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Kids Exchange: My Volunteer Experiences

February 17th, 2009

I decided to volunteer for the recent Kids Exchange sale after hearing that it is the absolutely best way to shop the sale. I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to swing a 5 hour shift since I can’t usually be away from Maddie for 6 hours (once you factor in travel time, arriving early for the shift, etc). When I signed up to volunteer, I had a hard time envisioning what Maddie’s schedule would be like in a few months. It wasn’t that long ago that I could easily plan months in advance, but things have certainly changed. Life is way more unpredictable now! With Maddie’s nursing schedule, I thought that it would be easiest to volunteer for one of their split shifts.

Most of the volunteer slots are one 5-hour shift, but they had a few special split shifts. Mine was a 3-hour shift on Thursday night, during the consignor’s sale, and a 2-hour shift on Sunday at the end of the 50% off sale. They are very adament about not making changes or cancelling your shift except in the case of emergencies and unavoidable schedule conflicts. In the days leading up to the sale, I was regretting my decision to volunteer! We spent more money than we should have at Christmas, so we have been watching our expenses closely and are not in a money spending mode. We weren’t sure what we needed to buy for Maddie as she has plenty of toys, and she is set for clothing for now. She did not, however, have anything for the Spring or Summer. The January sale has only Spring and Summer clothing. I still have a hard time deciding what size that she will be in several months!

I toyed with cancelling my shift, but I decided to stick with it. I arrived a few minutes early on Thursday evening, as they requested. I was under the impression that we would get some sort of instruction or training, but they pretty much just told me to go over to the “unwanted items” and sort things. Fortunately, a few people in the unwanted items section had been working for several hours, so they were able to show us the ropes. I took clothing items that had been discarded both in the designated section and all over the building and sorted them into the appropriate sections. Is it a boys or girls item? What size is it? I will be revisiting this topic when I talk about tips for consigning and shopping the sale! I ran a few toys from this section to the appropriate sections, but overall I just sorted tons of clothes into the appropriate sections while a few runners took sorted clothing to the sales racks.

The unwanted section was hopping for a while. It seemed like every time we turned around, someone had discarded 20 more items. We had to monitor the sorted items to ensure that people didn’t just insert their random items into the ones that we had dutifully sorted. We had a lull after a little while, and I was reassigned to Linens.

The Linens section was a complete mess when I arrived! The items had been tossed around, fallen off the table, and picked through furiously for almost 2 days. I worked with one other girl to straighten up the table, put the larger items on the floor under the table, and basically make it look presentable to the public sale the following morning. This task was a bit daunting at first and was harder than it looked. Nothing was particularly heavy, but it was manual labor that I’m not accustomed to doing. I think it was good for me, and I felt a sense of accomplishment when I looked over the section and saw a tidy row of linens…until I realized another section of linens that we had not yet tackled or even seen! We got those under control as well, and then we were reassigned to the checkout tables.

The checkout tables were a bit overwhelming. We had to take the tags off of every item and put them into a box for the next table to calculate the totals. We bundled every 10 clothing items with a zip tie. We had to bag every item that could be bagged. We then had to count the number of bundles and bags as well as the number of items. This had to be cross checked with the number of tags in the box. We asked if they wanted to give a charitable donation. When all of this was checked and double checked, we would write the totals on a sticky note, put it into the box, tell the customer their number, and deliver the box to the next table. They really have a pretty good system, though they rely on the volunteers heavily to do their job correctly! My first order had 64 items, and this was a typical order throughout my checkout experiences. I was always concerned that my count was not going to come out correct (and once I couldn’t make it match no matter what I did and finally just notified the next table that I was off by one item. Oops.).

I returned on Sunday afternoon for my 2-hour shift. I did a short stint in the unwanted items section and spent the majority of my time in the check out section. I once again removed tags, bagged and bundled items, asked for donations, and delivered my boxes. This went fairly smoothly, and the time passed quickly for the most part.

Overall, I felt a little stressed to take time out of my busy life for working the event, but I actually enjoyed the work. I have never worked retail, so it was fun to do something different for a few hours. I have a much greater appreciation for checkout clerks, especially at this event but really in any busy situation. It gave me good ideas for what to do and not do when consigning items. It also made me appreciate the short lines and excellent selection on both the volunteer shopping day and the one-hour-early 50% off day. If you are serious about shopping Kids Exchange and have a few hours to spare, then volunteering is the way to go. Wear comfortable shoes, bring a water bottle and snacks, and be ready to be on your feet the entire time!

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