Thursday, September 22, 2011

Enough

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...

I...

Really?

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.

31 comments:

Lisa In Oregon said...

That actually explains a LOT! I've heard the same thing in Houston and other large metro cities. I live in a small podunk town...but the person in charge of the donation door at the local Goodwill has been so incredibly rude, repeatedly...that I no long longer shop or donate there. You held your temper so much better than I think I would have!

Ei said...

God that's depressing.

Barb said...

I'm sorry. I swear that I'll write something funny again at some point. I hope. I'm kind of depressed now, too.

Damsel said...

I had the exact same experience several times in New Jersey. It was SO FRUSTRATING! I carefully separated trash from gently used and then couldn't get anyone to take it! I absolutely ABHOR wasting things that someone else could put to good use, along with filling up landfills with those same things.

Grrrrr..... I feel your pain.

tanita davis said...

Oh, Barb. Ugh.

My sister is the coordinator for our church's donation place, and I have forwarded this to her as A Word To The Wise. One of the things they're working on is coming up with a list of where to donate for the things that their small center cannot handle. That will be doing such a service for the community when they finish it.

I no longer donate to the big venues, either. I've taken to asking a.) womens' shelters, crisis nurseries, and other social-work oriented places if I can donate to them. Sometimes they can straight take the stuff, other times the non-profits have storage and can take it to resell.

People do troll the streets looking for garage sale types of things and that's when I do my best donating - "Could your family use that? Then, take it away." That's a lot more fun than dealing with Illwill.

Denise M said...

Barb...have you tried any area churches? Especially ones with a thrift store? How about fire departments? We constantly donated in Austin..haven't tried up here in NJ yet, but if I do have stuff to donate, it is going to my church for their inventory for fire victims.

Kathy said...

That makes me sick to my stomach as well. You could always schlep your stuff to my curb. Anything that I put out by the side of the road gets taken within 1/2 an hour. The garbage never takes it. We put in a new kitchen sink over the summer and put the old one by the curb. I'm not kidding you, someone took it within 15 minutes. It was an old sink!

Sorry this was such a bad experience for you. I'd suggest a garage sale but my instinct is that you feel the same way about those that I do. Blech!

jennyp said...

That is depressing! We are lucky that the Goodwill here in Florida is lovely about donations. My mother found a hospice thrift store in the DC area. I would say that small places may be your best bet, although they may be very specialized in what they can take. Good luck!

Suburban Correspondent said...

VietnamVets.org and Lupus.org are two organizations that will do front porch pickups. Go to their websites for info. Also, for decent items, Freecycle and the For Sale-Free page on Craigslist are terrific for finding homes for your used items. Many people who put their stuff curbside actually post a Curbside Dump notice on Craigs List to alert people that there is stuff to be scavenged.

michiganme said...

I do a lot of donations thru Free-cycle - an on-line group of registered users. But by far the best way for us to pass things on is to set them at the curb a day or two before pick-up day once a month. Most things get taken and recycled/reused/resold or whatever.

Bullwinkle said...

So sorry. My little community has such tiny houses, the donation people come to us, twice a month, to pick up donations. (The line is that they know we have no place to store anything, so we give it away.)

I'm also a fan of freecycle - but it is a bit of work.

Good luck!

Sal said...

Sometimes I just hate people.

Phil said...

Sadly, this seems to be the way of almost all organisations that I have dealt with- world wide!

As an example, I have a house in japan (we don't live there, it is a second home). It is small and nothing fancy. Since march 12th, the day after their disasters, I have been trying to donate it so that one of the 10,000 families that are sleeping in gyms and other temporary shelters could have a house to live in for a while.
I have had no takers, from any aid organisation.

Back in the west I have had the same experiences as you are describing in Canada and America. The issue is not the need it is that people who work in these organisations at ground level just couldn't care less. The people at the top have not done the job of inspiring there people.

Ann in NJ said...

I've had the same experience here in New Jersey. I used to run a children's consignment sale twice a year for my church - we allowed consignors the option of donating their leftovers at the end of the sale, and it got harder and harder to find a place that will take them. In their (lame) defense, I think some stores near wealthy areas get innundated with toys and can't sell them for anything near what the floorspace costs them. And people will often donate junk and the charity bears the cost of sorting and disposing of it (not that your stuff was junk!). Be aware that some organizations like Lupus that do pickups of a wider variety of things are actually sending them to for-profit thrift stores. The charity still gets a cut, but some people are bothered by that.

Ellen said...

