The Sacredness of Used Clothing

Like many nonprofits, Peace House Community relies on donations of both money and items to offer services to its community. Sometimes the items we receive are essential to our work, but often we receive donations that cause more problems than they solve. I used to work at a housing agency that had to deal with six burial plots. For decades, the plots showed up on the company’s balance sheet, never being used and having nothing to do with the agency’s work. I’m sure the donor had good intentions, and they probably received a nice thank-you letter, but honestly, it would have been better if they had thought about their donation a little more before filling out all the forms.

When nonprofits receive those donations, we often roll our eyes. We know someone just created a bunch of work for us. Dealing with the donation will take more time and energy than the gift provides. It happens all the time, from donations of dirty socks to half used bottles of shampoo to lutefisk. (Okay, no one’s ever actually donated lutefisk, for which I’m thankful.)

I know I sound cynical about these gifts, but recently another nonprofit director made some comments about the clothing donations she receives that helped soften my attitude. Among other services, her organization provides a clothing closet for the homeless they serve. Many of the agency’s supporters are older, and the clothes tend to donate have an old fashioned, out of date look that ensures none of her clients will take them. However, rather than seeing the clothes as a burden, she tries to take a few minutes to ask the donors about where the clothes came from. Often, she finds that they belonged to a deceased spouse or sibling, and the donor has finally healed enough from the death to start letting go of these mementoes. The director believes it is an honor to be entrusted with such items as a favorite sweater. She knows the items hold a special significance for the donor, and that they believe the director and her organization will make sure such a valuable donation will be treated with the respect it deserves.

While I still get frustrated weeding through the dirty socks to find the clean ones that I’m willing to offer Peace House Community’s members, I am more patient now with the donors. I realize I don’t know what motivated them to give, other than a simple desire to help others. That in itself should be enough to tame my sometime peevish attitude, but realizing that there may be so much more to the story, I am working on being truly thankful for anything that others are willing to share in order to make life better for people they may never meet.

by Marti Maltby, Director Peace House Community – A Place to Belong

This article originally appeared in “The Alley,” the newspaper for the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.