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The fallacy of clothing donations


We’ve all read the stories. Disaster relief agencies tell you they don’t need clothing donations. They politely thank well meaning donors, and ask them politely not to donate any more clothing, telling them they don’t need it and already have too much.

While that is true, it is not the full story. It is a story spread by well meaning volunteers and organizations, usually during times of extreme stress and urgent need.

In order to understand why they say that, and the rest of the story, let me tell you some of what happens during a disaster.

When disaster strikes organizations leap into action. If there is notice given they are often at the ready when the disaster strikes. Deploying volunteers and supplies, they get set up as quickly as possible, ensuring they can offer services as quickly as possible.

They begin receiving evacuees and spring into action. They set up shelters, provide hot meals, urgent medical care and provide other needed services. They are dealing with lots of emotions, people of all ages and socioeconomic status, and all levels of loss.

Their time is spent doing acute care, managing urgent needs and offering immediate services.

Frankly, they do not have the time to sort through and distribute clothing in these conditions. Many times the shelters are housing thousands of people.

Imagine the time it would take to sort through and distribute clothes for thousands of people! Now add to that the less than ideal conditions and you can see why it is an impossible task.

Accepting, sorting through and distributing clothes is an overwhelming task. It literally takes hundreds of man hours, warehouses of space, trucks for transportation, boxes, tape, labeling and more.

There is no way that first responders and immediate relief workers can spend their time sorting through excessive amounts of clothing.

They just can’t.

However, and this is a huge however,

That does not mean that the clothing donations are not needed!

It simply means they cannot process them.

And if they are inundated with them they will begin to do anything they can to clear the areas they need to work in. They will use the clothing any way they can to get it out of their way, and make use of it if possible.

So, what do you do if you want to donate clothes to those who need them most?

You need to find an organization who is set up to sort and pack the clothes, and who is prepared to deliver and distribute them at a later date.

Once the immediate need passes, and the shock has worn off, people will begin trying to return to their normal lives. That may mean going back to work, recovering and rebuilding, meeting with insurance companies and contractors, or any number of things.

They want to feel normal. Or at least they want to try.

And they need clothes to do that. The little wardrobe they got in the shelters may not be sufficient. There may be no work clothes, maybe things don’t fit, they may have just been able to get sweats.

You just don’t know.

What you do know, and can feel secure in knowing, is that they will need the clothes.

They will need clothes to wear once the initial shock has worn off. After the rescue workers have cleared out and nothing is left but the memories and debris, they will need clothes to get back to life.

So I encourage you, the next time you hear that clothing donations are not needed, realize that that simply means they are not needed now.

It does not mean they won’t be needed soon.

It means to make sure you are donating to organizations that are set up to sort through and distribute the clothes. Find an organization that has the infrastructure, and the experience, to make sure the donations you give make it to the families, the people, who need them.

I promise you, the need is there. You simply have to look for the right channel to get it where it needs to go.


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