In my former life, I worked on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged. I raised money, I created public service campaigns, I did some policy work...in the non-profit world, everyone wears many hats. My LAST non-profit job, before I got pregnant and became a stay-at-home mom, was as the Communications and Development Director for Goodwill Industries of Central Texas -- a very large and extremely well-run non-profit, which operates thrift stores to raise money to provide vocational training and other services for people with disabilities.
I don't know if it's a response to Texas being so bad at taking care of its poor and disadvantaged through governmental policies and agencies, or if it's that Austin is such a hippy-kind of Reduce/Reuse/Recycle kind of town, but whatever the cause, the effect is that the non-profits are really well organized for accepting donations and getting them to people who need them.
When we moved from Texas to New York, one of the big differences that was immediately apparent was how people put their perfectly good household goods out by the curb for trash pick-up instead of donating them to various local charities. It made/makes me so sad to see so much useable stuff going into the landfill when I know poor families would love to have it.
But here's the thing: I totally understand it now.
Trying to donate up here is just an exercise in frustration and bad juju. We've tried donating to the Goodwill by our house, which is small and dingy and not even very welcoming as a STORE. Every time we went to donate, we were greeted by surly people who informed us of all the things the non-profit no longer accepted, including furniture, books and TOYS. Which...
Anyway, we stopped even trying to donate there because it left us with such a bad feeling.
Today, I had a van load of donations that I'm clearing out of my old house. It included very gently worn children's clothing, barely touched toys and puzzles, some expensively framed artwork, curtains, dishes, bed linens, etc. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that this was good stuff. If we had any family up here, we would have given it to them.
I decided to try the Salvation Army.
I drove into the parking lot. The huge gate was open, but the store was still closed. There was a donation area, but it was clearly marked, "Shoes and Clothing Only." I drove around the building again, looking for a sign of where to donate the other stuff. There wasn't one, but I could clearly see flower arrangements, toys, furniture, candle holders, etc. in the windows of the store, so I knew if they SOLD that stuff, they had to take donations of it. Not knowing where to donate, I stacked a bunch of boxes of my donations in a corner by the clothing and shoes donation area. I knew this wasn't the right thing to do, but I couldn't see where else to put them. As I was putting out the last box, a guy came out of the store and approached me, still smoking a cigarette.
He surveyed my donations.
"Well, I guess I could get a shopping cart and move them up to the front," he said.
"I'm sorry, I couldn't tell where to donate these items. I'd be glad to move them if there's a different place."
He began to berate me. "There's a sign on every single one of these bins that says, "Please don't leave anything outside of the boxes."
I said, "I know, but I couldn't find a sign of where else to donate. Is there a sign..."
"On every single box."
"No, is there a sign that tells me..."
"It says "Don't stack things here" on every single box!"
"I saw that, but what I couldn't find a sign about where..."
"ON EVERY SINGLE BOX. People dump stuff here! Now I have to get a cart and move this stuff and it's a real pain." He blew his foul cigarette breath all over me.
"I'm very sorry. I couldn't find another place to donate these things that aren't shoes and clothing."
"How about the front door?"
"Is there a sign there that says it's okay to donate there? How do donors find out where to donate things that aren't shoes and clothing?"
"Uh, common sense?"
At which point, I said, "I am leaving now. And you're welcome."
I drove away, sick to my stomach. What should have been feel good exercise (my husband donated a 32-channel Mackie mixer to our daughters' school last week. The school practically threw a party for him.), ended up being yet another situation where someone unleashed his unspent fury at me. I kept reminding myself that I was trying to do a good thing by donating. I really was. I know that if those donations get into the hands of people who need them, they'll be appreciated.
I wish I'd never taken my stuff there, though.
And the rest of my donations? The one that I think would be welcome in the homes of most poor families with kids?
Going out by the curb.