Where To Donate Clothing To Make the Biggest Impact

A person deciding where to donate old clothing.

Before you toss those old jeans, think about the impact of your decision. Every year, Americans throw away over 15 million tons of unwanted clothing and other textiles. Maybe those old jeans deserve a better fate than winding up in an ugly landfill. Do you know where to donate clothing?

You remember the big green bin in the shopping center you pass on your way to work. Doesn’t it say something about clothing donations to help the homeless? What an easy way to show concern for the environment and compassion for the less fortunate at the same time! Could that be where to donate clothing?

Do Research Before Dropping Off Old Clothes in Clothing Donation Bins

Beware of the large metal donation boxes that you sometimes see in shopping centers and parking lots that ask for clothing donations. While some of them belong to reputable charities, a lot of them are run by for-profit and even criminal organizations. This may be true even when the box announces a charitable purpose.

Often, the writing on the donation bins claims that clothing donations are used to help the needy or save the planet. In reality, they may belong to a shady recycling company or a less-than-charitable organization. There are also companies who abuse the law by donating a tiny portion of their profits to charity, and keep the rest of the funds for themselves.

When a dishonest outfit operates clothing donation bins, they aren’t interested in selling individual pieces of clothing. Often the clothing donations are sold by the pound to third world countries. You may be thinking that that’s not too bad. Someone may be making a sneaky profit, but at least the clothing is going to people in need.

What you probably don’t know is that used clothing operations like this put many people in the third world out of work. Sometimes it’s right to send specific kinds of clothing donations to meet a shortage, but dumping random piles of cheap, miscellaneous old clothes can destroy the local economy and create even more poverty. One example is the African country of Kenya, whose clothing industry couldn’t compete with the mounds of discarded Western clothing.

Donate to Thrift Stores that Support Local Charities

Should you go a few blocks out of your way and bring your old jeans to that thrift shop you saw on Pine Street? Be careful when deciding where to donate clothing and where to donate household items. Some thrift shops do help the needy or support institutions like hospitals and churches. Others are simply profit-making ventures. Just as some donation bins falsely claim to support charities, some “charitable” thrift stores don’t live up to their advertising.

If you’ve done your homework, you’ll pick the thrift store that belongs to a genuine local charity or a respected organization like Goodwill. You can take your clothing donations there with a happy heart –as long as it’s clean and in wearable condition.

Now that you’ve decided where to donate clothing to do the most good, you should learn about what the charity really needs. Some charities are a good place where to donate clothing, but not where to donate household items. In every case, you want to be sure that whatever you donate is something that can be sold to help the organization.

Goodwill Clothing Can Be Used for Different Purposes

Before they can sell your clothes to raise funds for other projects, workers have to inspect everything you bring in so they can set a price. Every donation takes up space in the store or in storage. If your clothing donation is torn, stained or missing every button it’s not going to sell.

Even if those old jeans are torn and can’t be donated, they don’t have to wind up in the landfill. Old clothes, especially in natural fibers, make great cleaning rags. If you enjoy crafts or know someone who does, there are lots of articles online that show how to turn old clothes into something new and clever. This article from Good Housekeeping will give you some ideas.

The Council on Textile Recycling has created a chart on The Lifecycle of Secondhand Clothing. According to this chart, many charities only sell between 10% and 20% of clothing donations at their thrift shops and sell about 80% to recyclers.

Of the 80% that goes to recyclers, about half is used for industrial rags or converted into useful items like home insulation and carpet padding. The small percentage that’s moldy or wet does wind up in landfill. But whatever is leftover is usually sold to underdeveloped countries, with the bad consequences you just learned about.

So when deciding where to donate clothing and where to donate household items, try to find a charity that works hard to sell as much as they can to consumers instead of textile salvage operations.

Benefits of Donating Clothing to Goodwill

One of the most respected charities in the United States and Canada that accepts clothing donations is Goodwill. Goodwill works very hard to sell as much as they can to the general public. Here’s what they do:

  • Clothing donations are carefully sorted by Goodwill employees. Many of these employees are enrolled in a Goodwill jobs training program. From the very start, your Goodwill donation is helping someone less fortunate.
  • Items which are considered “collectibles”, such as old comic books and vintage clothing, are often sold online at shopgoodwill.com or eBay.
  • Very good items are sold in Goodwill retail stores, which also employ jobs training program members. Any profits are put to use in funding Goodwill’s other employment and educational programs.
  • The rest of the clothing donation goes to Goodwill outlet stores. Clothing and other items are put in unsorted bins, and buyers scramble to find treasures at less than a dollar a pound. In this way, Goodwill hopes to keep as much clothing out of landfills as possible.
  • Large bags of the remaining items are auctioned off. Only the leftovers are sent to recycling.

Since Goodwill is a charity registered with the IRS, the value of your donation is tax-deductible. It is your responsibility to figure out the value of your deduction, but Goodwill does provide some guidelines.

Shopping At Goodwill

Once you’ve visited a Goodwill retail store to drop off a donation, you may start to think about doing some of your own shopping there. Goodwill stores are clean and well-organized. Merchandise will vary from day to day and from store to store, but if you have a tight budget or simply love to hunt for bargains and hard-to-find items, you’ll enjoy shopping at Goodwill. The place where you donate clothing and where you donate household goods may also be the place where you find new treasures to take home.

