Once a year I do a Street Collection for a charity I am involved with.
This involves turning up on a Saturday in my local town centre and standing still for as long as I have volunteered for. I also have to be polite and welcoming to all the passers by.
Standing still in a busy shopping area can be quite hazardous, and has become more so over the years. With so many people engrossed in their phones, or talking to others, you often get walked into.
For my first collection I was very nervous. How will people react? Will I collect any money? Will I remember all the rules (no shaking the tin, no heckling the public, stand the correct distance apart from other collectors….). Will I be warm enough? Can I stand for that long?
Collecting can be a lonely time. Lots of people milling around you but very little contact with them. Crowds tend to come and go, and towards the end of lunch time the area can become almost desolate of people. Still, you sand there in the hope that someone will come by – and even if they give you a smile that can be as encouraging as getting a donation as well.
Fifteen years later I now treat these sessions as a time to switch off and people watch. Sometimes I feel like I am on one of the programs where the person stands still and a lot of activity happens around them. I get to see the public at its best, and worst.
Fathers sharing precious moments with their children whilst mum is off elsewhere. Children throwing tantrums. Couples arguing. Happy people. Distressed people. It is also a chance to catch up on the latest fashions – spotting the best dressed and giving a mental prize for the best and worst dressed person you see.
The strangest thing about doing a street collection is people’s’ reaction to you. Some give money just because you are there collecting, even though they have no idea who you are collecting for. Some assume from how you are dressed and the colour of the tin that you are a charity they know so give money. They seem a little confused when you explain who you are, but give money anyway. Some give because their children are desperate for the sticker you hold in your hand. And some avoid you any which way they can.
The best people for me are those that stop and ask you who you are collecting for and what it involves, or those who have been on the receiving end of the service the charity provides. This always leaves me feeling a little warm and fuzzy inside – to know the difference the charity can make.
So next time you see a charity collector, take time to understand who they are collecting for, give if you believe in their cause, but above all give them a smile and say hello. It will bring a smile to their face and break the monotony.