I'll admit it: I was wrong! Very wrong! Up until I connected with the Rescue Mission in Central New York, I pretty much thought giving directly to people was the best way to give out gently used clothing. Often people contact me and say: "We have clothing we'd like to donate, but we don't want it to be sold." I would then connect them to shelters, or actually pickup their donations and then drive around to distribute the clothing out of the back of my SUV. Part of the reason I did that is most every ministry and shelter I worked at, if anything of real value came in, staff and volunteers get "first dibs" on the good stuff.
My paradigm about clothing donations and thrift stores started to change when I first visited Rescue Mission Alliance of Syracuse. In fact, I was literally blown away by their 3fifteen store located near Syracuse University. In the past, I've seen some pretty amazing for-profit recycle and vintage clothing stores like the Buffalo Exchange, but the not-for-profit stories always seemed to be a little grungy. The 3fifteen store takes thrifty shopping to a whole new level. They partnered with Café Kubal to create a comfortable, modern and cool shopping/hangout experience. But that spirit of excellence can be seen in all of the Rescue Mission's Thrifty Shopper stores, even the store on their campus that gives clothing to homeless and low-income men, women and families.
So here's the deal. Right now money is tight. Less people are donating badly-needed funds, simply because so many people today are facing their own financial crisis. Added to that, government support to fight homelessness continues to be cut. This is happening all while need for support services keeps increasing! Government reports may be saying there is less homelessness, but everywhere I travel I see more people on the streets than ever before. Sadly, there is a large group of hidden homeless that most of us don't see, and our government refuses to count. Add all this up and we have a serious crisis that will continue to get worse - unless we find a way to fuel services that are getting people out of the shelter system and back into society or in permanent supportive housing!
Thrifty Shopper stores make up 60% of Rescue Mission's budget here in Central New York. That means the people who donated clothes and furniture last year helped house 324 of the 540 people the Mission placed into housing. They also helped provide 175,933 of the 293,223 meals given to those in need. That's AWESOME!
Ladies We Need You!
Let's be real. Guys wear their jeans until the literally fall apart. Cleaning out a closet is not on most men's radar. Because of this, jeans in normal men's sizes are a desperate need at most homeless services. We often get a lot of women's clothes, but there is always a huge need for men's clothing and items like belts. Ladies, please grab a large bag or a pillow sack and walk into your man's closet. Start packing up all the stuff you know he'll never wear again. You may hear him cry: "I'll be a size 36 again so I am saving them", but we all know that's never going to happen. Now ladies, you don't save clothes like that do you?!!
I am not sure where you live, but I am pretty sure there is a thrift store that supports homeless services near you. If you're in Central New York, I strongly recommend you give those unused items to Thrifty Shoppers. They take everything: recycling what can't be sold -- reducing our footprint in landfills -- so just give it all. If you're in another part of the country, do a little research and find an organization that is working hard to end homelessness and uses the thrift store model.
Rescue Mission has thrift store donations down to a science. In this short video I interview Christin Mixon, merchandise manager for Thrifty Shopper, about their operations and how donations play a huge role in saving lives.
If you were like me, or know someone who has the wrong idea about clothing donations, please share this post with them. Yes, there are some for-profit thrift stores that sell your donations just to make a buck, but if you take a moment to look, you'll find organizations that will accept your donations and give them to those in need, and sell the rest to help better your community. From now on, I'll be giving my clothes to a thrift store that helps fight homelessness. How about you?