As you probably already know, I hosted a successful free sale about a month ago. (For more details and DIY suggestions, check out my earlier write-up). Over thirty “shopped” and about half of the attendees also brought items for sharing. While this was a wonderful surprise, it also meant that at the end of the day, we had much, much more than what we’d started with. Oh, what to do?
The natural response was to take everything to a local thrift store (or two, to spread the love). But as I sorted through the items to be donated, I noticed that many of them could–should–be put to use immediately. Like the 20 or so jackets that didn’t get taken, or the half-dozen good-quality men’s sweaters. I didn’t feel comfortable taking these kinds of items to the thrift stores where employees & volunteers readily share the fact that it often takes months for clothes to get on the racks. (I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen the gigantic intake rooms of the local Goodwill and Salvation Army–not pretty.) What good does it do to donate high-demand, seasonal warm clothes in January if they may not make it out til June?
Also: the focus was on free. Goodwill & Salvation Army are certainly cheap–but they’re not free. I hosted a free “sale” to move myself & others towards an anti-consumer vision of simple abundance & sharing. How to continue in that spirit?
I decided to contact local community centers & direct aid organizations. I first called GENESIS of the YWCA, our overburdened & perennially underfunded domestic violence, sexual assault, & homeless agency serving women in Wayne & four other area counties. I was sadly informed that they could not accept further material donations because they’ve dwindled down to one volunteer who, alone, is slowly chipping away at the mountain of donations from times past. In short, the receptionist explained, GENESIS is not able to reach women in need with some of these items because they simply don’t have the people-power to organize & distribute what is already there. Because this need made my own desire to donate impossible, I placed an announcement soliciting volunteers in our church bulletin & received a great response. (If you’re in the 47374-area and want to volunteer, just let me know–I’m coordinating volunteer orientation in early March. And if you can’t donate you’re time, they’re still accepting donations of money, food, and cleaning products. More info here.)
Rebuffed by GENESIS, I next tried AMIGOS, Richmond’s Latino/a Center. I explained my situation; amazingly, the person who answered had tried a kind of free sale of her own at AMIGOS just a month prior! She breezily recounted how she had to strongly encourage the suspicious young moms & other community members to take advantage of the items that had been laid out for free. “Our friends are not used to getting things for free. Here, they work hard for what little they have and don’t expect anything else. They have a hard time accepting these valuable items as no-strings-attached gifts.” She also provided some insight into the cultural differences of the US and Mexico (where she lived for a while & where many of AMIGOS’ clients call home): in the US, she explained, you can be wealthy, your brother dirt-poor, & nobody questions your character. The poor brother is blamed for his personal moral/etc failings. In Mexico, that isn’t okay. If your sister or brother is hungry or homeless, you do whatever you can to help.” After a great in-person conversation we set a date for the big AMIGOS free sale!
I admit, the desire to reach out in this particular way didn’t just pop into my mind–my mom inspired it. For most of my childhood she worked in the grounds (landscaping) department of an elite private Atlanta country club (golf course); she was the only Bobcat-driving woman in that hardscrabble department & most of her colleagues were undocumented immigrants, many doing unskilled manual labor. Every year or so she’d round up our family’s ill-fitting clothes & take them to Atlanta for distribution among the friends with whom she regularly shared lunch, cracked jokes, & picked up new delightfully dirty words. It was a profoundly meaningful act of giving, even at a young age.
I support donating to thrift stores; after all, that’s where I get the majority of my clothes and household items! But I don’t think any of us ought to underestimate the impact of giving directly in our communities. We can seek out opportunities to improve the quality of life for others by giving our time & material resources to organizations doing local good. Next time you have a pile of clothes, useful household items, or the like, check locally for women’s shelters/centers, substance-abuse recovery homes, tutoring programs–whichever you think might be in a good position to receive whatever you have to give.
I learned that people are ready to respond with generous hearts–they just might need the opportunity! In the days leading up to the AMIGOS event I solicited donations at church & encouraged my friends to ask their friends for donations. In addition to offering some of her own daughter’s former items, one friend connected me with a mom who literally filled our car with boxes and bags of toys, baby clothes, children’s books, and similar in-demand items. jackpot, I thought, as I made a housecall to pick up the abundance. Other friends donated a dresser that was quickly scooped up by a local family at the event.
The most memorable moment of the event was, for me, when I noticed a young boy, about seven, flipping through some of the donated books. He’d taken a fancy to a few but wasn’t quite sold on James and the Giant Peach, one of my childhood favorites, til I started excitedly telling him the story of the little boy with the horrible aunts who climbs up into a magic giant peach, meets some crazy new friends, and travels all the way to New York City! He hung on to my every word, eyes widening, mouth slowly gaping, til finally I finished & he asked softly–“Do you mind if I take that one home?”
Open yourself to such moments! Host, or facilitate, a free sale today! Some inspirational photos from the event: