How can I find a place to donate things to that won't resell them?
February 12, 2012 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Where can I donate used clothing, books, etc, where they will actually be used and NOT resold? It is really morally important to me that it be actually used, not sold, where the money is then used in ways I can't control. I work in the nonprofit industry, and know only too well how general donations of money get used. But most people asking for clothing donations for poor or abused people, are only asking for them so they can resell them, not so that actual poor, homeless, or abused people will wear them or read them. Where can I find a place that will take all my donations and ensure that they are used or given to real people?
posted by corb to Grab Bag (38 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Prison library, for books.
posted by Slinga at 11:20 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Where are you located?

I agree, there is a huge scam market in obtaining donations ostensibly for the disadvantaged and reselling those donations. However, having been on the receiving end of the handout when I was down on my luck, I can attest there are a large number of people and organizations that do exactly what they promise and deliver the goods...literally. The trick is finding them in your area and ferreting out the scammers.

So don't give up hope that you can help out! Start local and small and check them out first.
posted by lampshade at 11:21 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have some children's clothing, donating them to a local elementary school is an option. They always need to have clothes on hand for children who need them -whether for everyday use or for a one-time use when they've wet their pants or ripped a shirt, whatever.
posted by Sassyfras at 11:23 AM on February 12, 2012

Goodwill will sell the clothing, but they will sell those clothing within your community to people who need them. Unlike for-profit thrift stores, all of the profit goes to help the community, while the stores are themselves a form of charity.

Also, poor and abused people may need money more than they need your old clothes.
posted by jb at 11:23 AM on February 12, 2012 [19 favorites]

Depending on what you are donating, shelters usually use the stuff they take.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:24 AM on February 12, 2012

Best answer: I've asked the local places what they do with the stuff (clothes, blankets, et cetera) and the ones that told me they hand it out directly are the ones that get our donations. This means that the local homeless shelters, women's shelters and transition houses get our used clothing, the local provincial prison gets my softcover books, and the downtown haemodialysis unit gets my hardcover books.

Sally Ann and Value Village no longer get my stuff, for various reasons.
posted by Sternmeyer at 11:26 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Located in New York, donations primarily women's clothing, children's clothing, books, and slightly-out-of date but still perfectly functional electronics equipment (such as cellphones)

In terms of money: yes, many people may need money more, but once items are converted to money, it is unlikely to be directly given to people who need it: my experience in the nonprofit sector says that it's more likely to pay, say, the executive director's salary, or go to new computers for the staff.

For those suggesting local places: could you suggest how you find these places? I've been looking, and everyone I've called or checked the website of has admitted reselling.
posted by corb at 11:27 AM on February 12, 2012

You could try calling the shelter or other relevant organization you'd like to support and ask what you can do to support them... They may actually prefer the money.

Slinga: "Prison library, for books."

Book 'em is a Pittsburgh-based "organization that sends free educational books and quality reading material to prisoners and prison libraries in Pennsylvania and across the country."
posted by FlyingMonkey at 11:28 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For women's clothing (especially business clothing in good condition), try Dress for Success.
posted by judith at 11:32 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: In New York City -- Donated goods to the Bowery Mission go directly to people in need
posted by Bunsen Betty at 11:34 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

For those suggesting local places: could you suggest how you find these places?

Well, NY is a big place, but you could start with a place you may not associate with the types of donations you want to make. For example, the folks that run a food bank should be pretty well versed in if not the actual entities, at least a direction to look in. This would hold true for just about any charitable group. They may not accept what you are offering, but could very well know who does in your area and have insight as to how they distribute those items as well.
posted by lampshade at 11:36 AM on February 12, 2012

Best answer: Came in to suggest Dress for Success or another similar program in your area for the work-appropriate gear. Not only do they dress women for interviews, they also sometimes give them a few outfits so they can start working.
posted by cabingirl at 11:37 AM on February 12, 2012

Best answer: Domestic abuse shelters take outdated cell phones and give them to people in bad living situations so they can call the police if they need to. And I've always heard that Veterans Hospitals are thrilled to get book donations.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:06 PM on February 12, 2012

Find a good Samaritan, rather than an organization. There are plenty of poor people, or nearly poor people who manage to deliver the goods for others in need.

Teachers often know someone in need, ministers, social workers, home health aides...start asking your friends if they know anyone like this.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:06 PM on February 12, 2012

Best answer: AnySoldier is a registry for deployed US military members to request mail for their units. Many, many of these guys are looking for used books to read. Many also could use used electronics. (Clothes not so much.)
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 12:13 PM on February 12, 2012

Local food banks generally don't deal with non-food items, but they often have adjuncts and/or know of organizations and/or individuals who do more informal collecting and giving away. I have made connections with a local organization that runs supportive living homes and they often have use for things and clothing. Depending on the items, we have Coats for Kids (probably trademarked) and fans for hot weather, heaters for cold weather give-aways where I'm sure things don't get sold.

