That was advice my father gave me. He was adamant that this was an unwritten rule in the Navy (and probably the Army and Air Force as well) but in civilian life, that rule went by the board. There have, indeed, been times when I have refused to volunteer - many times - but there are occasions when one just has to bite the bullet. There was one such occasion for me just before Christmas last year. I had stated quite publicly that the Lions Club had too much money and that we needed to seek out ways of spending it. I acknowledged that this could be done quite easily, just by giving a substantial chunk of cash to, say, the local hospice. But I had in mind that our largesse should be distributed a little more widely than that. We needed to find some more obscure causes to support with several smaller donations. Of course, nobody actually took me up on this, which came as no surprise.
One of our members had for some years acted as grants administrator; any person or body asking us for money would be investigated by him and he would make a recommendation to the club. That was the theory. In practice, he turned down many applications without the club ever hearing about them. This, I felt, was wrong. It was not his place to decide that we would not support something, it should be a club decision. I had been wrestling with this problem for some time, aware that when I become President in July I will have an opportunity to do something about this state of affairs. but how to do something without causing offence was the real challenge. Then it was solved for me. The grants administrator asked to be relieved of his duties. This was where I volunteered (nobody else did anyway) - and for the last few months I have been seeking out ways of spending money - and giving the club the say on which requests to decline.
So yesterday morning I found myself at a local food bank. It had struck me that food banks are doing a vital job even though we are supposed to be coming out of a recession. I wanted to learn more at first hand so that I could put a proposition to the club.
I was amazed. I already knew that there are several charities and churches offering help to the homeless in the city - we have recently bought one of them 100 sleeping bags for distribution - but I was unaware of just how many food distribution points there are or how many people they serve. The one I visited seems to be careful in who it helps and for how long the help is given, people they help having to be referred to them by one of 40 or so agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau. What really hit me was that this food bank sees an average of 50 to 60 people each week, even though they generally help people for no longer than 4 or 5 weeks at a time, usually while state benefits click in. And this in a comparatively small city in the wealthier part of the country. The problem in some areas must be horrendous.
The club meets next week and I shall ask for a budget of at least £500 (I would prefer £1000) to buy food for this worthwhile cause.