On Volunteering

I’ve volunteered at three East Oakland organizations:  Hieroglyphics Imperium, The Alameda County Food Bank and at The Unity Council.  I had learned about a music festival online, Hiero Day 2017, where the prices were too expensive for me to attend.  I, therefore, looked up the organizer’s contact information online; it turned out to be Hieroglyphics Imperium.  They emailed me their volunteer packet and informed me of a mandatory orientation. The packet contained information about who to contact, what the event was about, and their expectations from volunteers.  It was to be a celebration of hip hop music, community and Oakland. The expectations were general: show up on time dressed properly, no cell phones, have fun!  I missed the two-hour orientation due to logistical problems but had been on the phone with them trying to find my way to 50th Street, 50th Ave, potato, pototo!  They provided on-the-job training and the day went fine — music, people, vendors, food, drink! 

I became acquainted with the Alameda County Food Bank by circumstance.  Due to some traffic tickets that I was interested in working off, I was assigned to them.  I called to schedule myself for the next orientation, per the court’s instruction sheet.  The orientation was to be approximately an hour.  Alameda County Food Bank turned out to be huge and impressive.  I walked the quarter mile down their parking lot to their warehouse. All of the volunteers signed in using their kiosk, made a name badge, and waited in the lobby until we were all escorted to a room.  The orientation was quick, informative and organized, and included a tour.  Different shifts and positions were available that we chose, filling out on 5×7 printed cards. We handed them in and left. Those that chose weekends started immediately; weekdays, the following Monday.

We dressed casually, wearing non-slip shoes, signed in using the kiosk, and were escorted to begin our shifts. The warehouse and offices were clean, organized, modern. The staff was friendly, open and enthusiastic, as well as the other volunteers.  We sorted food and wrote handwritten thank you letters. The Alameda County Food Bank is just that, a bank, a store or reserve, for food, for low-income residents of Alameda county.  They distribute food to non-profit social service agencies, schools and universities to distribute to residents. They also distribute through their Children’s Backpack for over the weekend, and their mobile pantries,.  In addition, they advocate through contact with all government constituents “to end the ways our society creates poverty so that everyone in our community can achieve a better life.”

You don’t have to be introduced to the Alameda County Food Bank like me, and there are other positions available, especially for those who are multilingual and have technical skills.  They need assistance with their emergency food helpline and other projects, such as assisting people with signing up for CalFresh benefits. According to their website, “All individual volunteers, except evening and weekend volunteers, must first attend a volunteer orientation.  No registration is required – just show up!” The orientation is held every Wednesday from 12:45 – 2:00 p.m. at their Community Engagement Center located at 7900 Edgewater Drive, Oakland, CA 94621. Their contact information if you have any questions or ‘ideas’ about how you may be able to lend a helping hand:  volunteer@accfb.org or (510) 635-3663, x308.

The Unity Council is another organization that was organized, with enthusiastic people, and in modern accommodations. A need to stay busy and abreast of my administrative skills during my job search, I found The Unity Council on the VolunteerMatch website.  I visited their website and learned about their needs for office work, help at community events such as Dia de los Muertos, outdoor work such as gardening and special skills such as massage therapy for their senior center or tax preparation for their VITA section. The first opportunity available was for their events and I was excited when I received an follow-up email.  There was an approximately two-hour orientation where refreshments were served, introductions were made, we viewed a video, and questions were answered.  I liked their values of community, empowerment, equity, integrity, joy, passion and service, and root in culture.

The day of Dia de los Muertos, they had a large break room with ample seating, and like at Hierglyphics, the event went smoothly.  It was crowded, busy, and exciting. An eater and a love of free stuff, I must mention Hieroglyphics Imperium and The Unity Council provided free food and a t-shirt.  Other benefits one may obtain from volunteering are new friendships, company and camaraderie, new or updated skills, networking and a way in to a job opportunity, recognition, appreciation, and pride.  

If you’re thinking about volunteering, some questions you may consider are:  Are you bored and looking for something to do? Do you have free time and would like to fill it? Do you want to help others, while helping yourself?  Would you like to lend a helping hand to a cause you believe in?

Other reasons to volunteer listed on the VolunteerMatch and other websites, are:  “ to be challenged, for therapy, to combat depression, to do something different from your job, for fun, for religious reasons, to earn academic credit, to assure progress, to feel good, to test yourself or skills, to build your resume, to be an agent of change, to heal, to make a difference, find purpose, feel involved, use your skills in a productive way, explore new areas of interest or careers, change the world, impress others or yourself, strengthen your resume or college application, feel better about yourself, or just do something you love to do and enjoy doing with others.”

You could also consider volunteering overseas and during gap year, or for civic duty.  Young kids and families can volunteer together, as well as businesses form groups. The main organizations that I use are VolunteerMatch – volunteermatch.org and Idealist  – Idealist.org. I signed up to receive email alerts and volunteer frequently throughout Oakland. Other ways to find volunteer opportunities, according to “Volunteering and Its Surprising Benefits,” on the Helpguide.org website, are to inquire directly at “community theatres, museums, libraries, senior centers, service organizations such as Lions or Rotary Clubs, local animal shelters, rescue organizations, or wildlife centers, youth organizations, sports teams, and after-school programs, historical restorations, national parks, and conservation organizations, or places of worship such as churches or synagogues”

Some volunteer quotes: “Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own.” ― Abraham Lincoln,

“While earning your daily bread, be sure you share a slice with those less fortunate.” –Quoted in P.S. I Love You

“The beauty of life is sharing life.” ― Lailah Gifty Akita, Think Great: Be Great!





Author Profile

Tonya Shipp is a mother of two and avid supporter of education and development. For the past ten years, she has been freelancing and working through staffing agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area. She obtained an associate’s degree in the social sciences from Laney College and is one class shy of receiving a bachelor’s degree in Business Management. She also served eight years in the Army Reserves before being honorably discharged. She volunteers regularly at the events and offices of nonprofits. Having experienced extensive periods of homelessness, unemployment and being without dental coverage is a strong advocate for the poor.

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