As part of my ongoing involvement with my local branch of Mencap, I sometimes shake a collecting box outside a local supermarket. Last week it was the turn of the nearest Tesco (in fact they only allow one collection day a year). Unfortunately it’s not one of the more lucrative spots either, but a couple of hours spent coercing the public here and there is never wasted. Even when passersby remark on how cold I appear, I remind them that I choose to be cold for a couple of hours, but the people I’m supporting have no choice and are disabled for life.
The two hours that I give up of my time seem to pass really quickly. Although the collecting tin might feel rather empty to start with, it’s made worthwhile by those who drop money through the slot. Many people will just give a pound or a fifty pence piece and others will empty all their small change into my tin. I’ve also had the extremes: one lady folded a five pound note and poked it through the opening, whilst somebody donated one penny last week. I kept quiet and reminded myself that I had no idea of his particular circumstances.
There are those who push past me with their shopping trolleys as if I’m obstructing them, some look me in the eye and walk past, and others mutter something about no change, or having spent it all on their shopping. Whenever somebody stops before reaching me and fumbles in their bag, wallet or purse I’m always hopeful, but sometimes they’re only hunting for their car keys. On the other hand, it’s a pleasant surprise when somebody pats me on the back, having passed me, and offers me money. Of course young children always love to feed money into a collecting box, and love to have a sticker in return. Very often I find that elderly or disabled people are the most empathetic and will donate to Mencap.
A couple of events stick out from my last collection. The first was a very heavily pregnant young woman who staggered to the bench outside the entrance, holding her bump from underneath. Whilst she was sitting down she kept massaging her pregnant stomach and I wondered if I was going to have to be a midwife as well as a charity collector. However she assured me that the baby was very active and she just couldn’t manage without a rest.
I was also kept company by a gorgeous King Charles spaniel. The owner left him outside whilst she shopped, and he kept seducing me with his big brown eyes. He was such a sweetheart, with long, silky ears and I was sorry to see him leave.
Collecting gives me a chance to chat to strangers. Many will stop to talk, will ask about the cause, or will just pass the time in a good natured way. We exchange jokes, such as threatening to catch them on their way out, and one lady even remarked how I’d managed to change sex as the previous collector (when she entered) had been a man, and I was now the one rattling the tin. It all goes some way to restoring your faith in human nature and making you feel that you are helping to contribute something for others who are less fortunate. There are many demanding causes. We can’t all contribute financially to everything, but we can donate some of our time.