Unfortunately, it is not too hard to find people in need. If you don't have the connections, get in touch with the food banks and/or churches/synagogues/mosques which run free meal and/or food bank programs.
posted by uncaken at 12:19 PM on February 12, 2012

Best answer: In NY, for clothes and items that can help the homeless like toiletries. contact I know folks who have gone on these "runs" and they hand items directly to those in need.
posted by AugustWest at 12:20 PM on February 12, 2012

Best answer: My church runs a mission that, among other things, solicits donations of clothing to give to poor people & those experiencing homelessness. Perhaps, if you're of the religious inclination, there is a church/synagogue/mosque/etc. in your area that has a similar program.
posted by AMSBoethius at 12:23 PM on February 12, 2012

Best answer: Craigslist free section. I've had people offer to come to my house to pick up canned soup and kitchen appliances, and they're grateful to get them.

The bottom line is that any nonprofit is likely to either sell, throw away, or re-donate a certain portion of what they get, because they can't use it. You may be giving them only totally useful stuff (some people will give useless junk, and it needs to be thrown away), but if they can't use it right now, they have to store it and inventory it and keep track of it, and that's work for them. Moreover, selling used items is one of the key ways that nonprofits can keep their doors open. The people who run your local homeless shelter or food bank need to be paid a salary, and the utility bills need to be paid, and staff do need computers in order to be able to do any of the great work they do. It may not be as fuzzy-feeling as wrapping warm blankets around a shivering person, but giving money, or allowing money to be made off of your stuff, is the key thing that enables these organizations to continue to exist.

Bottom line: I think you should rethink your anti-reseller stance. Pick charities you trust to be good stewards of their resources, and then trust them to use your donations for the best possible good of the organization's clients. But if you absolutely don't want to do that, I think you need to give up on the idea of having someone else sort through your donations and distribute them to others for you. If you don't want to pay (directly or indirectly) for an organization to maintain the infrastructure to do that, I think you need to give directly to individuals you vet yourself.
posted by decathecting at 12:24 PM on February 12, 2012 [17 favorites]

my experience in the nonprofit sector says that it's more likely to pay, say, the executive director's salary, or go to new computers for the staff.

Someone needs to pay those even for these other nonprofits where your clothes go directly onto people's backs. It just comes from annual appeal, collection box and other sources rather than from managing the materials. Distributing resources has to be paid for by somebody somehow because it's not free to do - to me, it doesn't matter exactly what happens to the donations because the end result is basically the same. Some goods and some cash are needed to run any kind of operation of this kind.

If you want to know your stuff is going directly to someone who can use it, just put it on Freecycle. You won't get a tax deduction for it, but it's pretty much guaranteed to go to someone who will use and appreciate it by virtue of the fact that they offered to take it from you. Or, another thought, you could organize a clothing swap.

If you do want a deduction, somebody in that organization has to be doing some accounting and filing IRS records and they might need a computer and/or a salary for that.
posted by Miko at 12:25 PM on February 12, 2012 [9 favorites]

Oh, also think about the value generated toward the charitable purpose. I love to haunt resellers and thrift shops and it bums me out sometimes that some places are great at skimming off some of the high-end or vintage stuff and collectibles for eBay or another reseller. However, in a place like Goodwill, this makes sense. Goodwill prices their items according to clothing type - like, a shirt is $4, a skirt is $3, etc., no matter the quality. This means that if your shirts end up being sold in a place like that, any four shirts will always retail for $16.

But if there is a way to resell clothing that maximizes its value by putting in front of an audience that will pay a larger premium for it and thus generates more cash for the ultimate charitable purpose, than by all means there's a strong moral argument that it should be done. Perhaps one of your shirts could retail for $18, one for $12, one for $8, one for $4. The $16 donation you might have originally made has now transformed into $42 of retail value - even if a middle reseller such as an eBayer takes 10% of that, it's still 37.80, or $21.80 more than the original value of your donation at the non-resold rate.

Assuming the place resells clothing in order to, say, raise money for a shelter, animal care, cancer fund, etc (that's an example of a few thrift stores around me), then by allowing them to resell you're helping the charity a lot more than you would by just giving them clothes and insisting they be sold to buyers at the lowest basic rates.

