Every once in a while I go into a closet cleaning frenzy that produces a few bags of stuff that’s outlived its use. I transport these bags to a local non-profit organization, The Clothing Room, which welcomes clothing donations throughout the year.
Eileen has been responsible for collecting and distributing lightly used donations to those in need for twenty years. I discovered it through a call for volunteers in a community newsletter.
For many years, she and a few dedicated volunteers managed the receipt of donations, including sorting, washing and allocating clothes to bins and racks.
As her team found it increasingly difficult to keep up with the number of donations pouring in from the community, Eileen hoped that more people would be willing to volunteer a few hours of their time to help out at The Clothing Room.
When I first visited his office in the basement of an old building, I wasn’t sure if working in what seemed like a maze of dimly lit rooms was for me.
Noticing my discomfort, Eileen, a woman in her sixties, smiled and said, “That’s what they gave me and I’m trying to make the most of it.” I hope this won’t put you off because I really need your help!
As I was a novice, she began my familiarization by showing me around the establishment. First, she took me to the admissions section where donations are received. Often, people drop off their donations at his door. These bags are then dragged individually to the sorting section which has an endless pile to sift through. It is a constant work in progress.
Then she pointed me to the baby section. It is located in a separate room to the side perhaps because it caters to a more sensitive population. There are gently used baby clothes, toys, rows of new baby diapers, baby formula and baby food.
The largest room is where donations are sorted by gender and purpose. The sorting area is divided into men, women, boys and girls. Shoes, socks and handbags go in labeled bins. Jackets go on shelves, as do blouses and shirts. There is a separate rack with office clothes especially for those who need them for attending interviews or starting a new job.
While the volunteers carry out their duties, Eileen tends to her clients. These are people who urgently need clothing items for themselves and their families. Eileen learned Spanish on her own as the majority of The Clothing Room’s customers speak little or no English.
There are a total of six ladies working under Eileen’s supervision on Wednesday, which is the day I choose to volunteer. At the beginning, a volunteer colleague advised me to wear gloves when sorting in case of unpleasant surprises.
And let me tell you, there have been a few villains like:
- Unwashed clothing, including filthy underwear
- Clothes smelling strongly of urine
- Ratty towels that have been used one too many times
- Once we received a giant teddy bear that had recently been vomited on
- stained clothes
Naturally, all of the above ended up in the trash as it should.
During my stay at The Clothing Room, I encountered various garments, some very chic, with the price tags intact. It made me wonder why people would spend a pretty penny on clothes they don’t intend to wear or wear once before they get tired of them. I guess it’s a choice like everything.
Additionally, I’ve noticed that personal items have a habit of popping up regularly in the back pockets of jeans, jackets, and purses. Occasionally, The Clothing Center sources traditional clothing from other countries which, although colorful, has very few takers. They invariably end up on the Halloween shelf.
Here are some helpful suggestions for those considering donating in the future:
- Please check with the facility you are considering donating to find out which items are accepted and which are not.
- Please wash your clothes before donating.
- Consider for a moment who you are making these donations for, so please throw out ratty towels, stained clothes/sheets/bedding, and clothes that are torn or missing buttons.
- Check the pockets of pants, jackets, and purses for personal items such as credit cards, cash, and other personal items before making a donation.
- Please ensure toys are cleaned of food and other residue.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in others—Mahatma Ghandi
I wish I could say that I’m as dedicated to serving others as Eileen. Initially, my motivation for volunteering my time was to help with depression.
I never expected to experience a sense of camaraderie and fulfillment being part of Eileen’s team. I am constantly amazed and inspired by the selfless service she renders day after day.
Originally posted on Medium.