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Warehouse Volunteer

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They unload boxes from trucks, drive forklifts and haul building materials across lumber yards. They sort through heavy crates of fruit and vegetables. And they sift through truckloads of clothing, furniture or other donated materials.

At first glance, you might assume only the superheroes of the world are up to the challenge of warehouse volunteering. But you don't need bulging muscles or superhuman strength to help out. Food banks and centers that collect donated material, such as clothing, building supplies and furniture, employ volunteers of all shapes and sizes. And volunteers come in all ages -- from students to seniors.

"We live by volunteers coming to help us," says Sheron Gibson. She's the office manager at a World Vision storehouse in Dallas, Texas. "We take volunteers from various agencies. Even senior citizens come in and volunteer to help us."

World Vision operates 10 storehouses throughout the U.S. It collects donated items from stores, such as clothing, computer supplies and furniture. Then it distributes the items to shelters, schools, churches and agencies to help Americans living in poverty.

"When we get the donations in, they come in bulk sizes... and we have to break them down," explains Gibson. "A lot of times we get large supplies of school supplies in, and they need to unload those supplies and assemble them." Teams of volunteers, including families and youth groups, create individual packages for students. Each backpack might contain a ruler, a few pens and pencils, paper, a glue stick and some markers.

"We have a very small staff here," says Gibson. "Volunteers are the heart and soul of how we do what we do. Otherwise, we couldn't do it."

For Emily Greene's senior project in high school, she could have done anything -- taken a class, built something. But she chose to volunteer at the World Vision storehouse in Seattle, Washington.

"This is my first day, and I'm totally blown away," says Greene with a laugh. "I would love to keep volunteering here past my senior project requirements. Everybody's so friendly."

Greene was busy folding pajamas, blouses and slacks, and putting together outfits for homeless women who are re-entering the workforce.

"I just felt the need to come to an organization that helps other people," she says. Many of her classmates chose community projects as well. "I think people, especially my generation, are wanting to be in the know... and just want to help," she says. "We're at that age where we want to change the world."

Greene's dream job is to become a music therapist for autistic children. And she feels her work at the storehouse will help her in this field. "It just helps me understand different backgrounds and different people -- where they come from and what their needs are."

Every Wednesday morning Betty Moore heads to the local food bank with her special-needs son Shea, and the two of them roll up their sleeves.

"I thought it would be a good way to get Shea out... give him something to do," Moore says. The food bank takes donated food from grocery stores and creates free healthy food baskets for people in the community.

Moore volunteers to sort through huge crates of fruit and vegetables in the warehouse, tossing out the rotten pieces. Meanwhile, Shea holds the door open for people carrying orders.

"[Shea] is always talking to people," says Moore. "He just likes being out in the front with the people."

Moore enjoys talking to the customers, staff and volunteers as well. Recently a class of Grade 7 students joined her in the warehouse, sorting through food and filling baskets.

But she finds it surprising that more people don't volunteer when there's such a need. "I like doing it," she says. "I feel like I should be doing something."

She appreciates the little things about the work too -- like the thanks she gets from one food bank staffer. "Every time I'm there, he says thank you," she says. "To me, that's the best thing anybody could say to me."

Every day, as sure as the sun rises, you'll find Butch Denesse at the Green Project. He's a retired printing press repairman. But now he spends three to five hours per day volunteering at the project's warehouse in New Orleans.

"I get as much time here as I possibly can without totally ignoring my property," says Denesse.

The Green Project takes used building material -- like lumber, doors and windows -- and resells it to the community. Contractors and homeowners can pick up the items they need at much lower costs than if they were buying them new. It's a way to recycle existing materials, and reduce the amount of waste going to landfills.

"I do really like the idea that the Green Project stands for the actual recycling of material," says Denesse. He spends his days unloading trucks, stacking lumber, sorting doors, windows, fencing and paint. He tests tools to see if they work. And occasionally he offers advice to customers on building projects.

The best part of the work, he says, is the variety. "Every time I come here I feel as if I'm contributing," he adds.

"And it's a learning experience for me because I'm learning a bit better how to communicate with people," he says. "Because after all the years working on printing presses, the only people I associated with were press operators. You know, it was a limited experience. Where here, I'll meet people from all walks of life."

How to Get Involved

Contact your local food bank, or a nonprofit center that collects donated material, such as clothing, furniture, art supplies, household items or building supplies. If the nonprofit operates a warehouse, they may need warehouse volunteers.

In many cases, volunteers must be at least 18 years of age. However, some organizations offer student programs where young people can participate if they're accompanied by adults.

Volunteers working in warehouses may be required to wear protective gear, including closed toed shoes (or steel toed boots), work gloves and hard hats.


World Vision -- The Storehouse
Learn more about World Vision's storehouse program to help Americans living in poverty

The Green Project
Find out more about this recycling project, located in New Orleans, Louisiana

Volunteer Match
Find volunteer opportunities near you

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