Service of You Can’t Give It Away: Restrictions Make it Hard to Donate Goods to Major Charities

February 12th, 2018

Categories: Charity, Donations

Friends live in two places: An oversized Manhattan studio apartment and a New England home on the top of a mountain. They often update their wardrobes so their apartment closet became overwhelmed with clothing. Fred, [not his real name], spent one Saturday in the city cleaning and reorganizing. The result: Seven 30-gallon garbage bags filled with clean, ironed shirts, jackets, slacks and sweaters, some never worn.

Fred’s hallway with bags.

Fred called, among others, the Salvation Army, Good Will Industries and Outofthecloset.org, that supports HIV research. He wanted to donate the clothing.

What he learned was an eye-opener:

  • “The Good Will store doesn’t pick up,” he wrote me. “I would have to hire a large cab and deliver the bags myself. The Good Will general pick-up online is a joke.” Note: Both friends work crazy hours and scoot to their weekend retreat to catch their respective breaths on Friday. There would be no time on weekdays for them to deliver the bags.
  • “The Salvation Army wouldn’t be able to pick up until mid March,” Fred continued. Living with bags clogging the entrance to the apartment for over a month was not an option.
  • “Outofthecloset.org won’t pick up anything less than 20 13 gallon-size plastic bags which must be filled to the top. In any case, they can’t come by for several weeks.
  • “Another organization wanted items packed in a certain kind of box and required a sticker from UPS.”

I was sad to read that Fred is “tossing good clothes in the garbage little by little because charity has such strict rules.” He added: “Beggars are choosers indeed!”

Perhaps this is only a big city issue: Average NYC apartments usually don’t have space to store giveaway items for a month or more and most people don’t have cars in town which would make drop-offs easier. [Who wants to risk getting a ticket as you load the car in front of your apartment?] In any case, Fred’s cars stay at his house or at the train station parking lot.

Have you run into such roadblocks to giving? Is the glitch because charities don’t have the volunteers they may once have had to pick up goods or that their budgets are so squeezed that they can’t afford a sufficient number of drivers and vans to do the pickups?

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16 Responses to “Service of You Can’t Give It Away: Restrictions Make it Hard to Donate Goods to Major Charities”

  1. CG Said:

    Fred should try calling a local church before he tosses out anything else. Years ago two brawny volunteers from a church in my neighborhood removed an ugly but still serviceable sofa bed from the second floor of my home. The thing was so heavy, I don’t know how they did it. I was glad to be rid of it and to know that someone else would get some use from it. The operative phrase here may be “years ago.” As you pointed out, it’s possible there no longer are enough volunteers to do pick-ups. And who knows if that church would have picked up bags of clothes. Probably not, if they didn’t have anyplace to store them. It really pains me to think that Fred’s bags of clean, gently-worn and never-worn clothes may end up in a landfill somewhere.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    CG,

    With so many in need these days–and knowing the quality of Fred’s belongings–the waste drove me nuts too. If my car were parked in the city, I’d have figured out something but it is at a railroad station upstate.

    In better weather, at the farmer’s market on East 47th Street in Manhattan, you can drop off clothing or textiles of any nature that are then recycled. But I haven’t seen it in a while and even so, it works if you have a small bag or two but not as much as Fred has or had. And as this is nowhere near where Fred lives–in combination with his work schedule–it’s also not an option.

  3. Donna Boyle Schwartz Said:

    Donna wrote on Facebook: Charities often can be overwhelmed with merchandise, and there simply aren’t enough volunteers to sort everything. We find this is the case with book donations–people use the Library as a place to get rid of their junk, but then we have to pay for recycling. Also, in New York State, there are restrictions on what items they can actually pick up (most upholstered furniture, for instance, is not allowed, due to sanitary issues.) Churches, food pantries and Habitat for Humanity are all options to check out before tossing.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Donna,

    I couldn’t get anyone to pick up a thing in Dutchess County–not a church, charity, thrift shop–not a soul. I gave it all–household goods exclusively–to a second hand store that picked it up for which I was grateful. I notice the store is out of business, which makes me sad.

  5. JBS Said:

    You can sure give in the Twin Cities. I get calls all the time and donate regularly. They come right to your door. All you have to do is bag your donation (I must confess I do not iron or clean the clothes) and put it on your front stoop before 8 a.m.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JBS,

    It’s not just because of the world renowned Mayo Clinic that I think Minnesota is ahead of most other states–yours is yet another example. So smart.

    It’s such a terrible waste to throw out perfectly good clothes. The only initiative that works here, it seems, is a coat drive. During a drive, you can drop off a coat in good condition at Grand Central Station and at fire departments. It’s easy enough to bring in one coat.

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    The dilemma of how to dispose of excess in a world full of marked and even tragic economic disparity and refugees going from everywhere to everywhere makes me very cynical. It is tragic and disgraceful to throw out perfectly reusable clothes.

