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If you’re going to donate your winter clothing, it seems silly to donate it to a place that’s just going to resell it. (Photo: viviandnguyen_/Flickr)

Where to donate your unwanted stuff so it actually goes to those who need it

It may be tempting when you declutter to just drop off all your items at Value Village, but sticking with local organizations is a better option.

By Glynis Ratcliffe

Everyone’s been there: you go on a decluttering rampage one weekend and suddenly find your trunk filled with two bags of clothes, a box of books, a few kids’ toys, a couple of kitchen items, and who knows what else. You drive around for weeks with that mountain of stuff in your trunk, knowing you shouldn’t toss them in the garbage, but wondering where the best place to donate them would be. Okay, you drive around like this for months, actually.

Or perhaps you skipped those steps altogether and just threw your stuff directly in the garbage out of frustration. Neither of these scenarios is ideal.

Now, you could just head to the nearest Value Village or similar store to drop off your items and be done with them, or call Diabetes Canada for a pick-up; no one could really complain because at least you’re not tossing them into a landfill. But in these cases, everything ends up being overpriced at a store that only donates part of the proceeds to a charity.

In fact, so many people donate to these same organizations that they sell the overflow to textile recycling companies, who then send these items overseas to be sold in developing countries. This sounds great on paper, but the long-term effects are questionable at best.

The answer? Go local.

There are countless community groups and pages on Facebook that are devoted to helping settle refugees when they come to Canada. Your local church may sponsor families on a rolling basis, so consider asking if there are any specific items needed. And your city or town may have programs in place to support reusing items through donation — check your municipal website.

Local women’s shelters are another place to inquire about what might be needed. Often women escape dangerous family situations with only their children and the clothes on their backs. These shelters sometimes make wish lists available for the most pressing needs.

Here are some organizations that are worthy of your donated stuff.  

Donating your used books to the library doesn't help people in need. Try donating them to a local prison instead. (Photo: spykster/Flickr)

Used clothing

Whether you’ve transitioned out of an office job, or just have a closet full of business clothes that no longer fit, Dress For Success is an international organization that’s a good place to start. Local agencies refer women attempting to enter or reenter the workforce, and provide them with a complimentary wardrobe of professional attire.

If you’ve ever ruined a perfectly good piece of clothing because of an untreatable stain or tear, but have felt guilty about throwing it away, there’s now an answer. Victoria’s Quilts Canada will take any piece of 100-per-cent cotton fabric that’s a minimum of six inches square to help create soft quilts for cancer patients across Canada.

The Cinderella Project is heading into its 20th year of providing prom outfits (both dresses and suits) for high school seniors, along with shoes, accessories, and personal care items. If you have a formal outfit you know you’ll never fit back into, consider donating it to this worthwhile cause. While this particular project is B.C.-based, the website has a page on their website with links to similar projects across the country.

Winter clothing

If you’re going to donate your winter clothing, it seems silly to donate it to a place that’s just going to resell it. We’re talking about clothing that’s essential when it drops below freezing, so why not find an organization that will give it directly to people in need? The United Way often spearheads campaigns locally. Check with chapters in your region to find out how they’re connecting to those in need.

If you live in Toronto or the Greater Toronto area, an organization called New Circles is currently accepting donations of winter clothing for those who need to stay warm.

Books

While donating used books to libraries does benefit them, in that the money they raise by selling them in book sales goes directly to them, it doesn’t help people in need. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada accept gently used books for youth, and if you’re looking to offload market fiction or self-help books, you can find out how to donate them to a local prison by emailing BookDonation@csc-scc.gc.ca.

Furniture, household items

For big-ticket items, the Furniture Bank operates locations across the country where you can either drop off or pay a small fee for pickup of home furnishings you no longer want or need. These items are then distributed to people who have housing, but are unable to furnish their living space for whatever reason, be it natural disaster, transitioning from homelessness, or working poor.

Habitat for Humanity also operates ReStore, furniture and building supply stores that accept donated items and then resell them to the public, with all proceeds going to the organization's work. There are locations in every province and one in the Northwest Territories. 

Random household items, like sheets and towels, that are in good shape may be of use at your local Ronald McDonald House, where families of hospitalized children stay to be nearby.

Children’s toys and books

Every parent can relate to the strong desire to get rid of excess toys your children no longer play with, but most toy drives are for new toys only. Assuming the toys you want to get rid of are in good shape, check with local daycares and church childcare centres, which are often happy to add to their supply. Provincial or municipal community hubs often have family drop-in centres that may need toys and books for young children as well.

Stuffed animals, blankets, pillows

It’s rare for organizations to allow even the most gently-used stuffie to be donated for another child. It’s easy enough to understand why: who knows what kind of allergens (animal hair, dust mites) lurk inside? The one type of organization that will be thrilled with these exact donations is a local animal shelter, where items are used to make shelter animals more comfortable while they’re there.

All of these suggestions are ways to help people specifically in need which, let’s face it, is the most ideal reason to donate your stuff. However, if you’re just looking to keep your goods out of the landfill, there are plenty of community groups on websites like Facebook and Craigslist, where you can post your free items that people can then claim and pick up. Knowing where your unwanted items are ultimately going can also help you become a less wasteful consumer.


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