Did you ever wonder what happens to the stuff you donate to charity after it leave your hands?
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of helping at the Cradles To Crayons warehouse where they collect and process donations of toys, clothing and other items for needy kids. It was loads of fun, but it was also an amazing learning experience that significantly changes the way I'll handle my own donations in the future.
It's just as easy to disappoint a needy child as it is to disappoint a privileged one.
How many times have you looked through the items on a store shelf to get the one that's not in a torn box? Kids in need have enough trouble without having someone make them feel like they're not worthy of shiny, new things.
If a friend were to give you that item you're about to drop in the donations box for a birthday present, would you be immediately thrilled when you open it? Or is it more along the lines of something you might buy in a discount store because you're getting a good deal?
All charities are not the same.
I worked the toy table where we had to inspect, clean and sort mountains of toys, games and puzzles. I had a puzzle that was in a clean box and had all its pieces, but one corner of the box had been sloppily repaired. When I asked the supervisor if I should clean up the repair job, I was a little surprised when she said "no, toss that one in the Salvation Army bin". Then she explained. Salvation Army sells what you donate in their stores. Their customers have a choice as to whether they want to pay for an item that has a scuff-mark or torn packaging. The kids who benefit from other charities don't have that same choice. They get what's been chosen for them, so Cradles To Crayons has higher quality standards and things pretty much have to be in new or like-new condition.
When you donate, take a little time to visit the organization's web site to learn about what they do. If you still have doubts, pick up the phone and call them. Most of them survive on volunteers who spend hours inspecting items for quality and completeness, and they'll be happy to explain their donation policies and tell you what they're looking for if you simply ask.
Before you donate your stuff, donate your time.
Do you know how long it takes to count 500 puzzle pieces? Or 1000? Or 1500? Now multiply that by 100's because puzzles are a popular donation item and volunteers have to count each and every piece.
Next time you put a puzzle away, break it down into sections just small enough to fit in the box. When it eventually finds its way to a donations box, all the volunteer needs to do is re-assemble the large sections to determine whether all the pieces are present.
Organize toys and games in their boxes with instructions on top. If you know instructions and pieces are missing or broken, consider dumping it at a yard sale instead.
Secure bags and boxes so everything stays together until they're ready to be processed. When donating items that go together, package them so they stay together -- preferably in a clear plastic bag so volunteers can see what's in them.
In just a couple short hours, our little team of eight did enough sorting and cleaning to put smiles on the faces of 142 kids that deserve better than what they have now. In the state of Massachusetts alone, there are 305,000 kids who need help and with the assistance of volunteers, Cradles to Crayons is only able to reach about 65,000 of them.