For our July volunteer spotlight, we have been speaking with Jen, one of our core Church of Good Shepherd (CoGS) volunteers. Jen joined CoGS at the start of the pandemic and quickly took on a leadership role; since then, she has done a fantastic job of keeping one of our busiest centres running, while keeping up with her day job.
Hear from Jen on what it’s like to start volunteering in a pandemic, and why teamwork is so important to the successful running of a Foodbank centre.
What was it like when you started volunteering at the beginning of the pandemic?
I started at CoGS on the first Thursday of lockdown in March 2020. I had just got a new job at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and had a few weeks before I was due to start, so felt volunteering would be a valuable way to spend my time.
I initially started out supporting the team by inputting voucher numbers into the tablet. At the time, Jennifer, who usually manages the Chesterton Foodbank centre which had to close at the start of the pandemic, was the team leader at CoGS. When Chesterton re-opened and Jennifer resumed her position there, I was asked if I would step up and be team leader. We had a steady team of volunteers at the time and so I was happy to help in whatever way would be most useful!
How do you juggle volunteering alongside your day job?
The Wellcome Sanger Institute supports Cambridge City Foodbank as one of its chosen charities so my manager has always been very supportive of me taking the time out to volunteer once a week for a few hours.
My workplace is at the forefront of the COVID-19 genome sequencing work and we have been sequencing thousands of virus genomes and using the data to trace transmission and inform public health measures, as well as monitoring for new variants. I work on the procurement side of things, with my role still mainly working from home, therefore when I need to take time out during the week to volunteer it is relatively easy to make up my hours.
What has been the highlight of your time volunteering at Church of Good Shepherd?
The teamwork and collaboration I have experienced at CoGS is phenomenal – we couldn’t do it without working together!
I also find knowing that we can make a such a difference to people’s short term personal circumstances very rewarding. At Christmas, it’s wonderful being able to offer small gifts to people, particularly the children.
And the biggest challenge?
While we are always there to listen and offer a helping hand to our visitors, it can sometimes be very saddening to hear their stories; it casts a harsh reality on how cruel life can be, despite there being no fault from the individual. For example, we have had people visit us who have lost their job after working for a company for 20 years, and have found themselves unemployed for the first time in their lives – it is very upsetting.
During the lockdowns it has also been very difficult to offer a personal touch or to have much time to speak to people in depth. Now that the church is open again and people can pack their own bags and choose extras, like fresh bread, cheese, fruit and vegetables, it feels much more personal and inclusive. So, I’m looking forward to more of this going forward.
Where would you like to see the Church of Good Shepherd centre in 12 months’ time?
Having never volunteered here pre-COVID it is hard to imagine what it will be like, but hopefully we will be back to being a more relaxed and inclusive centre where people have more time to stop and chat. Ultimately, I would hope that the need for foodbanks and CoGS in 12 months’ time is non-existent but, unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to happen.
What advice would you give to someone using the Foodbank for the first time?
Don’t be embarrassed, there is no judgement, we are here to help.
What advice would you give to someone volunteering for the first time?
Get stuck in, it’s very rewarding and you meet some really interesting people.