Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Clothing Donations

Donated Clothing, Midnight, the Parking Lot of Grace Church, Slidell, La.

After the storm hit many people were left with just the clothes on their backs, and what they could carry. You try living in the same clothes for a week, in a shelter, in 100 degree heat, 95% humidity, no air conditioning, and no running water. About a week later the first clothing donations started rolling in. And they kept rolling. Truckloads. Hallelujah.

There are, however, some strange things I noticed about the clothing donations. Of course all these observations are wrapped in the knowledge that donations are donations, and all clothing was appreciated. But I couldn't help wondering, as I watched the desperate people pick through the clothes, in some cases, what were the people who donated them thinking?

I saw boxes of corporate logo t-shirts, maybe originally intended for company picnics, I guess. It stuck me as odd, imagining all these smelly, desperate, sweaty homeless victims now wandering around, advertising for some office product wholesaler in Akron. "This disaster relief brought to you by OfficeCo!" I survived Katrina and all I got was this lousy XXL shirt, indeed.

I saw old lingerie. Single shoes. Torn clothing. Pit stains. Old sweat pants with skid marks. I thought, did these people just donate clothes they were going to throw out anyway? Beneficent recycling? Trash for the poor?

Victims were so desperate for underwear. And socks. And towels. There was none of that.

No one complained about anything. It was just me, cynical, crusty me. They were overjoyed by any help arriving, after being left alone at first. Beggars, after all, really can't be choosers, can they?


Anonymous said...

I would also like to know how and where to send donations directly. My Sweet and I were so happy to buy some of your photos, but we could also send stuff if that could help as well, maybe even get others to add to a box of stuff. What's the best method?

Anonymous said...

Why I'd never think to donate socks and underwear:

I wouldn't donate used underwear; that would be pretty creepy, IMHO. Even if it was in good condition and had just been run through the washer and dryer.

And while I'd be willing to donate new, I'd think that it would be better to give money to relief orgs who could buy and deliver it wholesale (and have an idea based on long experience of what kinds and sizes to buy) rather than my buying it (and donating it) retail.

clayton cubitt said...

Yes, these people most need the basics, packaged underwear and socks in all sizes. Towels.

Gift cards to Walmart are useful, also, but neither are as good as donating cash.

I can't recommend the Red Cross, based on what I saw (or actually, didn't see, on the ground), but I can say that the Salvation Army was helping people. And even though I usually strongly disagree with them politically, the Southern Baptists were helping people, too.

Anonymous said...

We thought a lot about this here in TX when we rounded up every piece of clothing we could spare.

We thought about not donating corporate logo shirts, but then we thought, "Hey, we have a lot of nice clothes-to-wear-to-office-jobs, sitting-around-the-house clothes, but what if we'd lost everything? Would we want to have to clean toxic goo in the only decent pair of jeans/chinos we owned? Would we want to ruin the first clean, nice blouse we'd had in weeks?"

So we gave away some corp logo shirts as "Don't feel bad if you have to throw this out after cleaning in it" shirts. We certainly didn't mean to insult anyone - we made sure not to give anything really cruddy-looking, just so nobody would think we thought they were a good way to get rid of things that should really be thrown out.

We just felt so bad for everyone affected by this that we gave anything we thought would be useful. We would have given more if we could, but money is short while our gently-used clothes were plentiful.

And I'm anonymous because I was taught to give without anyone finding out it was me - my mom has that "if you put a coin in a man's cup with your right hand, not even your left hand should know" thing down. :)

Health and abundance to you and all yours.

Anonymous said...

i'm an evacuee from new orleans and received donated clothing. bags and bags and bags of it.

however, this just created a new problem for me. none of it really fits me correctly--and it is all circa 1982. it fits very poorly---i even got a weird red pantsuit with huge cut up flower appliques that makes no sense to me.

now i just need a place to put all of this stuff that doesn't fit me. the gesture was nice, but it seemed that some people took this as an opportunity to do their fall cleaning of their attics.

~pen~ said...

between those types of donations and the food donations rescue missions get, i also wonder wtf people are thinking -- i always tell my kids "if you don't eat canned beets, don't think just because someone is down on their luck should get them because they'll eat them..." never give away something you wouldn't want to keep.

if you do that, it's meaningless.

your blog is unbelievable. thank you for the honesty here.

beche-la-mer said...

I once received a letter from a reader of a magazine I was editing, in which she began: "I have a lot of clothing that belonged to my late mother, that was too good to donate to charity". Too good to donate?

And guess what she did with the "too good to donate" clothing? She cut it up and made a quilt out of it!

I was appalled.

Anonymous said...

I spent several days sorting and distributing the donated clothing that arrived here at the Astrodome.

People knew exactly to whom they were donating, and for what purpose. This wasn't a case of local churches donating stuff that had built up over the months.

Despite that, we saw things like prom dresses, evening gowns, bridesmaid dresses, confirmation dresses, winter coats, heavy sweaters, and even a full heavy-duty camo outfit more suitable for hunting Moose in Montana than finding a job in Houston in August.

Baby clothes with formula and food stains (any mother knows those will NEVER come out). A pair of women's slacks with the entire crotch seam ripped out, from front to back. Panty hose. Knee-high hose (singles). High heels. And lots of that single shoe and sock thing that I will never understand.

What brought tears to my eyes time and time again were the women, evacuees themselves, who were there working alongside the Houston volunteers, wanting to give something back because they were so grateful to have a place to stay and some clean clothes for themselves and their children.