Someone above mentioned stuff the charity can't use, too. One thing Goodwill distinctly cannot use is a lot of t-shirts. T-shirts are common as dirt and there are way too many of them out there, many more than anyone will ever, every buy. And they aren't that valuable or even that necessary. So quite often, t-shirts are bundled and resold, often to remanufacture into rags for industrial use or other fiber-based things. Considering that if they didn't bundle and sell them that way (generating at least a little income from them), they'd have to dumpster them (which actually costs money), it seems like a smart recycling approach.

So yeah, rethink your objections and try to determine what it really is you're looking to get out of this - to help people in whatever ways they need help, to see people wearing your actual garments (in which case distributing them freely is best), or whatever it may be. And then get some facts about whatever approach you choose and how to make sure it's really helpful. I think you may have some ideas about when and why charities set up reselling arrangements that don't hold up to reality, and may or may not be the most effective way of helping.
posted by Miko at 12:47 PM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

The Salvation Army is trustworthy, imho. They will give appropriate clothing away directly to those in need, and they may sell clothing types and more that they can't give to persons in need, but you can be sure that all money obtained by those sales will be used appropriately in their mission. Their stores provide some paid employment to people in need.

As far as I know.
posted by caclwmr4 at 2:19 PM on February 12, 2012

decathecting: "Pick charities you trust to be good stewards of their resources, and then trust them to use your donations for the best possible good of the organization's clients."

This is an excellent point. A local food bank that we deal with through Girl Scouts reminds us that, although food donations are always welcome, they can usually do more with actual money. They have connections where they can get larger volumes of foodstuffs for cheaper prices than regular consumers can. So donating a case of beans that you paid full price for in a retail grocery store is great, but donating the equivalent in cash is even better, because they can stretch that money better than you can.

I look at donating like this: I don't have time to locate every needy person in town and find out what their specific needs are. So I don't mind "paying" someone else to do that for me, as long as I am fairly confident that they are doing their best to use that "payment" wisely. This is why I donate to Goodwill, because I am ok with their staff using my donations to fund new computers, because it means they will have an easier time keeping track of their clients and running their stores.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:02 PM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If you have any blankets or towels to donate, give them to your favorite local animal shelter. I promise you they will use them directly with the animals, who will also be very much appreciative (in their own way!)
posted by cgg at 3:04 PM on February 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: cgg: "If you have any blankets or towels to donate, give them to your favorite local animal shelter."

And newspaper, toys, collars, printer paper, office supplies, bleach, detergent, cleaning rags, leashes, paper towels, etc., too!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:07 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Our local soup kitchen takes clothes and blankets to give out to their clients, as well as having a variety of services for those who come there for lunch. Shelters are good too, both those for the homeless and for battered women. "Dress for Success" if you have nice work clothes. Our county library takes books in decent shape and puts them out on a free rack in the lobby. I think what you want is a local charity that you can visit and see what is done with the things you are giving away.
posted by mermayd at 6:24 PM on February 12, 2012

Best answer: Here's a couple I know of...

Ali Forney Center

Ali Forney is probably closer to you but

Friends of Pine Ridge

might need it more.

I second donating to homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters, particularly for things like cell phones, kids books, and unopened toiletries.
posted by spunweb at 7:42 PM on February 12, 2012

Best answer: A couple of suggestions that have not made the list:

1) any facility where has medium or long term programs for mental health patients. (hospitals, residential programs, etc.) People will get brought in in bad shape, and wearing hospital scrubs is demoralizing.

2) law school clinics or public defender's offices (the former much more than the latter) sometimes want clothes for client's court appearances.

3) Organizations that assist refugees or other immigrants, including those who are getting released on bond from detention.

But as someone who has worked at a few different types of nonprofits, including one serving the homeless, as well as serving on a board for an ngo, unless you have some primo stuff, I would just give it to freecycle or craigslist. First, preparing donations for use often involves labor which is scarce, and organizations get burned by having to sort through people's dirty clothes after awhile, or at least one I worked for did. Also, in my experience, someone who sees my freecycle listing and comes to get my unwanted thing often appreciates it much more than a homeless person who is put in the position of having to take this thing for charity, and no one gave the organization money to buy new socks and undershirts, which are much needed. (and as noted above, the org is going to have connections you will not-not having to pay taxes for starters)
posted by t_rex_raaar at 9:04 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had no response when I wrote to New York State prisons about donating books. If you're willing to ship to Baltimore, The Book Thing of Baltimore will happily redistribute. They do not get sold. They go straight into the hands of people who want them.

If you've got new children's books, Room To Read will send them to developing countries.

