Remember cassette tapes? Remember getting a blank tape and spending your Sunday Evening listening to the Top 40 Countdown and being very diligent to record the songs that you loved, and making the best mixed tape in the world!

Remember the corner shop? They were the best. Normally run by an elderly husband and wife team, they sold a small selection of small goods, had a small fridge containing milk and Coca-Cola. But it was the lolly section that held all the action, as you got to pick and mix your favourites, for the princely sum of one cent each.

Do you remember the school canteen?

This is what our kids are likely to say when they are 41 and working in the climate control industry. For the truth of the matter is that the school canteen is a dying breed. And a crying shame.

The problem lies with the parents. There is a huge lack of volunteers taking their place behind the counter, willing to dish out recess. And why is that? Because 57% percent of Australian Families have parents that both work.

My Mum worked part time and also did canteen. I can still remember being so excited when “Mum was on canteen!” I also recall being very, very popular with my fellow students that day, as they were all hoping I would choose them to be my best friend, thus giving them the golden ticket to canteen freedom at lunch.

I do canteen at my local school twice a term. I always forget, and get a text saying “You were supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago!” from the Canteen Boss Lady. I am always like “Bloody hell. Canteen duty again!” and cancel my plans that I had made, to head in and make hot cheese rolls. It is open 5 days a week and run by volunteers. And we are lucky.

Not so are the kids at Stamford State School in Brisbane, who had not chance to heat sausage rolls last week. There was no one around to sell them, so the canteen was simply closed.

Meanwhile, Artarmon Public School, in Sydney’s North, takes a hardline approach when it comes to parent volunteers.

“To keep the canteen running, we need each family using the canteen to volunteer for at least two shifts a year, otherwise we will not be able to keep the canteen open every day. Families who order lunch from the canteen on a regular basis should aim for at least one shift per term. If you place more than 20 orders a term (approx. twice a week), without volunteering in the canteen, you will be charged a levy each term that covers one hour of a casual employee’s time. Families who subsequently volunteer in the canteen will be refunded any levies paid during that year.”

So in other words, you play, you pay.

So say you work full time, and you go to make your kid a sandwich but you have run out of bread, or it is dripping on mould or whatever, that sausage roll you are about to order could potentially cost you $90, which is the suggested levy.

So why don’t we volunteer?

Last week I was at a hospital visiting someone. I was in the lobby about to leave when my phone beeped. It was an important call I had to take, but just as I answered the phone ran out of charge.


So I looked around and did what thieving folk do, I stuck my charger into the wall and waited for my phone to spring back to life. It was during this waiting time, where I did not have a phone to amuse myself; I looked around and noticed a tall, elderly gentleman coming straight towards me.

BUSTED! I was about to be chastised for stealing hospital electricity….


But turns out this elderly gentlemen just wanted to show me a more pleasant power point that was not located next to the men’s toilet. And thus began one of the most pleasant conversations I have had in a very long time.

My new gentleman friend was a volunteer, and came to the hospital 3 days a week to assist incoming patients to the correct place that they are required to be. He was a walking encyclopaedia of this particular hospital, which had undergone some building works, which seemed to have had everyone quite confused.

Apart from David. He knew it all.

You see his wife was suffering from Alzheimer’s and he had retired, but liked to keep himself busy. And he just loved volunteering and helping people. Oh, we had the most delightful chat about hospital administrations, children and paperclips, and there was something about this kind volunteer that had me to believe that he was “someone”. He had that magical-ness about him which is very hard to describe. So when he was not looking, I wrote his name down on my hand.

David XXX.

My phone had sprung to life much earlier, but we were having such a delightful chat that I didn’t care. Eventually we said goodbye, and I was on my way.

Later that day, I googled him, like you do if you are slightly bonkers like my good self. And there it was….

“Following his studies at Sydney Law School, Mr XXX was admitted as a solicitor in 1977. His career has included three years as a solicitor, 11 years at the private Bar and more than 20 years as a Crown Prosecutor. He was appointed Senior Counsel in 2005, and recently has served as a Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions and as Acting Crown Advocate.”

My friend was a top barrister! This brains trust was now showing people around the hospital and he loved it. And it made me realise that me bitching and moaning about doing canteen duty twice a term made me somewhat of a twat.

Volunteers often site that they do it as it gives them a sense of purpose. If you parents volunteered, you are more likely to do so yourself. Volunteers tend to donate more monetary funds to charity.

And volunteers make the best salad sandwiches on the planet.

What about you?

Do you volunteer for anything?

This post first appeared in The Hoopla.