My current role, assisting with clothing donations at a local homeless charity, is a busy one. From my recent experiences having interviews, meeting friends and simple small-talk, there is a bit of a disconnect in society between the idea of donating and the actual processes.To set the scene: We work in a small room, there are donations on the left, goods in the centre, and what we can’t use on the right. We grab from the left, determine its usefulness, either put it on the shelves for our users or bag them for the outgoing pile. This is the bare minimum of the role. Other roles include distributing clothing, organisation, delegation and simply chatting to our users. It is a very rewarding role.
There is an assumption that all food, clothing, toiletries etc. has a direct link to the homeless. This, isn’t the case. There’s always the middle man; me! We are inundated with donations on a daily basis. Trust me, you’d be surprised how much we can receive in an hour sometimes. The sincerity of our donors is something we very much appreciate. A typical rota is two people for six hours. It can be surprising sometimes how much we sift through but there’s only so much a small group of young and old people can manage within a few hours.
So what do we receive on a typical basis? Mainly we get bedding, tshirts, jeans, joggers, shoes, gloves, hats and scarves. Every now and again you’ll get the cheeky broken toaster stuffed to the bottom of donation bag, but a large portion of harder goods, such as crockery, books, toiletries and food are distributed within the centre or to our subsidiaries. Unfortunately, and such is the nature of surplus donations, some does not have a direct link to the service user. These include dvd’s, toys, artwork and high end clothing, such as dresses and suits.
However, we receive a tidy profit for a lot of the clothing that we have no room for or aren’t suitable. The cash given can be pumped back into our centre, and is an essential lifeline for maintaining our kitchens and bathrooms. We need to keep our patrons fed and clean folks! We also have our own shop which we take a large degree of the classic ‘vintage’ style clothing that comes our way. It’s essential for our volunteers to be on the cutting edge of fashion trends! (Help.) Very little is deemed bin-worthy, thankfully. But it can be surprising to a new volunteer at the sheer volume of clothing that is not suitable for our users. The old phrase ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ is very much to the antithesis of what we do. Our service users like new, trendy and suitable clothing. These men (predominantly our main user base) gain a large amount of their dignity through their clothing. So, when we receive torn ten year old jackets, whilst appreciative, if you wouldn’t wear it, neither will our users.
So what do our service users typically look for in their clothing needs?
Typically we’re after:
Hooded coats: Thick jackets, preferably with some sort of waterproofing.
Jumpers, tshirts: Range is typically small to large, with plain tshirts, possibly with a brand logo being popular.
Joggers/jeans: Size 32’s very sought after, as well as medium joggers/trackies. Again, Adidas very popular!
Socks, hat, gloves: Anything goes, but we’re a fan of adjustable mitts.
Shoes: Trainers size 7-10 are the most sought after. The brand matters! But walking shoes are also very popular.
So if you want to donate, call up your local charity. Simply, to avoid waste, ask them what they need. Don’t worry if they don’t need your clothing. If you call, and ask, you’ll know what they need, and they might not need as much as you think, or sometimes, they’ll want everything you can give!
I cannot reiterate enough how grateful we are for our donations. So to help us help them, try and keep the aforementioned in mind when bringing in clothing. But whatever you do bring, understand that it makes a difference in our userbase’s lives.