Donating personal supplies -- good?

Next week my company (in Memphis) is having a big United Way shindig, including a collection center for supplies for Katrina evacuees. We were given some suggestions for donations (stuff like shampoo, soap, baby supplies), but no information about how the supplies would be distributed. I have stuff that I don’t need, and I will donate that. I also have stuff that I don’t need right now, but might use down the road. I want to be as generous as I can, but it bothers me that stuff I donate could get thrown away or wind up in the hands of people who are not actually in need.

Memphis is not a very honest place. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that at least half the donated supplies get skimmed off by people who are supposed to be helping with the distribution. Should I let that affect my giving?

Can someone who’s been involved in a supply distribution tell me what things are likely to get thrown away? Is any effort made to turn over surplus stuff to places that can use it, like a homeless shelter?

I would not normally donate small quantities of misc supplies since it seems to me that the sorting is probably more trouble than it’s worth, but (1) there has been an express solicitation, and (2) the area is teeming with volunteers right now.

I’ve always been reluctant to donate supplies. I’ve been on the receiving end of good-hearted donations to soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and was amazed at the stuff some people actually thought was appropriate to give to someone else. There were several times people would literally clean out under their bathroom sink and give us toiletries that were probably purchased in the 1970’s. If I were donating anything other than cash, I would be v-e-r-y sure that they have a distribution plan in place. I would guess that an outfit the size of the United Way would have a well-planned distribution chain so that the stuff actually gets to the people that need it.

I would only give personal supplies if they were going to a local shelter or something. Otherwise, I’d give money. I know it feels better handing over a bag of stuff, but money is much easier to move around.

I also would’ve guessed that an outfit the size of the United States government would have a well-planned emergency response. The mismanagement of this disaster has made me a bit suspicious of all organizations. I’m even starting to wonder if my $$ donations are being used effectively.

I don’t plan to spend any money on items to be donated. It’s all stuff I already have that I can get by without.
Probably quite a few people will be bringing stuff into work Monday, and then someone will haul it all out to the central collection site. If possible I’ll spend some time pre-sorting and organizing our site’s stuff, and then I’m going to put the whole thing out of my mind. If our stuff helps someone who needs it, great; if not, oh well.

Just make sure the container is clean, that the item has never been used or opened and is new, and try to make a good determination as to whether it would really be useful to the intended recipient.

I have been on both sides of the charity equation - as a volunteer and as a recipient, and you’d be amazed at the junk people will toss into a collections box, all the while telling themselves “well, they have NOTHING so if they don’t appreciate this 20 year old opened shampoo bottle, this used toothbrush, and these ballerina slippers and feather boa, it’s only because they’re an ingrate” and patting themselves on the back for being such a humanitarian becuase they tossed that crap into a collection box instead of the trash where it belongs.

I don’t think most people donate crap on purpose – I think that, like me, they honestly don’t know what will be useful. For example, I have quite a collection of name-brand shampoos that I’ve used only once or twice before deciding they weren’t right for me. Are these an offensive or unusable donation?

Towels and sheets were not on the list of suggested items. I have some that are used, but still in good condition (they don’t match my color schemes anymore). Surely there’s a need for these among all the people who are starting over with nothing?

OTC pain relievers were not on the list of suggested items. I overbought and have some unopened containers. Can these be used or distributed?

All comments and advise are welcome. I want to help, but I hate to see stuff wasted.

I don’t know if this will help you, but I know that agencies were asking for what my church calls hygiene kits. They’re more for temporary situations than for someone established in a house–they go to shelters and so on. Anyway if it will help you, here’s a link to what goes into a hygeine kit. This is a good co-operative project if you have friends looking for something to do.

Making hygiene kits

(There are other kinds of kits too: look at the Humanitarian kits page for those. Those have been in demand too.)

I would not donate something that’s been opened. Can you use the shampoo as a lather for shaving?

I would say as long as they’re clean, not stained or raggedy, sure.

Unopened, definitely.

Maybe it’s just me, but I would feel weird about donating something that I’ve partially used. Unopened is fine. YMMV, of course.