You can also see if Planet Aid is a good venue for your clothes donations.
posted by knile at 4:08 AM on February 13, 2012

Best answer: I worked for years at a shelter for victims of domestic violence, and we took all the things you named and more. Often, our residents would arrive with the clothes on their backs, and would eventually move into an apartment of their own; we took donations of clothes, obviously, but also pretty much anything you'd need to outfit an apartment short of the actual furniture (and that was due to a lack of storage as much as anything else). Books helped residents pass the time. Many residents had kids, so children's clothing was great. Electronics like radios and televisions were either used in-house or given when residents left for their own places. Cell phones, however, typically had to go through a licensed program like Hope Phones to wipe all data and make it usable only for emergency calls. Take the phones to any Verizon store and tell them you want to donate it to their version of the Hope Phones program.

The few things we never had enough of: new, unused underwear in the original packaging (we did not distribute used underwear, and I sincerely hope anyone who reads this never tries to donate same, because actual human beings have touch that shit and we don't know where it's been); new, unused socks; men's-sized clothing for residents with teenage sons.
posted by SeedStitch at 6:08 AM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

In terms of money: yes, many people may need money more, but once items are converted to money, it is unlikely to be directly given to people who need it: my experience in the nonprofit sector says that it's more likely to pay, say, the executive director's salary, or go to new computers for the staff.

Well, the clothing isn't just converted to money. It is sold to someone who has a need for used clothing. When I go to the local Salvation Army store, the customers and employees sure seem to be in need of those inexpensive clothing and those jobs.
posted by gjc at 7:13 AM on February 13, 2012

Planet Aid bundles clothes and sells them to resellers abroad - they don't give clothes away.
posted by Miko at 7:38 AM on February 13, 2012

You can also see if Planet Aid is a good venue for your clothes donations.

Planet Aid is not a good place to donate clothes because reselling of bulk donated clothes has swamped many local markets overseas, killing textile industries amongst the communities they are supposedly helping. (And that's aside from all of their other issues.)

And some shelters and soup kitchens will even take opened toiletries, so if you've got some ask and see if they will take them before you toss them.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:34 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your stuff has to be sorted and stored, and it may not be what a given organization needs. The Director needs to be paid, staff need to be supervised, running a charitable organization is not cheap. Somebody has to do all the paperwork that certifies it as charitable, raise funds, match the needs with the stuff needed. I like Goodwill, they do an fine job of using their funds responsibly, they work with mentally retarded people, which is not easy, and they use the store as a way to get used goods to people who want used goods. Maybe you want a needy person to have your clothes, but maybe the needy person wants different clothes. In my town, a person who needs clothing because they are in dire straits gets a voucher to Salv. Army or GW, and they get to choose. I think of Goodwill as a mix of charity and efficient recycling. They take my unwanted stuff, find it a new home, and make some money to do some worthwhile work. I shop at Goodwill because I like being out of the marketing loop, there are some great clothes and stuff, and if I change my mind, I just donate it back.
posted by theora55 at 4:16 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

(general message to the world)

please, please do not give clothing to Planet Aid or any other organization that sends clothing overseas to developing countries. They are sold there for a profit, swamping the local clothing markets and wreck the textile industries, causing more unemployment and increasing poverty. Planet Aid should be called Planet Raid - it's anti-charity.
posted by jb at 4:45 AM on February 14, 2012

Response by poster: I really appreciate the good answers here, particularly in terms of books and electronics. The Bookthing was perfect, since it takes /everything/. Unfortunately, the clothing issue is still unresolved. I have taken to storing things in boxes for if I ever do figure this out, and will leave this open in case anyone comes up with a good answer down the line. If you're reading this, and have some ideas, even if it's old, please feel free to chime in!

The unresolved bit I'm currently looking for is what to do with casual, non-business attire clothing that for whatever reason I no longer wish to wear. Also shoes! Again, someplace that does not resell the clothing, but that takes everything and doesn't throw it away, would be perfect.
posted by corb at 7:52 AM on March 15, 2012

I guess I think that any donating of the clothing would be better than letting them sit. They lose value as they sit packed up, because they'll grow dated (and you'd have to hang on to them for 15-20 years before you get to call them 'vintage.') You were concerned about your donation "really helping" and as they sit box up they're not helping anybody.

Finally, you might try just donating to a local small-time thrift shop that raises money for charity. We have lots of those and they do resell clothes and shoes.
posted by Miko at 8:39 AM on March 15, 2012

FYI, the Bookthing does resell about 1% of their inventory to cover their operating costs. Because, as many people have pointed out, there is no way to operate a program that stores, sorts, and distributes goods of any kind unless you have money for rent and other overhead.
posted by decathecting at 8:49 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

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