sexy.”  It’s true on all fronts.  You don’t see it when you walk into the store, or hear a lot about it when we do speaking engagements, but simply operating a recycling a program is beneficial. 

Over 80 staff hours a week are required to run our recycling program.  This does not include the dozens of volunteers who are earning credit, fulfilling their service commitments or simply volunteering their time. This is real income generated that didn’t exist before we expanded.  Your donations create recycling jobs. 

I took the customer’s Pepsi can.  I walked it off the sales floor and in to our back processing area.  I placed it in one of our two 40 yard metal dumpsters.  A metal dumpster that had replaced a plastic tote that we used to collect metal hangers just 4 years ago.  So yes, we recycle.  And it continues to grow.

Thank you for your donations.  We promise to be a good steward of it. 

Volunteer Spotlight – Chris Harrison

Chris has been volunteering at Salt & Light for about 2 years. He performs multiple tasks including working in the admin office, handing out locks and vests, makes copies and keeping the copier filled, restocking the restrooms, cleaning and organizing our break room, accepting donations, and helping on the truck.

But Chris’s biggest job here is talking to people. He loves getting to know their stories. You can always find him talking with someone and joking around with them.

Chris loves serving with our team and can be found in our Champaign store regularly.  On the wall in our our processing area (also shown in Chris’s picture) it says, “Let the light shine by helping those in need”. Chris says that’s why he is here…to help others.

WHY S ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY SO IMPORTANT?

Why Is Access To Technology So Important?

Among the greatest advances in technology in the last quarter century, the personal computer and the Internet would be near the top of that list. Imagine the panic, anxiety, and chaos that would occur if the web were to go down for an even an hour.

But for 25% of the population with the lowest income, the interruption would be barely noticeable.  Updated computers, tablets, smartphones are luxuries, much less actual broadband online access. 

Why should internet disparity be a concern?  Because it may actually play a role in keeping poor people poor by cutting off access to:

  • Government benefits and services.
  • Employment pathways. 80% of Fortune 500 companies, including Target and Walmart, only accept job applications online. 
  • Educational opportunities and resources. More and more schools are assigning homework that requires internet usage.  Research show us that students who have Internet access have graduation rates 6-8% higher than those who don’t.
  • Comparison shopping in order to find cheaper products, services, and rates. Consumers can save almost $8,000/year finding discounts on essentials like apartment rentals, clothes, gasoline and food.
  • Time saving online tools which frees up time for other activities.
  • Sources of knowledge and information for research, medical advice, day-to-day repairs, etc.
  • Relationships and even employment can be enhanced by social media.
  • Productivity and developing skills useful for the marketplace.

Our Technology Center at Salt & Light will make these invaluable resources available to our participants and neighbors.  We hope it becomes a place of collaboration sparking creativity, innovation, and imagination.

Instruction will be available in basic word processing, how to utilize the web, internet security, social media, and other essential computer usage.  Lab monitors will be on hand to assist with need that may arise.

More Than a Store

More Than a Store

Salt & Light is more than a store. 

Now, you won’t see it when you walk into Salt & Light.  No, when you walk in you will see a store.  We have clothing, shoes, furniture, and households.  There is a changing room in the back.  There are cash registers up front.  We have groceries, fresh produce, frozen items, and awesome sales everyday.  There are dozens of staff and volunteers here to serve you as you make your purchases.  We are a store that’s open for everyone.  That you can clearly see.  And we need you to shop. 

 

Our store is here to serve you.  It’s also here to serve us.  See, at our core we are a ministry.  Our desire is to share God’s love by fighting poverty and it’s damaging harmful effects to individuals, generations, and to society as a whole.  We do this by empowering people with new and fresh opportunities that lead to lasting change.  Our desire is to see people become the people God desires them to be.  They then bring change to their family line and to the community they reside in.  The store is where this happens. 

 

Salt & Light is a training ground.

Poverty is a complex creature and fighting it one must take a multifaceted approach.  One way we do this is by opening up opportunities, like vocational training and education.  The prospect for on the job training here is huge and the possibilities continue to grow!

  • Administration/office
  • Dispatch
  • Clothing processors
  • Retail
  • Grocery
  • Customer service
  • Warehouse
  • Professional internships
  • Merchandising
  • Delivery

In each of these departments one can learn a variety of skills.  Teamwork, problem solving, self management, and computer skills are just a few examples.  Non for profit groups, schools, and even churches have found this to be true and use Salt & Light a safe place to train the people they work with. 

People also come to us on their own initiative seeking help.  We call the people we work with directly “participants” as opposed to “recipients” or “clients.”  Participants fill out and keep their own schedule, they clock in, they work as a team, and they work (really hard).  Our participants gain useful skills and vital self-confidence through daily encouragement.  

Salt & Light restores dignity.

Our participants are called so because they are actively engaged in meeting their own needs.  Participants earn $8.25 in store credit an hour and can earn up to $165 a month.  With that they can choose what food they will put on their table or even which table they are going to put in their home. They provide what they need by their own efforts.  That’s something that many are robbed of in most poverty alleviation efforts.  Though done with the best of intentions, when one in need is handed something without any costs, week after week, it is unintentionally communicated that they have nothing to offer.  We have found that free is actually costly.  It demands the recipient pay with dignity.  We fight poverty with dignity.    

Our participants are meeting their needs.  Their spirit is refreshed as they do so.

We also work with many people who may never find work outside of Salt & Light.  Disabilities limit their job choices.  They don’t lack resources as much as they lack purpose, yet another form of poverty.  Salt & Light meets this need as well.  You can see it in the eyes of “the least of these” when they proudly say, “I work for Salt & Light!”

Salt & Light is a community. 

When you walk into our store, you might not see at first glance that we are more than a store.  But if you listen, you might hear it:  “This is my home away from home.” 

I’ve never heard, “This is my happy place…” at a big box retail store.  Here at Salt & Light, if I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times – “this is my family.”  This truly is a place where community happens and not just for our participants.  Customers, donors, staff, and volunteers have found this place to be their place.  Why?  At our core, if we are anything, we are relational. 

We have found that lasting change happens at the relational level.  According to Dr. Thomas Sowell, isolation is a major contributing factor to the poverty problem.  People in poverty lack strong social networks and/or they don’t have the same access to knowledge or methodologies that other “successful” groups have.  Doing life together opens up a new world with new possibilities. 

More simple than that, people are more open to help a friend than they are a stranger.  You might not cross a street for a stranger…you’ll move mountains for a friend.  And, yes, even a struggling person needs to trust the one who is trying to help.  A cold handout won’t change the world.  Love will.  We are relational.   

And that’s what makes this place unique. 

Jesus said it: “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  You Can’t buy that in a store. He can’t merchandise that. You can’t even teach that in customer service. And that’s why we are not just a store.  We are Salt & Light.