Thursday, 4 June 2009

When giving to charity is not really giving

I know we at Make it and Mend it have a bit of a tendency to rant about television presenters - but this time our rant is in support of one - Mary Portas. Mary, the retail wizard behind Harvey Nics and the scourge and salvation of small clothing retailers, has turned her attention to charity shops in her latest programme, 'Mary Queen of Charity Shops'.

All you vintage fashion lovers don't have to be sold on the merits of charity shops and many of us get a bit of a warm glow when we take a bagful of goodies round to our local store after a therapeutic declutter session.

However the first of Mary's programmes, broadcast this week, was a revelation. Behind the scenes in a typical store, the army of (usually elderly) helpers has to sort through indescribably horrendous crap to find anything worth selling. People drop off black bin bags with stuff that you would want on the end of a ten foot barge pole in order to confine to a bonfire. Used sanitary towels, nappies, dirty knickers, dead mice, filthy old damaged trainers, smelly socks are all in a day's work for the beleagured charity volunteer to sift through. The percentage of goods able to be put on display in a store (let alone actually sell) is miniscule - under 10% in some areas and the stores have to pay for rubbish to be cleared away. So, in many instances, people's gifts to charity actually end up costing the charity money.

If this behaviour is the norm, then "Charity" is a misnomer. Instead of making a donation, giving a gift, making an offering, all of which imply some sort of good intention or sacrifice, many people are usng charity shops as an alternative to putting out the rubbish. Clearly they are not seriously considering whether the items offered up are saleable - if they believe that the people who buy from charity shops have such low standards it is a very sad indictment of the human race.

My suspicion is that most people don't actually stop to think. Their assumption is that instead of consigning an item to the rubbish, it is worth sending it via the charity shop just in case someone might want it. They don't stop to think of the poor dears who have to empty the binbags (sometimes with rubber gloves and long 'grabbers') but bask in a general feeling of satisfaction, based on their decluttering efforts and an unfounded assumption that someone in the local area will be glad of the filthy detritus they have cast off. As Mary pointed out, the fact that the charities post plastic bags like binbags through the doors, conveys an impression that the items to be put inside are akin to rubbish.

If instead, (as Ms Portas unsuccessfully tried to convince the Orpington locals in episode one) people were to see making a donation to a charity shop as akin to donating money - giving something of instrinsic value that imples some sacrifice, things would be very different.

So all you well-intentioned people, please stop to think before you fill that bag up and dump it on your doorstep or the in the doorway of your local thrift store, and ask yourself if seriously you would expect another human being to see value in the contents. Go back to your wardrobe, have another root around and choose one or two things that you think there is a possibility you might still want to wear yourself (an outfit that looks good, was quite expensive but is just too tight now?) and instead of letting it languish (it will never fit you again and you know that really, don't you!) give it up and let someone else enjoy it. That is charitable giving

Oh and please make sure anything you give is CLEAN!!!!!

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