Steps to giving with more intention that can increase your impact
As this decade began, a volcano just outside of Manila, known as Taal, surprised the Philippines with an eruption that spewed ash throughout the capital region, displacing thousands of citizens, living in proximity of it. Individuals, many already impoverished, were displaced from their homes, and left to rely on the aid of others, as all of their possessions were buried under heavy volcanic ash.
As news hit of the eruption, images of billowing clouds and smoke coming from Taal filled our social media.
Shortly after, came another related viral article , of a different sort. The world got a chuckle 1 as they viewed images of men in disaster centers wearing wedding dresses, womens gowns and other donated clothing that clearly had no place in these circumstances. We saw firsthand, what I experienced regularly while living in the Philippines, resilient people that can make light of the hardest of situations. But this viral article also gives us the opportunity to wonder:
Why are wedding dresses being sent to disaster centers?
The reality is, with over-consumption caused by trends like fast fashion, many of us live in material excess. We have so many things, that when we do choose to get rid of these items, our charity shops and non-profits often become overrun, as well.
According to the World Giving Index, the United States has been consistently rated as the most generous (per capita) country over the course of the last decade. However, this generosity also comes with repercussions. Among our donated clothing, only about 20% is able to fit into second hand clothing shops to be resold. To combat the overflow of donated clothing, the US sells and then sends over a billion pounds of used clothing abroad per year, which is the country’s eighth largest export! This clothing is then resold for pennies on the dollar, disrupting economies and causing other issues that can wreak havoc on local communities. In addition to what is sent abroad, 45% of donated clothing is simply recycled, and sadly the remainder ends up in landfills.
Similarly, in times of crisis, people want to do anything they can to assist. We go through our homes collecting all the items we no longer need thinking “These people lost everything, anything will help them.” In actuality it often results in a larger logistical issue. Dale Herzog, a specialist in humanitarian logistics, has seen the issue repeatedly occur through disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the Sandy Hook Shooting. He calls the situation the “Disaster within a Disaster.”
“In every case, I saw how this second disaster made it nearly impossible for humanitarian responders to run efficient relief operations. The influx of donations clogged shelters, airport tarmacs and warehouses, and drained the time and energy of the willing but scarce volunteers.”
I bring this up, not to deter anyone from donating. From volunteering during times of disaster myself, I have seen firsthand how much individual donations have made a huge impact to help local communities rise again. With that said, we can all use this as an opportunity to think about what we are giving and how we give it, to understand how we can make better choices when donating material possessions so our items can have a greater impact, overall.
Give with intention
Consider the best charity for your specific donation.
The fact is ALMOST EVERYTHING can be donated and, when put in the proper hands, it will be used.
Where and how we donate our items, like that old wedding dress, can determine if it will truly make someone’s special day or end up in a pile at a disaster center. When we have possessions to donate, that can only be utilized for specific circumstances, spending the time to seek out a charity that works with that specific item will assure that it is used to its full capability.
There are actually dozens of charities in the US that solely work with used wedding dresses. Adorned in Grace is a Bridal Resale shop that resells 2 gowns and donates all proceeds to fight and support sex trafficking victims. Older dresses can be sent to the Angel Gown Program , which repurposes bridal material into baby dresses for infants who pass away in the NICU. There is even a military specific non-profit that accepts gowns to help military families have affordable weddings. There are similar specific charities for items like sporting goods, appliances and even vehicles.
Maybe, you don’t have a high value item, but specific things such as a bag of hotel toiletries you’ve collected over your travels. This may not be of use to your local Goodwill store, but these items will happily be accepted by almost any local homeless shelter, and help to ensure that those in need have a clean hot shower.
When you do decide to donate, changing your behavior from dropping a hodge-podge of items into a box to intentionally sorting goods and distributing them appropriately will prevent a lot of logistical issues for the receiving charity as well as assure your items will be utilized. Finding charities that need your specific items can be as simple as a quick google search. In addition, community forums, like next door or free-cycle , are a great resource to get advice about where specific items can be donated. Volunteers will often be happy to collect in need items or provide shipping instructions.
Resell your items
It may seem silly to sell your used stuff, when it can simply be given away to charity, but doing this may actually be the best-case scenario. Let’s again look at our wedding dress. Chances are that, after our friend posed for his goofy photo in the gown, it was put back in the pile and forgotten. If we had taken that gown and sold it for $50.00, we would know the person seeking out the item to purchase would be buying it with purpose. This would eliminate the possibility of the beautiful gown, you wore on your special day, ending up simply being recycled.
Then, if we take that $50.00 you earned and donate it to the same disaster relief efforts instead, the money can help purchase items that are desperately needed. When I spoke to volunteers, on the ground supporting the relief efforts in response to the Taal volcano eruption, they were desperately in need of food, buckets, and hygiene products. In Manila, a plastic bucket cost about 50 cents. The wedding gown that is now useless at the shelter, could have funded multi-functional buckets (which people use for cooking, cleaning, carrying and a variety of other things) for 100 people. Not only will the cash that is sent, from the sale of the dress, help get people the items they desperately need and reduce transportation costs, but when you send the money, and volunteers make purchases for what is truly needed locally, it puts funds back into the local economy that has also just been greatly affected by this disaster.
Selling your used items is simpler than ever thanks to technology, Facebook marketplace and selling apps such as Let Go are a great place to do so. If you want to do less of the legwork yourself both local and online consignment stores are also a possibility.
Along with selling your items, you can consider hosting a clothing swap that helps assure the clothing you no longer need is put in the hands of someone that will definitely use it. If you are not familiar with a clothing swap, it is a type of swap meet where participants exchange their valued but no longer used clothing for clothing they will use.
When we purchase or obtain used items instead of buying them new, this has a great benefit for the environment. 20,000 liters of water are needed to produce just 1kg of cotton needed to make a pair of pants. If we can get extra use out of some lightly used clothing, it not only prevents those pants from ending up in a landfill, but also eliminates the added harm, to our environment, from production, shipping and packing. Hosting one of these fun events is a great way to bring a community together to not only have a social night of shopping, but also help raise awareness about these issues. A great way to increase the impact is charging a small entrance fee that can then be donated to a charity you are passionate about. By eliminating spending on clothing and by swapping instead of purchasing, we can all have a little extra pocket change to give.
Chances are, by now, you’ve bought a reusable straw, coffee cup and bottle, and begun to fight the war on plastic, but our impulse purchases and fast fashion culture may be even more detrimental to our environment, then single use items. In fact, an estimated 35% of microparticles found in the ocean are caused by the production and maintenance of textiles. Kicking our consumer habits may not be easy to break overnight, but small steps can make these goals a reality.
Maybe this year you will choose to monitor your purchases, and put a limit on what you buy and even better, when you do shop, choose to only purchase second-hand. Another possibility is to consider your gifting. Arre those items you purchased for a birthday present going to be fully utilized or can they be replaced by an experience or donation to a cause your loved one is passionate about?
When we buy less material, believe it or not, we also spend less. Once we’ve set our goals towards minimalist living, it gives us the opportunity to put aside a little more money that can be given to charities, that will make a much bigger impact than our old junk. Our small actions can make a big change in making this world a better and even more beautiful place!
Megan Fox is a passionate humanitarian and certified ESL teacher, dedicated to improving our world by empowerment through education currently based in Brussels, Belgium. She has lived overseas for the last decade, until recently she resided in Manila, Philippines. Megan regularly contributes her writing to local publications and on her blog www.travelelsewhere.org. You can also follow her travels on her instagram @travelelsewhere