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Before taking the Community Service subject, I had only brief brushes with community service. I had visited an orang asli village and an orphanage with my church, but these were one-off events. In these visits, we brought groceries and gifts with us to distribute. In another event, my church helped to clear off loan shark stickers from signboards. However, I had not experienced what it would be like to volunteer for an extended period of time.
My team had initially planned to volunteer at SPCA (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) but the requirement of eight hours of training meant we had to reconsider. Another orphanage turned down our request to volunteer because their slots were full. This led us to the organization we completed our hours at: Jumble Station. The founder, Mary Anne, immediately welcomed us to come and volunteer.
Jumble Station is an organization helping parents without partners. They are unique from other charities as they help single fathers, and also give help to all who need it regardless of race or religion. Their modus operandi is unique as they do not primarily request monetary donations, although those are very welcome. They collect and resell donated items to raise money. This is summed up in a single phrase, “We take anything except plants, pets, and your parents!” If single parents need certain items like schoolbags, clothes, or cooking utensils, for example, Jumble Station gives it to them free of charge. The money raised from the sales of other items will be used to help pay their back rent, buy groceries, or buy school supplies, for example.
A very important part of Jumble Station’s philosophy is helping people to help themselves. Firstly, they have to merit the help; they have to be single parents who are directly raising their children, or even grandchildren. Single parents will be interviewed to ensure they really need help. Secondly, Jumble Station asks them about their needs and helps them on the basics, like shelter, food and clothing. Jumble Station will directly correspond with the landlord and pay the back rent to make sure the single parent will not get kicked out of their home. Jumble Station also brings groceries and clothes to the single parents. Thirdly, Jumble Station helps the single parent to get an income. Jumble Station has single parents working for it and sometimes helps the single parent to set up a shop and sell donated items.
The main place my group spent most of our time volunteering was at Jumble Station’s new shop at Jaya 1 in PJ. On the first day, we went there not quite knowing what to expect. Mary Anne welcomed us and explained what Jumble Station was all about. She regaled us with tales of people Jumble Station had helped and their varying responses; some turned their lives around, while others took advantage of Jumble Station till aid had to be cut off.
While at Jaya 1, we spent our time doing ‘advertising’, ‘arranging’, ‘pricing’, ‘collecting’, and ‘supervising’. In all honesty, the work was mostly very light and relaxed. Normally when you think of community service, you might think of labour-intensive work like cleaning or doing recycling. My group barely broke a sweat ninety-five percent of the time.
‘Advertising’ means that we took Jumble Station’s postcards and distributed them to shoppers who passed near our shop or entered the shop, and at the same time explained what Jumble Station did. We also approached people at restaurants within Jaya 1 during the lunch hour. The main thing I learnt from this is to never judge a person until you talk to them. There were people I thought would be intimidating to talk to, but they turned out to be very nice when I approached them.
Jumble Station’s shop in Jaya 1 had opened just a few days before we had come to volunteer. Our ‘arranging’ duties involved us straightening up the shop and making space for new items. I came across plenty of interesting trinkets in the process. Pricing just meant labelling items with price tags according to the value dictated by Mary Anne. In the process, she passed on fascinating bits of information she had gleaned on how to identify real gold, jade, crystals, and pearls. I never expected to learn these things while on ‘community service’.
‘Collecting’ was the only time physical strength was needed. From time, to time, we had to move boxes of donated items, books, or food to the storeroom. Also, we collected recyclable paper from nearby offices.
Supervising is a euphemism we used for sitting down and talking. Jaya 1 is still relatively new, and hours would pass at times without a single customer coming. These were the times when Mary Anne told us her life story and how she came to set up Jumble Station. She grew up as an orphan, and her experiences that led to her founding Jumble Station.
The most impactful part of my community service came in my last few hours as I went to visit single parents in their homes. We went to low-cost flats in PJ to visit a single mother with three kids and a grandmother raising grandchildren. Seeing the conditions they lived in was an eye-opening experience for someone who lives in relative comfort. But more than that, I saw the joy on the face of the single parents when the Jumble Station staff came to visit. In the end, it is about the lives that are touched and transformed by what we do.
This period of community service has reminded me to appreciate everything I have, especially my family. Many others are not as fortunate as me, and it is easy to forget that. I will continue to volunteer, because through giving, I also receive intangible things; a better perspective on life and towards other people, and the joy from seeing others joyful.
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