Every single one of our volunteers is a superhero as far as we’re concerned. So when 17-year-old Melissa Reidie, from Dalkeith, won a Saltire Summit Award after donating her time to the organisation for over a year, we were over the moon, and couldn’t be more proud.
The Saltire Awards are dedicated to celebrating youth volunteering in Scotland. The ‘Summit’ award is for when a young person has shown an outstanding contribution to volunteering - which is certainly true of Melissa, who has spent hundreds of hours with Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts.
Melissa, who started volunteering with Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts in June 2020 when she was just 16 years old, chatted to us about why she chose to donate her spare time with our organisation:
“I originally heard about Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts because my Dad was one of the chefs in the kitchen. He suggested that I could come along to help, which I did - originally in the kitchen with him, then moving onto the packing floor to package up the hundreds of meals delivered each day. I really enjoyed that first shift and continued to come along every time my Dad was in the kitchens. By the time we reached August, my Dad went back to his job as a Head Chef at the school he works at, and I started in S6. Despite going back to school and starting my final year, I still dedicated a lot of time to volunteering at Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts.
"In January 2021, I spent more than 70 hours volunteering, and even gave up a few hours on Christmas Day 2020 to make sure people across Edinburgh had access to food. During my last year of high school, I was asked to be a Mental Health Ambassador. Part of that role was to create information boards to display around my school, so I would take some of the posters and put them round Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts for volunteers and clients to see too, as I knew that mental wellbeing was a priority for the organisation.”
There are loads of different reasons people choose to volunteer. When COVID-19 hit,
however, there became one overwhelming reason to donate your time to a charitable organisation: to feel like you were making a difference. When lockdown first happened in March 2020, and so many people were put on furlough, and a lot of them didn’t know what to do with themselves.
Once Melissa started volunteering, she instantly felt part of our community, and as well as knowing she was making such a difference to people’s lives, she genuinely enjoyed it:
“I loved knowing that I was helping such an amazing cause and getting to support so many people who were really struggling. I also loved meeting all the other incredible volunteers, and even though at just 16 and the youngest person there, I just seemed to get along with everyone very well. After a while, I became the packing hall ‘DJ’ and started making loads of playlists and being in charge of the tunes. It really is such a great group of people and everyone’s there because they’re genuinely passionate about the cause.”
It’s been proven that volunteering makes people happier and gives them more confidence. And one really great statistic is that people who volunteer are 27% more likely to be offered a job than those who don’t. Melissa feels that being able to show that she has over a year’s worth of volunteering experience will help her in the future as she goes on to college and employment:
“I believe the benefits of my volunteering experiences will support me as I begin my transition to college in September. It will also help me in my new part-time job I’ve recently secured. I would absolutely encourage other people to sign up to volunteer, whether that is a one-off shift, or regular shifts like me. It’s helped my confidence and being able to talk to such a variety of people in a work environment.”
Melissa isn’t the only school pupil giving up their time to volunteer at Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts - 17 year old Sean Burrell has been a packing volunteer since January 2021, and more recently he was joined by 4 of his fellow Edinburgh Royal High School pupils who all decided to sacrifice some of their summer holidays to donate time to help us feed the 1,100 people we provide food for each day.
If you can cook, prepare or package food, deliver using a bicycle or car, clean or provide admin support, the team at Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts would love to hear from you. Please visit our website www.emptykitchens.co.uk/volunteer to sign up to join the community of volunteers.