Two bags have been sitting in the back of my car for weeks. Prior to that, they were sitting in the hallway between the bedrooms for several weeks, and prior to that, they were stacked in the back of closets for months. They are full of shoes that no longer fit my kids, mostly athletic shoes of one kind or another that were worn for a single sporting season, but still appearing brand new. I can’t bring myself to throw them out when I know there are kids who could use them, and our landfills certainly don’t need them added to their ever-growing piles. I’ve offered them to friends and family to no avail so now I plan to take them to Goodwill, where I hope they’ll find a second life. Or will they?

I think these shoes have a chance of adding value if donated to an organization like Goodwill because Goodwill actively seeks out gently used clothing of all types for all ages. These Lands End snow boots that were a gift from a great aunt could most certainly keep warm the toes of someone else’s child for several more years. These baseball cleats, indoor soccer shoes, and water shoes could also provide another season or two of use to the right sized foot (child?). Maybe I could donate them to a hurricane relief organization, or send them to the Australians whose homes were destroyed in the devastating fires this year? That might be a generous thought, but that wouldn’t be helpful at all.

According to recent studies, 50-70% of in-kind donations are unusable and at best, end up in a landfill. Often, however, prior to arriving in the landfill, these donations contribute to logistical bottlenecks and hinder, or prevent, delivery of much-needed relief.  It’s an unintended consequence of a good intention gone awry. One that is seen time and time again by relief agencies around the world.

Did you know purchasing 12 cans of tuna in Los Angeles for $11.88 and shipping it to Manila, Philippines would cost an estimated $176.33?  In Manila, $176.33 could be used by a relief organization to purchase 35,266 liters of clean water locally, providing 17,633 people with 2 liters of clean drinking water a day.  Or it could be used to purchase 20 hygiene kits or other needed supplies in bulk. This is a huge difference, compared to the original donation of 12 cans of tuna.

So, what can we do, since we need to rethink donating our used clothing, personal items or canned goods?  The easy answer is to give money.

Money is the best donation to an aid organization for many reasons. It’s one size fits all and offers more flexibility and control over goods that are needed.  It allows the professional organizations to procure the goods and services that they need in response to the crisis. It also maintains a sense of dignity, flexibility, and control for the disaster victims, providing them with confidence and a sense of normalcy.

Furthermore, money allows relief organizations to respond immediately and in a cost-efficient manner, stimulating local economies by creating cash flow, not competing for goods with the local market. There are no associated transportation costs either, therefore, it doesn’t add to the already compromised supply chain that is being used by professional relief workers.

Like donating, volunteering your time is another option to help those affected by a disaster. Similarly, to donating, do some research to find out what organizations to affiliate with so your time and abilities are used most effectively.  It is important to arrive prepared with your own food, water, and shelter as to not divert resources from those that need it most.

Giving is a good thing and in no way should you be persuaded not to give, but first research those charities that have direct and local ties to the affected area to make it clear where the money will go. There are several charity search engines you can reference on the internet to search for valid charities.  Then just sit back and leave it up to the experts, knowing you did your part to help.

Bottom line – if you aren’t certain of what specific items have been requested by a relief agency; donate cash. Used household items and clothing may be better suited for other organizations; such as local shelters, churches or second-hand stores.

I was able to drop those shoes off at a local Goodwill this morning, just in time for baseball and soccer seasons. The staff was happy with the donation, now hopefully the shoes will find a new foot soon and stay out of the landfill.

Walter Sauer, Artur Shapiro, and Kathleen Szymczak are masters of business administration students at the University of Rhode Island and residents of Southern Connecticut

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1 Comment

  1. Re Cash better for donations
    While I do not question the greater fungability of a cash donation, I question statistics about 50 to 70% of in kind donations being unusable.
    Having a death the the family last year and engaged in “downsizing” as a result, s large inventory of in kind donations was available. We found that the term lightly used by some charitable organizations meant nearly perfect condition so large amounts of still usable or reconditionable clothing, furniture, household items, etc. were rejected and destined for land fills. We donated a significant portion of “rejectionables” to a local senior citizens center who were happy to get it to make some seniors happy!
    We found that some acquaintances and people we mentioned this experience to – also had some similar experiences! An acquaintance indicated that her organization supports getting such material to help homeless and abused needy get things that they sorely need.
    Bottom line, not all unusable are unusable, and charitable organizations need to set standards so they can help the most needy.

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