I volunteer my time with a local charity. As part of my service, I spend a couple hours every week helping another woman sort and log the donations that come in through our public donation room.

Lets start out by stating this: we use gallons of hand sanitizer in the donation room. You would be shocked by what people donate (the really gross stuff comes in anonymously, of course!). We consistently get used underwear, flip flops with dirty footprints embedded in them, bathing suits with the elastic frayed, and whole bags that smell like a moldy basement. This is on top of the typical stains, tears, bad zippers, and suspiciously-like-body-fluid spots. We withhold our opinions, as “ugly as sin” is a judgement call. Every bag is gone through (unless we retch from stench when we open the bag), and checked by both of us. It saddens us to have to dumpster at least one garbage bag of donations each week.

So here’s the concept: just because people are in need does not mean they want to wear things that you wouldn’t be caught dead in at Wal-Mart. These people have dignity, too. Their kids just want to look like the other kids, not like a kid in hand-me-downs. It’s hard to take handouts, and harder to have to take crappy handouts. Think carefully when you donate. Here are some tips:

  • Charities don’t have the funds to pay a tailor for fixing hems and zippers. Fix these yourself or toss them.
  • Bathing suits, underwear, socks: just don’t do it.
  • It’s ok if the clothes are packed into a garbage bag, wrinkles aren’t a problem.
  •  We love it if you wash the clothes, but if they’re not perfectly dry when you put them in the bag, they smell like mildew by the time we take them out.
  • If it looks like you’ve washed it four hundred times (frayed and stretched collars and cuffs, pills, faded), make them into rags.
  • Jeans are hard to figure out – so many of them are purposely distressed. But people doing this kind of work can tell when it’s a real hole, or a manufactured hole. Don’t think you’re fooling us and don’t think “the kids all wear them that way”.
  • If there is enough fur on there to knit a sweater, wash it or donate it to the pet who has claimed it.

It’s important enough to say again: everyone wants to feel good about what they’re wearing, no matter how they came by it. So think of them as you’re cleaning out the closet. And speaking for all of us who have to dig through garbage bags full of a stranger’s cast-offs, we thank you. We appreciate every donation we get.