Dumping takes toll on Salvos volunteers

In his 40 years as a Salvation Army officer Robert Sneller has counselled people on domestic violence, alcohol and other drugs, and homelessness issues - but he never thought he'd be helping staff and volunteers under stress over illegal dumping.

Salvation Army officer Robert Sneller at the Wollongong store with his twin grand-daughters, Emily and Chloe, 9. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

Salvation Army officer Robert Sneller at the Wollongong store with his twin grand-daughters, Emily and Chloe, 9. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

Major Sneller said constantly cleaning up other people's rubbish was taking its toll on staff and volunteers with items like dirty nappies, food scraps and even dead pets not unusual in the piles regularly left outside Salvo's stores.

"It's a big issue, particularly at this time of year when we get more rubbish than any other time," he said.

"We'll often get a fridge without a door, a table with a couple of legs missing, or a shirt without a collar - a lot of stuff that just can't be used.

"We also get a lot of garbage including used nappies and there have been cases of dead birds or dogs and cats.

"It does affect staff - we've got volunteers who work all year but won't come in January because of the clean-up involved every day.

"That puts extra pressure on the paid staff, who often have to clear stuff away before they can get in the door."

However, Maj Sneller said, the people doing the right thing far outweighed those who used the stores as a dumping ground.

It is those people - who have donated their goods or their time - that continue to buoy his spirits after four decades in the job.

Maj Sneller was commissioned as a Salvation Army officer on January 30, 1973 at just 21, and spent the first 10 years as a minister of the church before he got involved in the organisation's social work.

"Then I was dealing with areas such as homeless men and homeless youth, women and children in domestic-violence situations, people with drug and alcohol issues and aged care," he said.

"I've spent the last five years as a chaplain, travelling to different Salvos stores to help people within our own congregation, within each of the different communities, with our customers and our staff and volunteers.

"Sometimes people just want a chit-chat, sometimes they want to discuss something deeper that's going on in their lives."

Maj Sneller said in 40 years he'd learnt that there were three main parts to being a good Salvation Army officer.

"A good officer needs to be available - they don't need to know everything, but they need to be available so they are able to direct people to where they can get help," he said.

"Secondly, they need to be compassionate and care about people, and thirdly they need to be a good listener.

"People don't always expect their problems to be solved, they don't always want answers, often they just want someone to talk to."

There have been many highlights to the job for the man who began his career in the Salvation Army after hearing a call from God.

"I'm very grateful and content to be a Salvation Army officer. You meet some great people - many of them are struggling with different issues, but underneath they are good people," he said.

"It's very satisfying being able to help people to better themselves and encourage them or help them keep, or rediscover, their dignity and their pride.

"That's why we are very careful and very choosy with what we take in - because we're not just giving people a lounge or a fridge, we're helping them get back on their feet."


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