Don't give up Barb! I will tell you that I had great luck with Freecycle - to the point though, that the people became annoying. So use the option of Curbside - no emails or calls please - look through the listing to see how to do it - you basically tell people what you are putting out, where ane when it will be there, and they are free to give it a shot! I know how you feel, and completely agree. So discouraging.

Anonymous said...

Same problem in Washington state - until I found the St. Vincent de Paul stores. They are gracious, generous and appreciative. They've got several well run, well stocked stores.

Laura Bettor said...

And to think of all the fire victims here that would have loved to have your stuff. You need to get back to Austin, Barb. I'm getting tired of this NY stuff!

Miri said...

I put things outside the door of the women's shelter in our nearby college town. I called first and they said they'd use it, but our local thrift shops don't want to sort toys anymore because of the recalls and the research they have to do regarding those. It just seems so backward, really, that those accepting donations would be grinchy and mean.

Swati said...

That exact thing happened to me when I moved into my E Northport neighborhood. It is so frustrating!! I give the toys to my mom who gets them to families at our old temple who could use them.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this is your calling. Show 'em some Austin!

knittergran said...

You would have loved the Goodwill in New Port Richey, FL, where my sister and I took 11 carloads of boxes of stuff from my parents home. One of the times we approached the man who guided us inside, he looked briefly at our stuff and said, "Oh, fancy doodads. The ladies will love this." We smiled all the way back to the house.

LaDonna said...

Oh, how sad. Yes, I know what you mean. There's a local charity here that I won't donate to because they sort everything and throw out perfectly good items because they don't deem them good enough to sell.

I see that someone recommended Freecycle, we have that here and I've used it a few times. It's worked well and people are really appreciative.

Another options is to check into any local women's shelters or abused adult centers. Many of them work to set up displaced women, children and other adults fleeing violent home situations in safe homes. The ones I've worked with have been incredibly gracious about accepting almost ANY donations.

Good luck and don't give up. I know it shouldn't be so hard to do good for others, but the appreciation you'll get when you find the right group will be worth it.

Becca said...

We have pretty good luck with the free listing on Craigslist. We post it then put it by the curb, unless the weather is bad. But we've always had takers.

Carole D. said...

Barb - most of the pre-schools around here will take the toys, kids books etc. And if you have stuff that would be good for OT etc. go to one of the developmental schools or directly to an OT or speech therapist that works with kids. (I know a few if you need) Big Brothers/Big Sisters takes the stuff and will come and pick it up as well. Salvation army is a pain, Good Will is a little bit better. Also, the DAV and they pick up too.

Carole D. said...

Oh yeah - and our church has a store that takes clothing and some knick knack type stuff and jewelry. They sell to the less fortunate in the area - drop off there is Tues. and Sat. mornings.

Anonymous said...

Barb, I'm sorry you had such a bad experience. I don't get it! I donate to Salvation Army with no problem (DC area). One Goodwill is good, the other location not.

We also have 2 shops whose donations go to help animals.

Good luck and keep us posted!

Debbie J.

Mokihana said...

Wow... that is really terrible! I'm so sorry you had two such awful experiences.

How about Habitat for Humanity? Or a church that helps the poor/homeless?

I sure hope you have better luck with something else.

Susan said...

In our area we are lucky to get flyers monthly offering to pick-up donations. The last time I tried Goodwill I had similar problems so I have avoided them for years. We also a a very nice shop in town run by the Cancer Society, I take my best "junk" to them.

I ahve also done the free craigslist with mixed success. It is too bad that it takes so much effort to pass on perfectly good stuff.

mamabeth said...

Barb - Shreveport must be a lot like Austin. I've never had any problem with Goodwill or Salvation Army here. Most of my donating is to the battered women's shelter or to the Rescue Mission.

Several people mentioned FreeCycle which I've used with good success. People also list things that they NEED, so check the listings often to see if you can match what you have with what they need.

FWIW, a call or letter to the people in charge of your Salvation Army or Goodwill is in order. If the higher-ups don't know about the bad treatment, they can't do anything to correct it. Anyhow, keep on trying to donate...HUGS!

TheOneTrueSue said...

That's awful - what a jerk. I'm sorry you had to deal with that.

DK said...

I know this is kind of my solution for everything, but you should move to North Carolina. The PTA Thrift Store sent a truck 30 miles to pick up all my crap when I moved from Cary to Chapel Hill. Plus, then you'd be in NC, and my list of Why It Sucks To Live So Far Away From The Coopers would be a lot shorter and include things like "I have to put on shoes to go out of my house."