Yesterday I was involved in a couple of incidents of bad behaviour at the place where I do my volunteering. What we are supposed to do is collect food from a variety of sources and then redistribute it through our 'shop' to people who need it. Being a German organisation there are a gazillion rules and regulations about the administration of this but it does work pretty fairly. Basically people pay £7.50 per adult per household and £3.50 per child and this entitles you to collect free groceries twice a week. Once you're in the system it's pretty much a lottery what you end up getting because we have no real idea what will be availabe given that a lot of it is food that has reached its sell-by date or fruit and vegetables that aren't quite as fresh as they once were and we are entirely dependent on donations. Some days there is loads and other days we're scratching around for stuff.
This weekend was Erntedank which is the same as the British harvest thanksgiving where people take produce to the church and then this produce is redistributed to the needy. Here, in our town, our organisation takes charge of the redistribution of the produce and yesterday it was all hands on deck to sort the fresh food quickly and to store dried goods according to use-by dates. The shop was open for business as usual and in the morning I went into to help with sorting produce before doing my usual monday afternoon shift in the shop. About ten minutes before the shop was due to close for lunch I walked past the door and one of the helpers called to me and asked me if I could bring some cabbages in because they'd run out of vegetables and there were still a couple of ladies to be served. The management structure of voluntary organisations, particularly in Germany, could fill a number of boring blog posts and this isn't the time to get into it suffice to say that it wasn't really my place to decide that it was okay to take a box of vegetables into the shop despite the fact that we were overwhelmed with the amount of fresh produce being brought in every few minutes. Our teamleader caught sight of me taking the cabbages through and told me to put them back and I explained that there was no vegetables in the shop and there were still customers. She told me again to put them back so I went into the shop and explained to my colleague that I wasn't allowed to bring the cabbages through and then apologised to the customers and then I ranted at a couple of my colleagues about how we were meant to be giving food to people who needed it.
I was overwhelmingly angry about what happened and I accept that I should have probably checked with Elke our team leader before grabbing the cabbages but there were so many people around and it was so busy that I never thought to do it. What I'm angry about isn't that I got a vague telling-off but that in order to keep the hierarchy in place it meant that someone went home with no cabbage and that is quite simply wrong. This wasn't an isolated incident and similar things have happened before but yesterday felt particularly mean and petty. To continue the theme of pettiness I refused to sit and have lunch with everyone and instead went out on my own claiming to be busy but I really needed to get some space in my head.
After lunch I went into the shop to do my shift and got into my routine quite quickly. Our customers are very mixed – Russians, lots of people from the Eastern Bloc countries, Iraqis and Iranians and lots of young unemployed Germans. I was serving one lady who could speak no German and she had two children with her who spoke very little German but we managed to stumble along okay with her pointing at things and me handing them to her. She pointed at one of the shelves and I couldn't quite work out what it was she wanted and was picking up jars of pickles, tins of soup, packets of rice and she kept shaking her head and waggling her finger. One of my co-workers was walking past as this happened and she grabbed a packet of couscous and shoved it at me and told me that's what the lady was pointing at. Then she walked over to the lady and leaned forward and shouted 'Deutsch lernen' (learn German) and then walked out. I still can't quite believe it happened, I can't adequately explain the venom in this womans voice and I can't even explain my emotions at the time or even later. I was so angry when it happened that I felt myself shake and when I got home and explained what had happened to Johnny I cried.
I've decided to take a couple of weeks break from it and stand back a little. The organisation is a great organisation and I get a lot out of working there but I don't know how to cope with some of these attitudes.