The biggest bargains are found at Goodwill Outlets (sometimes called Goodwill Buy the Pound) but these stores are best for bold shoppers. Clothing and other goods, collected from all the Goodwill retail stores in the area, are dumped into big bins. Not everyone will find this idea attractive, but there are people who love being able to dig through the leftovers and buy clothes, books and dishes for 79 cents a pound. One customer described it as “the king of thrift shops” while another said “This is my Disney World and Las Vegas tied into one place close to home…It’s so much fun randomly searching for hidden treasures.”

What Does Goodwill Spend Its Money On?

When deciding where to donate clothing, it’s also important to know what the organization does with the money it raises. According to Charity Navigator, MERS Goodwill spends over 95% of its revenue directly on programs and less than 5% on administration. In 2017 MERS Goodwill received GuideStar’s Platinum Seal of Transparency. In that same year the organization helped 29,135 people become employed with many of them earning more than minimum wage.

These are some of the programs that MERS Goodwill runs in the St. Louis Area

  • Excel Centers (free adult high schools)
  • Community Employment Centers for people with disabilities, including a separate Autism Employment Program
  • A separate program for disabled high school students, to help them transition to the workplace.
  • Employment services for dislocated workers and victims of domestic violence.
  • Job training and placement for people on Federal Temporary Assistance.
  • A WIOA program. Goodwill participates in the Federal Work Innovation and Opportunities Act, which provides job training for young people (14-24) who are out of school.
  • The Jewish Community Employment Service. This program was begun by MERS, before they merged with Missouri GoodWill in 2001. MERS is the Metropolitan Rehabilitation Service, founded as a Jewish charity in 1940.

Goodwill’s Mission

Goodwill is the older half of MERS Goodwill. It was founded in Boston in 1902 by a Methodist minister, Rev. Edgar J. Helms. Missouri Goodwill opened in 1918, so it has been serving the unemployed and disabled in the St. Louis area for over 100 years.

Goodwill has always been about “changing lives through the power of work.” From the very beginning, it was where to donate clothing to do the most good. When Rev. Helms was working with poor immigrants in Boston, he realized that the best help he could give them was the opportunity to work and support themselves. He collected cast-off clothing and shoes from wealthy Bostonians and set up workshops where the unemployed could come and earn money by repairing the old clothes. These clothes were then resold, and the money was plowed back into “Goodwill Industries.”

Goodwill Employees

You can see how this idea lives on in Goodwill’s store system. MERS Goodwill operates 42 retail stores and two outlets in the St. Louis area. The stores are largely staffed by Goodwill client-employees, who work under supervision and earn an hourly salary by sorting donations, placing them on racks in the store and doing janitorial jobs. Many Goodwill employees are disabled people who would not be able to find employment elsewhere.

After training in a Goodwill store, employees may move on to the MERS Goodwill Custodial and Business Contracts Division. More than 100 people, most of them disabled, perform short- and long-term projects for local businesses in areas like packaging, collating papers and janitorial services.

To get a fuller sense of what is accomplished when you decide that Goodwill is where to donate clothing and where to donate household items, look at these statistics covering one year of Goodwill’s work in the United States and Canada. Just over 25% of Goodwill employees are disabled. Goodwill also helped 210,000 welfare recipients and more than 160,000 people with criminal backgrounds, as well as 100,000 older workers who had been dislocated by economic and technological changes.

The Excel Center

Remember that the list of MERS Goodwill programs? It included the Excel free high school for adults. Excel is an outstanding program that provides important kinds of support for adult students in addition to free classes. For example, Goodwill provides transportation to the Excel center and has on-site childcare for parents who are earning their diplomas

Excel Students can also earn industry certifications while working on their high school diplomas so they will be ready to enter the workforce when they graduate. Some students even earn college credits while they study at Excel.

The class schedule is flexible, and the Excel Center operates year-round. Each student has a life coach to provide individual support. Adults who have never experienced success before and who were dependent on family or government programs become productive, independent adults. Much of the funding for this vital program comes from your clothing donations to Goodwill.

Goodwill Success Stories

Many of the people helped by Goodwill in Missouri and across the U.S. and Canada have remarkable success stories. For example:

  1. A drug addict who goes to jail, then gets a job with Goodwill and within a few years is sober and has regained custody of her children, who are now on their school’s honor roll.
  2. A man who suffered such severe beatings and head injuries as a child that he was never able to learn to read now has a job as a utility worker at Goodwill and feels confident and productive for the first time in his life. Goodwill also helped him continue his education and at age 65 he read a book for the first time in his life.
  3. A Qualified Medication Aide, long employed at a nursing home, who became a patient herself when she came down with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a paralyzing disorder. Thanks to Goodwill she now has a job as a visitor escort in a hospital and is studying to become a phlebotomist.

Now you can see that what you decide to do with that pair of old jeans and your other cast-offs really matters. Make the wrong choice and your clothing donation might put people out of work or even help criminal outfits earn profits. Choose a charity at random, and your old clothes might become carpet insulation while only a small portion of what was raised goes to help those in need.

But choose wisely and your clothing donation could serve many good purposes at once. It could help clothe someone on a tight budget, provide employment for someone who might not have a job otherwise, and fund programs so that people who have reached an apparent dead end can become empowered, productive members of the community.

Where to donate clothing and where to donate household items really matters. You play a vital role in the lives of the unfortunate by donating things you no longer need to Goodwill. Make your clothing donations matter.