On donations and dignity

I figure if I rant about something more than twice in a week, it probably deserves a blog post, so here we are. Let’s talk about donating. In much of my work with nonprofits serving individuals experiencing poverty and homelessness, we rely pretty heavily on donated items to provide services for our clients. I am continually baffled at what some I’m sure well-meaning people think is okay to donate. Expired or almost expired food, half used toiletries, ratty or dirty old clothing, broken toys. It’s as if donating to charities or nonprofits is the morally acceptable alternative to just throwing out your garbage, a way for you to simultaneously clean out the back of your pantry or closet and pat yourself on the back.

When people must rely on donated clothing and food, it’s because they have nowhere else to go. It’s very difficult to break out of the cycle of poverty when you’re not sure where your next meal is coming from. In much of the rhetoric surrounding poverty and homelessness, this often gets twisted into people looking for free handouts, looking to get something for nothing. Perhaps this is part of why people think it’s okay to donate junk – they’ve accomplished their good deed for the day and haven’t enabled the mooching behavior they so fear. The myth of the “welfare queen” is so harmful and pervasive, and so unsubstantiated if you really get into the numbers of who relies on government or nonprofit assistance and why, but that’s a blog post (or possibly an entire paper) for another time. Continue reading