    I live in a town just outside the Boston line, but Big Brother Big Sister advises the management of our large condominium building of when they will pick up donations. Management accommodates the bundles for them even though it may be a tad inconvenient. We donate to Good-Will most often by driving to a receiving trailer in the middle of town where there is a large Parking lot, a large shop. We take clothes by car, to a downtown less than easy location for Rosie’s Place, a charity specifically for homeless women. There are other smaller institutions or other charities or churches that have clothing drives or recycle items from time to time. Even Firemen, Policemen, Newspaper companies and other groups hold drives to help those with less opportunities. Many stores and brand name boutiques accept coats as donations for cold weather charity. The Veterans organisations desperately need and clothes and welcome donations. A wonderfully run Head Start pre-school program in Roslindale (Boston MA) collects clothes for redistribution for both their students and parents. I have little patience with the lack of energy or ideas of the essentially privileged in such an affluent city with so much self-indulgence and so little concern for humanity.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    The operative word and difference between you and Fred is CAR. He has access to no car in NYC. He works all hours. And he neither works nor lives near any distribution centers so bringing small bags full every day is not an option for him or for me and most New Yorkers, for that matter.

    Upstate, when I drop off garbage at the dump there’s a Good Will trailer there. It’s a cinch to add a few bags to what else is going to the dump in our car. But we don’t have these trailers that I know of in NYC as you do outside Boston.

    While a great idea, I don’t know of charities that work with NYC apartment buildings or their managements. The one I live in has probably 200 tenants. No way could they accommodate requests to hold things for more than a few hours much less a month. Fred’s apartment house has even more tenants, I’d wager. It’s not possible.

    Two people plus two cats live in Fred’s studio apartment. I don’t know many people who could tolerate squeezing in and out the door for a month or more so as to wait to give away large bags of things. I live in small spaces and find it’s essential to keep things orderly. Fred is extremely generous. He took time he really doesn’t have to call around to more places than I note in this post. New York City does plenty right but clearly it–and its charities–doesn’t have this right. If he didn’t feel frustrated about the situation, he wouldn’t have mentioned it to me.

    I can’t recall how many bags of things I had to toss when moving apartments a few years ago. It becomes too much. You work all day and sort all night. There’s no place to store anything. You’re exhausted. Same thing happened after days and days of clearing out my mother’s apartment after she died. I was diligent sorting things at first and then it all got to be too much. I’d arrive after work and would leave for my apartment at 11 pm nightly taking no time to eat. When people are overwhelmed, it’s not a matter of self-indulgence, though in my case both times, it soon became a lack of energy.

    We should move to the Twin Cities or to Boston where the ability to give away useful things is well in hand. I’m glad.

  9. Lucan Said:

    One winter in my 20’s, I attended a university in France, and, with other foreign students, boarded with a French widow. Being used to American sized meals, I was shocked at the tiny size of the helpings she gave us. What does this have to do with your subject? Long before supply-side economics came into fashion, we began believing that the more you produce and consume, the better off your economy was.

    Now, we are overwhelmed with stuff that nobody wants. That includes art, a dear artist friend of mine died a year or two ago leaving about 30 cubic feet of art work including sketch books, photographs, paintings and other framed original works, et cetera. Not even the Modern Museum of Art which has his work in its permanent collections and featured one piece on the cover on its catalogue for a blockbuster show in the 1950‘s had any suggestions. The 30 feet went to the dump.

    I’ve also seen this from the other side having served on “Development” committees for years. Not-for-profit wages have gone up. Labor intensive fund raising operations like the Salvation Army are finding it increasingly tough to make a buck. It is far more efficient to spend $2,000 to land a $10,000 gift in appreciated securities than earning it, penny by penny selling, refurbished toasters.

  10. Francine Ryan Said:

    Francine wrote on Facebook: Call Big Brothers, Big Sisters – they are desperate for clothing and small household items and will come to collect it (on Long Island; you have to check about the city).

  11. Ramona Flood Said:

    Ramona wrote on Facebook: When I moved from Westchester to Brooklyn, I left a garage full of household goods. They were supposed to be picked up by the Salvation Army. However, when the Salvation Army showed up, I was not around. They took about half the items, furniture mostly, and left the rest behind. They didn’t want it, apparently.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Ramona,

    Such a shame. And when you are moving, there’s no way to stop the process, pick up the phone to line up other organizaions. Upstate I called churches and organizations and they pointed to a thrift shop that did not pick up and said it could not accept more than a shopping bag worth of stuff.

    It occurred to me that you were left in quite a fix. You might have missed a clear-out deadline that could have scotched a closing or caused you to pay an additional month’s rent if you were renting that house.

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucan,

    My dad was not a professional photographer but he took magnificent Ektachrome photos with his Rolaflex. He would go to Europe for a few weeks and return with some dozen photos while friends would shoot rolls and rolls of film on their vacations, most useless. Of his 12, you could probably frame eight had you made them into prints. I had to toss them. Heartbreaking.

    I was 10 the first time I went to France. I noticed that other children wore pretty much the same skirt or slacks every day and only a couple of blouses. Women wore one very good suit and a few blouses. Our fashions in the States were supposed to last a season and then out! I tend towards classic clothes and I wear many for years and continue to love them. Maybe it’s because I’m half French! The American side of me also LOVES something new.

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Francine,

    According to Google, for BBBS, you organize a pickup through DonationTown.org. I don’t currently have things to give away so that I didn’t contact them and can’t say how long a person must wait for a pickup.The month that Fred had to wait was a project killer for a NYC studio apartment dweller.

  15. Ramona Flood Said:

    Ramona wrote on Facebook: The owner of the property wanted to bill me for the cost of clearing out the remaining goods. By that time I was already in Brooklyn. But he was a very nice guy and knew my situation, so he backed off. To my relief.

  16. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Ramona,

    That’s what I was afraid of. Irresponsible on the part of the Salvation Army. Not all landlords are that nice and a closing could incur costly delays or ridculous compensation to the new owner. Argh.

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