Cliff from the Op Shop

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For many locals, Cliff’s face would be a familiar one in the community. He can often be seen sitting in a sunny spot in front of our St Kilda op shop on Grey Street, sipping a cup of strong, black tea.

It’s been more than twenty years since Cliff first stepped foot in the Sacred Heart Mission St Kilda op shop, but he remembers what happened as if it were yesterday.

“It all started with an Oxford dictionary,” he says. In 1992, Cliff was attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) at a rehabilitation facility across the road from the Mission. “The trouble was, I couldn’t understand the big words in the AA guide book, so I dropped into the op shop in search of a dictionary.” Not one to shy away from a chat, Cliff started talking with the then op-shop manager Claire, and the two “got on like a house on fire”. When someone working on the op shop’s collection truck decided to leave a few days later, Claire went in search of Cliff, offering him a position volunteering a few days a week. Cliff gratefully accepted the offer, and continued volunteering on the truck for about 17 years.

Cliff reckons he sat alongside about 15 drivers in that time, but there’s one that really sticks out in his mind. “The first driver I worked with was a guy named Saab (like the car). It took me six months just to get him to talk; he wouldn’t say a word,” he says.

“One day, I asked him where he was from. Iraq, Saab told me; that was all he said. But by the end of the day, Saab and I had hit it off really well. When the Christmas party came around later in the year, me and him were best mates.”

After suffering a heart attack in 2009, Cliff knew his time on the truck had come to an end. There’s a lot Cliff misses about the work. He has come to know the streets of St Kilda like the back of his hand, and was given the opportunity to meet a lot of good people, including a handful of celebrities.

“Oh mate, I love coming in to the Mission. I’ve loved every minute of every day working here,” he says. Well, almost every minute. There’s one aspect of working on the truck Cliff certainly doesn’t miss. “Heavy bloody fridges and six flights of stairs don’t go well together,” he says, “that’s definitely not my idea of fun anymore.”

Since his health scare, Cliff has been restricted to lighter duties at the St Kilda op shop. Volunteering at the shop three days a week, he also enjoys heading to the Windsor op shop every Sunday. According to Cliff, they still let him do some heavy lifting occasionally. Cliff is often asked how he remains motivated to continue volunteering after so many years.

“It’s the bosses, mate. They love me, so I just keep coming back,” he says with a grin. Talking about a retail assistant at the St Kilda store, Cliff says, “She’s my tailor, that Sam. She keeps an eye out for jeans that might fit me. She really looks after me; they all do.”

Cliff speaks incredibly highly of past and present staff and volunteers; their names come up often in conversation. As part of his support network, these individuals have helped him stay sober for years. Cliff has a brilliant catalogue of two decade’s worth of stories to tell about fantastic times spent in the company of these friends. “I’m someone that likes to have a bit of fun and get to know people. Sometimes I get along with people straight away – we just seem to click. Other times, it can take me months to break someone in for a laugh, but that’s all good,” he says.

Cliff doesn’t take himself too seriously. Celebrating the Mission’s 30th anniversary last year, there was a 1980s theme at the annual volunteer Christmas party. Cliff came as Stevie Wonder, and nobody recognised him (an achievement he’s pretty happy about).

A familiar face in the St Kilda community, locals will often see Cliff sitting in a sunny spot in front of the St Kilda op shop, sipping a cup of strong, black tea. “I’d know at least half the locals who walk past, so I’ll always say ‘Hello’ and ask how they’re going,” he says.

While Cliff enjoys seeing people he’s known for years, it’s clear he gets a lot of joy from seeing new volunteers getting involved with the op shops. “I honestly reckon more people should get involved in volunteering. It’s great to see fresh faces.”

All seven Sacred Heart Mission op shops need the help of committed, regular volunteers to help sort through and sell goods. Extra hands are particularly needed over the weekends, when donations usually peak. Volunteers need to be able to commit to at least four hours per fortnight. People interested in volunteering must attend a volunteer information session. For more information, please go to www.sacredheartmission.org or call the Sacred Heart Mission volunteer office on 9536 8471 or 9536 8460.

 

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