Thursday, February 7, 2013

Every volunteer has a niche

A Salvation Army canteen



I recently attended my first Salvation Army disaster training and left it amazed with several things. First, I had no idea that we work with so many different organizations during a disaster. People commonly think of The Salvation Army as the people who hand out hot meals and coffee, but there’s so much more to it. I learned that no one organization can do it all. If we tried to do it all, we’d overextend ourselves and our resources. So we all just fill in the gaps for each other, and that’s the way we do the most good.
Interior of a canteen

Our wonderful volunteers fill in for each other and for staff members in the same way that organizations fill the gaps for each other. One of our instructors, Major Johnny Poff, who is known all over the South for his cooking during disasters, told a great story illustrating this concept.

Once during a disaster he was cooking in a makeshift kitchen. He had an older gentleman who assisted him, but no one could figure out what to do with the man’s wife. She had dementia and when assigned a task, her short-term memory problem meant that it had to be taught to her again and again. The volunteer coordinator moved her around, trying to find something she could do, but it just wasn’t working.

One day when Major Poff was cooking, a gust of wind blew the door behind him open,and made the flame on the stove burner flair up. It caught his apron on fire. In trying to put the fire out, the flaming apron strings wrapped around his hand creating a wound so severe it burned his flesh down to the bone. He had to spend some time in the hospital. When he finally convinced the doctor he had to go back to work, he was released on one condition: his wound had to be dressed and rebandaged every three hours.


When the volunteer with dementia heard about it, she said “I may not know much anymore, but I used to be a nurse and I still remember how to dress a wound.” So they got her an alarm clock and set it to ring when it was time to change the bandage. She had found her niche. I’ll always remember this story when I think I can’t find the right task for a volunteer. Every volunteer is  important to the total operation and everyone has a niche.                                                                 - Jenny


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