One of the things I really loved about the Tafel is that it didn't help only the people who were in receipt of food; it was a wonderful place for people to volunteer because they needed a bit of company or to feel useful or who may not fit in anywhere else – or perhaps, like me, wanting a place where they could put their German lessons to good use. Francesco is a volunteer with the Tafel. I'm not sure how old he is – perhaps about 40. He has learning difficulties and lives in sheltered accommodation – I suspect he's somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Anyway, he volunteers in the Tafel on Thursday afternoon and works in the kitchen. Anyone who works in the kitchen on a Thursday knows that they're not just doing their own work but they'll be keeping a bit of an eye out for Francesco. Francesco works hard and is reasonably reliable but he has to follow his own routine and he panics if things go too quickly or if he's asked to do too many things. You have to ask Francesco to bring the lettuces in from outside and then when he's brought them in you ask him to sort through them and then when he's sorted out the good from the bad you can ask him to take them into the shop. If you ask him to bring in the lettuce, sort them and put them in the shop he'll go and hide behind the bins because he's not really sure what he's supposed to do. He has to finish punctually at 5.00pm to get his bus because he becomes confused if he has to get a later bus.
Up until a year ago I worked with Francesco on a regular basis but then I started doing something else on Thursdays so changed my shift to a different day. From time to time I would run into Francesco in town and we'd have a chat and he was always interested in what I was doing and he'd tell me what he did and then he'd go off to do whatever he had to do. I was so pleased that Francesco came to my leaving do – it didn't start until 5.00pm and I'm not really sure how he got down to the Tafel but he was there with a small gift of a little house for me – I have no idea where he got this from and I suspect that some child somewhere is missing part of a toy. It's people like Francesco that I'll miss – the people that aren't big buddies but who are just part of the day-to-day thing.