Lessons from being a volunteer gift wrapper at the mall

Gift Wrap Station

This December I’ve spent about 40 hours at the mall volunteering as a gift wrapper. It’s part of a campaign to raise money for the local branch of a national charity. I’ve done this in previous years and it’s become part of how I celebrate the holidays. I love it, but at the same time, as with so many things we love, it confounds me.

Here are some things I’ve learned from my time gift wrapping at the mall, this year especially, in no particular order.

  1. It takes time to wrap a gift! Even with the wrapping paper right behind me, it might take 15 minutes to wrap an oddly shaped gift and curl a handful of ribbon. This doesn’t change just because money is involved.
  2. People volunteer for different reasons. I volunteer my time because I like to be part of the festivities and it’s something I can do proficiently. Some people are fulfilling community service hours. Some people think it will be fun. Some people want to support the charity. Some people feel it’s a obligation even if they dislike wrapping, customers, the mall, etc.
  3. Donations are appreciated. The random ones even more so! Once in a while someone will just walk up to you and hand you a donation. It’s not something I’ve consider doing previously, but I feel great when other people do it, so maybe I should give it a try.
  4. For many people, visiting a gift wrap stand is simply a business transaction. People do not care that you are a volunteer and that you are raising money for charity.
  5. Malls have a corporate brand to maintain and allowing the charity to raise money is secondary. The mall selects the wrapping supplies (or lack of supplies), decides how the wrapping station will look, how the fundraising is advertised, and what the volunteers can wear. For the most part, I get this, but that’s why I can’t offer more wrapping paper choices or wear my ugly Christmas sweater.
  6. Sometimes it’s better to use a gift bag or the original box/bag or the store box/bag. Wrapping is not always your best option! I’ve been surprised to meet so many people who think that a present that is not wrapped is no present at all.
  7. Sometimes I forget to smile, sit down when I’m tired, or ask how the volunteer next to me is doing. There’s just no time! Although it’s nice to make an effort to check on the volunteer next to you.
  8. My wish: We could be nicer, more patient, more considerate, more reasonable. Less wasteful, less demanding, a little less hurried. We can smile and laugh a little more and remember to enjoy the break the holidays give us from the monotony. I try to remember this but I’m not sure how I’m doing.  I’m looking forward to the time I’ve forgotten these lessons (let me not call them rants even if they lean in that direction) and just remember the glitter and cheerful comradery.

In a few hours I return to the mall for a final shift of gift wrapping for the year. In the meantime, to sign off, I’ll wish a Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

[I haven’t had the chance to photos of the gift wrapping so instead I’m signing off with some Christmas photos from my visit last year to Tivoli in Copenhagen!]

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