Part of our “thing”, as it were, is the ability to rage about the things that drive us crazy or are just plain wrong with our sector. You know that, if you are a ongoing reader of our blog. Also, part of our “thing”, is to let others say things that just need to be said – under the cone (of silence). We’ve had only a few “Secret Agent Reports” through the years – and here is one more. If you have something you want to share and contribute – under the cone of course – let us know any time – your identity will be safe with us. – John
I’ve had it.
Had it with garbage arriving at our organization in the guise of a “donation”. Had it with people thinking they’re helping by dumping their cast-offs on our doorstep. Had it with watching the families we help have to pick their way past a bag of used underwear (true story!) to get through our front door.
I was unpacking used items collected during a “Back to School clothing drive” (a drive that was conceived of, organized, and executed without once contacting us to see what the families we work with might want or need – but I digress!) when I discovered it – worn straight through the sole, torn, split at every seam, dirty, smelly – unwearable by any estimation.
So how did a shoe that should have been destined for the dump end up at our charity – delivered with the intent of helping a kid feel proud and ready for the all-important first day back at school?
I believe whoever donated those shoes honestly thought they were helping someone. They would have collected them from their child’s closet, packed them up, toted them into work, and delivered them to their office clothing drive. Putting them out with the garbage would have been way easier.
My colleagues and I talk to people every day who just want to make a difference – sure, some just want to get rid of their stuff, but the vast majority really do want to help a family going through a tough time.
So what the heck’s happening here?
I think it’s complicated – and most of it comes down to a handful of some deep-seated, often unspoken (donor) beliefs:
? You’re poor? Well then, it’s all you really deserve – and you should shut up and appreciate it!
In our bootstrapping society, poverty is still looked upon as a character weakness. Couldn’t get ahead? Obviously, you didn’t try hard enough – so you’re gonna take my kid’s dirty broken shoes, and you’re gonna enjoy them, dammit!
? It’s no longer good enough for us – but is sure as heck should be good enough for them!
The old “us and them” – possibly the root of all evil, and certainly the origin of many used clothing donations I wouldn’t even let my dog sleep on. And believe me, we’re all living closer to the edge than we realize – illness, job loss, and lots of stuff way beyond your control can take you across that us/them border pretty darn quick.
? I love to shop – and now I can shop even more, because I just cleaned out my closet and helped the needy.
Ah, the way we assuage our guilt and rationalize our insatiable consumption! But bad news folks – charities are reaching maximum capacity, and when we do, we’re shipping the rest overseas to crash the economies of entire continents (see the SWEDOW phenomenon – but that’s a whole other post).
I’m not here just to rail – I’m very motivated to find a solution. Sorting and disposing of unusable, unneeded in-kind donations we never asked for is costing small charities like ours thousands of dollars a year – money that’s being taken away from programs like after-school tutoring to pay the City of Toronto to come and collect those nasty shoes.
How can we shift things? How much of this is our fault as charities for not being clearer and firmer about what the needs of the people we work with? Are we afraid to push back because we don’t want to rock the boat? (Heck, I can’t even write this under my own name – I’d never eat lunch in this town again!)
Leave a comment below, and tell me what you think.