River of clothes

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In the great river of used clothing that courses through America, our family plays the part of sieve.  Oh, I’m not going to moan and complain.  I really am grateful.  People could be throwing these clothes away, or selling them — but instead, they wash and fold them and save them for us.

I generally take anything that anyone offers, and — let me repeat — I really am really, really grateful.  I have no idea how much it costs to outfit eight children, because I almost never have to buy them anything.  It’s actually been a long time since anyone has dumped a boatload of junk on us without asking first, and most people are extremely tactful, almost apologetic, when offering me things. To any donor to the Fisher family who’s reading this:  I’m not talking about you!  If I said “thank you,” I meant it!

But everyone’s generosity does leave me with a few problems (problems which, I hasten to add, I am happy and grateful to have).  There are several categories of clothing in the bags we receive:

(1) Great stuff that we’re thrilled to wear. This is actually mostly what we get.  And again:  I AM GRATEFUL.

 

(2) Decent stuff that we already have plenty of, like navy blue shorts or pink sweatshirts.  I’m also grateful for these, just not in capital letters.

(3) Stuff that is objectively nice, but puzzling as a gift to our family.  My husband, for instance, is 6’4″, and my sons are ages 6 and 8.  So why the half-a-dozen pairs of obese midget grampa slacks?

(4) Crummy stuff. I assume that these items are in the “donate” bag rather than the trash because some sentimental mother couldn’t bear the idea of throwing away the last vestiges of her dear children’s tender years at home.  And so, blinded by affection and nostalgia, she didn’t realize that she’s giving us a large collection of stained, pilled, ripped, stretched-out, unwearable rags.

(5) Expensive clothing in excellent condition, suitable for lavishly outfitting one’s daughter for a lucrative career as a hooker.

So:

The great stuff, we keep, of course.

The crummy stuff and the hooker stuff, we throw away (or occasionally designate as costumes).

But what about everything else?  The stuff that’s perfectly good, but not needed?  It’s not so easy to dispose of it.  I can’t throw it away, when I know there are kids out on the street with nothing warm or decent to wear (no, not my kids.  My kids have plenty of clothes, remember?  They just dress like homeless people to make me look bad).  I used to store it indefinitely, but that’s just as wasteful as throwing it away.

You’d think I could donate it, but it turns out the local charity thrift stores are already up to their eyeballs in decent clothing, and have put out notices threatening police action against midnight dumpers.

I could consign it, but having watched my mother wash, iron, fold, transport, champion, and ultimately earn $1.32 for the vast quantities of used clothing she used to sell, I’m not even going to try.  It’s the same story on eBay — I was making fractions of a cent per hour of labor.

Then I noticed those yellow Planet Aid donation bins everywhere.  The perfect solution!  No questions asked, no hassle, just slow down the car, chuck it in the general direction of the bin, and drive away.

But the fine print on the bins reveals a partial list of their services.  Call me paranoid, but any organization that promotes “education,” “health,” and “HIV prevention” services to third world countries while “protecting the environment” is not going to get so much as a shrunken tee ball T-shirt from me.

Also, Planet Aid has recently been accused of being a profitable scam, an exploiter of the third world, even a cult.  So those handy bins are out.

There must be a patron saint for people drowning in used clothing.  I tell you, I’ve suffered so much over this issue, I’m practically a candidate myself.  Someone clearly interceded for me in my suffering, for lo, there appeared on the side of the road a bin.  It was nestled into the weeds next to the utility shed of a volunteer fire department in a tiny town we pass through on our way over the mountain to the dentist.

And it wasn’t Planet Aid or Mengele’s Happy Social Engineering Club or any other shady organization.  This bin belonged to the good old Salvation Army.  Our local Salvation Army sells clothes cheap, it gives them away if you apply for a voucher, it hires poor people, and it even has a free bread table.  It also works with ex-convicts, campaigns against pornography, and fights human trafficking.  No, they’re not Catholic, and no, I’m sure they’re not perfect.  But they are pretty good.  I wish they had the money to put out enough bins to compete with Planet Aid.

So now I have a policy:  I accept everything, absolutely everything.  I sort it as soon as I get it, and anything that I don’t want goes straight into the back of my van.   And then all I have to do is wait for the next dentist appointment (which is never more than a week or two away), and my problem is solved.  That’s a whole ministry in itself, even though it doesn’t show up on the Salvation Army’s website:  giving me an easy and morally sound way of unloading it all.

And for that — did I mention? — I am grateful.

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(Cross-posted at The Anchoress)

Simcha Fisher

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Simcha Fisher is a cradle Hebrew Catholic, freelance writer, and mother of eight young kids. She received her BA in literature from Thomas More College in New Hampshire. She contributes to Crisis Magazine and Faith & Family Live!, and blogs at I Have to Sit Down. She is sort of writing a book.

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