Anonymous said...

i think you just need to be thankfull,ppl gave what they could out ofthe goodness of there hearts ...not everyone could or can afford to buy NIKE's TOMMY"S etc. etc.. etc.. for their own family let alone at the spare of the moment for donation --i donated clothes that my son out grew that was nothing to sneeze at i donated my X's clothes he was'nt cheap either just an a-hole! they was'nt 70 80 90 dollar name brand stuff but hey it was the thought ---and it was clean and intac...theres nothing wrong with second hand stuff once in awhile i shop at those places as do alotta ppl...

Anonymous said...

Wow! I have never heard such un-gratefullness. I am SO proud to live in Houston, as I watched this city reach out as I never would have expected. You all are so focused on the bad donations and single socks that you forget the amazing sacrifices people made for complete strangers... people opening their homes, churches, fire stations, etc. for strangers. Strangers, that I may remind you, were killing and raping eachother, stealing from the helpers and beating them up. Strangers that have nearly DOUBLED the crime rate in Houston. Houston was not, however, focused on those occurances, but on helping, and what does everyone get? My, they donated some ugly red pants and single socks... they could have done nothing. They at least took the TIME to go through their things and haul it somewhere to give it over. I dont think anyone was using this as an excuse to do their "fall cleaning." People can clean their clothes out and throw them in the trash. THey were thinking that these evacuees were SO MUCH IN NEED that they could probably use anything. THeir hearts were in the right place, even if the articles of clothing were not up to everyone's "standards." But this is, yet again, how the evacuee's have thanked everyone for helping... "thanks, BUT it's just not good enough." When something bad happens and people go out of their way and take the time and effort to help, you dont wonder about the quality of the clothes, you shut your mouth and be thankful that you get to change out of the clothes you have been wearing for a week. Houston pulled together and helped evacuees, disregarding their own safety and entering themselves into the chaos, taking the time to help to the best of their ability. We could have turned our backs and said "Its not our problem" Be thankful. Be thankful for your life and that you even made it through the storm, and be thankful that there are people waiting on the other side who find it within their hearts to help!

clayton cubitt said...

Barbara Bush, is that you?

Anonymous said...

i dont even know if people still visit this site or not but i would like to say something small and simple to those of you that complain about the items that you got... i seen people given credit cards worth 1,000 dollars and more they used them to buy beer and smokes, they were giving money for getting housing and furniture you act like because you got some bad choice clothing it was so awful well i wouldnt dream of being so disrespectful to someone who was trying to help me out so if i was you i would lay back and think of all the good that came of this and not all the bad like hello you aint dead... have a nice day from someone who cares

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the last couple of comments about being thankful people took the time to help. Having been dirt poor and still struggling most of the time, I think all of them people complaining should stop and think. Ugly, old, stained clothes that are clean beats the heck out of nice new clothes that are dirty and have been worn for days on end. As to what were people thinking? Hmm...corporate logo shirts generally are printed in large quantiites and all sizes, meaning that there should have been something for everyone. Torn clothing and missing socks still make darn good cleaning rags, as do badly stained clothing. Hundreds of children were put into our schools, perhaps the prom dresses and such were from people who felt that those young girls would like an opportunity to attend the dances the schools would host and in their situation dresses would probably not be in their budgets. Baby clothes get stained, ususally the first time they are worn. Stained is better than dirty, esp for a baby as their skin is so sensitive and the buildup of sweat and such in their clothes could lead to rashes, which leads to cranky babies. I have several boxes of misprinted t-shirts (slightly blurry, wrong location, misspelled words, etc), shirts that are left over from various events and shirts that have been sun damaged, they have a faint to noticible line on shoulders or where the fold was. Same with caps. I had considered donating them, thinking that clean dry clothing would be appreciated and I hate to throw it out and would rather give it away to someone in need. But perhaps those in need are a little too choosy. Maybe I will look into another country to donate my items to. Or perhaps I can find a quilter who would like to take the material and use it somewhere else. But most importantly I am going to pray to the Good Lord that if I am ever in your shoes that I would be grateful for every little bit of help.

clayton cubitt said...

Re-read my words, more carefully this time, you've missed my point, and sadly taken away exactly the wrong message.

Anonymous said...

Stumbled randomly on this topic, and no doubt, no one reads it any longer given the date, but I can't help but share a link I found, invstigating what to do with my own closet clean out...


Prom dresses, wedding dresses, formal wear, and business attire are actually items much in need among charity donations. So are special needs items, like women's plus sizes size 14 and up, formal business attire, etc. Personally, I would fault the organizations for not taking better care to sort out frankly unusable items... but in thier defense, most charitible organizations have guidelines, and the bigger they are, the more they'd have to sort out. They likely hope the people donating will follow the simple guidelines, like underwear should be new in original packaging, clothing shouldn't be soiled, or torn, or overly worn... But some folks probably don't think about that. They probably think that the organization will take care to sort out the drift from the usable and will make sure that the right items go to the right places. Prom dresses to Katrina victims probably weren't a good match, which is unfortunate, because there are needs for those items.

The link above suggests some appropriate places to donate those odd but in need itmes, so that hopefully, they will go to the right places. Prom dresses and wedding gowns to teens in need of such formal attire, or recycling them into burial outfits for children who's parents can't afford such things. Maternity and plus size business attire for those down and out that also can't afford.

Lastly, those donating should take the time to read the charity's mission, and thier guidelines for donating, so people aren't getting old rags. Some wear and tear is expected, but everyone likely has thier own standards of what is good to donate, or just may not know, or may think the charity can use thier old rags to make old rags, because face it, many organizations recycle used clothing into rags as well.

The important thing is that people donate, and no system is perfect.

Anonymous said...

What about WORN OPAQUE BLACK 60 OR 90 DENIER TIGHTS...?TEENAGERS EX SCHOOL TIGHTS...? There are hundreds of these as my daughter as many pairs i need to get rid of