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I arranged to volunteer for the evening at a food bank.  No idea what I would be doing, other than I wanted to experience something new and to write about it afterwards.

Storehouse was started by a Church group called Belfast City Vineyard.  It became so popular with referrals and volunteers that it expanded and was set up as a separate charity.  Another reason being they didn’t want it to be viewed as a recruitment exercise for Vineyard Church.

I met with a young guy called Alan, he is one of the founders.  He was dressed in a Rugby top and jeans.  Alan explained the volunteers don’t wear uniforms because they don’t want to draw a line between ‘us and them’ meaning the service users.  He broke my bible basher prejudice later by revealing he is a Pastor.

Before the shutters went up, there was a very quick prayer.  I wasn’t looking forward to it but bowed my head and observed.  To my surprise, it wasn’t the usual ritual prayers I’m used to.  It was just a general discussion with God and He was asked to help us serve the people coming in and make their lives a bit easier.  This I could relate to.

I was shown around the food storage room.  It was stockpiled with tins and packets of non-perishable food hampers made up for those due in later.  The fridge was loaded with bread, milk and coleslaw.

The volunteers have struck a deal with an independent grocer who sells fresh fruit and vegetables to them at a lower cost.  The major supermarkets such as Asda, Tesco and Sainsburys don’t help but have allowed Storehouse to do an annual collection in store.

There is a clothing room for men, women and children.  It has a shop layout with a changing room for trying items on.  Little ones are kept busy in an adjoining playroom.

The furniture warehouse is situated in Dunmurry.  All furniture donations are photographed and uploaded to the catalogue which is accessed on iPad.  When assessing need, the volunteers were able to show what furniture was available and booked delivery slots.

Users need to be referred by a recognised group.  They can’t just walk in off the street as their food parcels are already made up for them and there would be chaos if every hard up person in Belfast turned up needing food, clothing and furniture.

My job on the night was beverage duty.  There were tables and chairs set up in café style and settees situated around for comfort.  As soon as someone came in, I offered them a tea or coffee and presented them with it on a tray with milk, sugar and some biscuits.

The ethos is about treating people with respect and dignity and trying to rid any stereotypes we had of asylum seekers, the homeless and families who fell on hard times.  I enjoyed being there and promised to come back the next week.  (That was in July and I still haven’t got round to it)

First published in Facebook Notes on July 8, 2013