Wednesday, October 17, 2007

On Charity

I mention sometimes that I work as a volunteer in a charity shop. I love it. I get to meet some of the most generous, loving, thoughtful people in my community. Every person has time and thoughts to share and you'd be surprised how often I get a free cuddle from somebody! I really do consider myself blessed.

And then the shit happens. Someone with an overly flashy car pulls up and donates their stuff. Or we get a request to collect donations from some huge house in a leafy suburb. And then we spend the afternoon marvelling at the thought processes that enable someone so conspicuously wealthy to consider donating dirty nappies, broken toys and stained, unusable clothing to charity. It is utterly mind-boggling. What the fuck do they think they are doing? If it's dirty, smelly, broken, incomplete, or, in the case of food items, PAST its sell-by date, we can't use it!

I kid you not, since I've been working in this shop I have seen the smelliest, most faeces-ridden, urine-soaked, sweat-stained rubbish I have EVER come across. And I've worked in skips and tips. I have opened donation bags and dry-heaved from the pit of my stomach at the contents. I have cut my hands more than once on broken pottery, glass and unpackaged needles. And every time one of these particular treasure-filled bags arrives for sorting, it arrives in a posh car. I do not understand it.

Don't get me wrong, not all the wealthier people donate total (and literal) crap. We get amazing donations and we are so grateful for those. But some people really seem to think that people who shop in charity shops deserve nothing better than ripped, piss-stained trousers. Or damp clothes on which a heavy layer of mould has grown. Or broken toys and incomplete jigsaws. Or dirty underwear. Or wet and stained bedding.

I could be bang out of order, complaining like this. As a charity, perhaps we ought to be grateful for anything we get. But really, should we? I wonder if there's something about privilege and social awareness wrapped up in this somewhere. Does having money affect perception? Have the wealthy got so far away from the poor that they don't know or don't care that thrift store purchases need to be clean and useful? Don't they think that people in straitened circumstances deserve better? Do they somehow imagine that our customers fall on their magical bags of gruesome and hazardous largess like starved Victorian street urchins? I'm pissed off because I am starting to think that they do.


Tammy said...

Does it happen often that wealthy people donate urine soaked and useless clothing or was this a one time deal that you are using to put down the wealthy?

Debs said...

Hello, like the new look site!

No I don't think you're out of order at all. It's quite insulting that wealthy people think it's okay to donate any old rubbish in any old condition to charity shops. I never knew this happened, though I suppose unless you actually work in a charity shop you wouldn't know.

I think you're right, the wealthy people who do this are probably thinking "they're so needy they'll be grateful for anything." They may as well spit on the clothes before they put them in the bag; they obviously think people who shop in charity shops are some kind of third-class citizen only deserving of their contempt and pity.

Pippa said...

Tammy, yes it happens often. Often enough for me (and others) to notice and question it!

Debs, thanks! I'm trying the new look. If it gets on my nerves it's going! I'm not used to a lefty sidebar thingy. But it looks okay for now. Cheers! Px

Kitty Glendower said...

Oh I so believe they think the little peasants will be happy with whatever castoffs they are willing to throw out.

It reminds me of one time when my oldest daughter was in the 7th grade. I received no child support, we were struggling. We had to go to the public laundry to do our clothes once a week (Sunday). A woman in a very very expensive car drives up, tosses her doormats into a washer and then sits in her car until they are done. So, her doormats cannot go in her washing machine with her clothes but they can go into the machine where we wash. And it is not as if one can run an empty load after she did that, well they could, but they would have to put in the five quarters to do so.

Anonymous said...

I can't afford to shop anywhere else and I really keep it down to about $25-$40 a year. I feel so elated when I find a so-soft high thread count pillowcase that has been laundered, ironed and folded nicely. But when I find something I would like which is stained, or torn I feel like I've been torn a bit too.

I regard thrift store shopping to be consumerism just like shopping at a mall, so I only go if I need something. No browsing. Think I'll have to go soon; my crockpot, bought at a garage 15 years ago for $5 died while it was cooking black bean soup overnight. I awoke to the wonderful smell of the finished soup, and the pot could not be revived.

I knew a relatively well-off elderly couple who paid their cleaning woman to launder, iron and package everything for the charity shop. These considerate people also paid the cleaning lady to clean their home even when they were on holiday; it would have been a loss of income to her otherwise, you see. They were very decent people. Rare.


Anonymous said...

I have known many greedy people that inflate the value of garbage by donating it to a charity so it can be used as a tax deduction. The charity and the needy don't even enter thier thoughts, just the glee they get from cheating the system. Ever wonder why you see so many ladders leaned on expensive NEW homes at property tax time??

Pippa said...

Sis, thanks for your comment. I love the soup pot story - I believe there is a replacement pot waiting to be discovered by you any day now! And yes, decent people are rare. It's such a joy to find them.

Anon, I don't really know how that tax deduction thing works. It's not common in the UK for us to do our own tax returns. And property taxes, I need to look at how that works too. But I am absolutely convinced that there are many wealthy people who will gladly cheat the system, regardless of the knock-on effect on the poor.