To Donate Or Swap?


Every year I donate my used yet beautiful and wonderful high-end fashion gear to Goodwill, Salvation ArmyOut of the Closet or the National Council of Jewish Women.  Twice a year (winter and summer), I do two spring cleanings.  The house is turned upside down, the dust bunnies come out and I attempt to create an entirely new wardrobe.  I admit, I first try to give my clothes up for consignment at Crossroads , Wasteland or Jet Rag.  But often I wear my clothes down so much so that they become the rejected nerdy girls of the seventh grade dance.  These clothes have potential and can be wonderful if given the chance to take their braces off but they’re not “high-end vintage” consignment material.  Therefore, my clothes often get the hand, even at the National Council of Jewish Women.  So last year, I found myself turning to a random clothing bin at my Rite Aide parking lot.


I stuffed my bags of clothes into that yellow bin so proudly.  Prior to that, I even researched the company, Planet Aid, and saw what charitable work they did for the community and families abroad.  I thought I was doing a wonderful service.   And then one night, while driving home after an insane night of Scrabble, Backgammon and Mad Libs, I saw a woman pilfering through that same clothing bin.  I saw her reach down into it, grab my turquoise and pink bags, then sort through them and judge all my clothes just like a woman at a consignment store would do.  She threw a lot of clothes onto the floor, picked up the random items she liked, put them into her car and drove off.  My clothes were on the dirty peepee and dog poopie cement of the Rite Aide parking lot and I had just washed all of them in Downy fresh detergent!!!!!  I was enraged!!!!!


But then I thought about it.  Where do our clothes go when we donate them?  We’d like to think they go to less fortunate people that can’t afford clothing, whether it’s in America, South America, Africa, India, Antarctica,  or Europe.  We’d like to think that after we wash our clothes and donate them, they stay clean and folded.  But, when I lived in Accra, Ghana for six months in 2007, the Salvation Army took all the rejected American used clothes to the country and DUMPED them into the main seaport.  Free clothes suddenly became a hot commodity.  Big business owners fought over the clothes and decided that instead of taking them in as donations, they would SELL them in large bagged bundles to other small businesses.  Corporations were formed.  The small business store owners didn’t even get to choose the clothing they bought.  Some women wanted to only sell ladies’ clothing or baby’s clothing and would get maybe ten items they could actually sell out of the forty items that they had bought.  The issue goes deeper than this and in the end, the whole idea of donating clothing became less flowery than I thought it was.  In the end, our clothing all ends up on the floor, gets sold and that money hopefully goes to less fortunate people, if we’re lucky.  In Accra, Ghana, the donations just bred greed.



Woah.  That was intense.  I should probably take a nap right now.  My point is, if you want to donate anything, donate your time, energy and mind.  Yes, we all love used furniture and used clothes  but maybe we should all start clothing and furniture swaps with friends?  At least we’d know from where it was coming and to whom it was going.  And after that rant, I’m probably still going thrifting this weekend.


Photo by Yuko Iwamoto

  • Megan MacIntire

    I know it’s sad to think that the clothes we donate in order to help the less fortunate actually just end up getting sold (or thrown on the ground), but on the brighter side of things these “companies” that are created in third world countries who sell the clothes are actually a huge benefit for their tiny little economies. I always ask my sisters and friends if they want my clothes before giving them away because it makes me happy to see some one I know getting enjoyment out of them when I no longer can. But donating is still a positive thing to do!

    • Alessandra Rizzotti

      Thanks for responding Megan. You definitely have a point. A lot of the money that goes towards Salvation Army, for example, goes to building supplies, water sources, etc abroad. What I found was a lot of groups come from America or Europe to Ghana temporarily, stay for a few weeks, build something, then leave, and don’t necessarily make sure their buildings and newly setup resources actually sustain. Of course, any help is better than nothing.

  • Karen Lada

    BRILLIANT. Plain and simple this article is BRILLIANT and hits the mark on so many issues I have as well….. THANK YOU, dear Alessandra!!

    • Alessandra Rizzotti

      Thank you Karen. There’s always two sides to the story, of course. This is just my point of view.

  • Marissa A. Ross

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing this!

  • Meryl Rizzotti

    This is brilliant. I think you really pointed out that things are not as they seem be it donating items or other things we do to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

  • Amber Arias

    There’s this homeless woman who stands and asks for money around the corner from my house; I see her everyday before I get onto the freeway to see my boyfriend or meet my friends at the movies and she always gives me kind of a reality check before I go out. Just to be grateful for what I have.
    But I have this huge bag of clothes that Plato’s Closet rejected and I keep meaning to take to Goodwill or one of those donation bins.. But I think she deserves it. Maybe donating directly to those in need is the best way to go. Or creating your own organization of friends and whoever else wants to join to help make sure those in need are recieving everything you want them to :)

    • Alessandra Rizzotti

      I like your way of thinking!

  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    We should all start, Hello Giggles Team!

  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    Just bought bec that was taken!

  • Alexandra Rae

    If you donate to churches, whether you belong to it or not, the items go to the less fortunate of the community. I mean, I volunteered a longggg time ago around Christmas, sorting items into age groups and sizes, etc. and having them wrapped to give to specific families, I hope its still like that. You never know though.

    Maybe people should start talking to someone who is involved in that kind of stuff at a local church.

    • Alessandra Rizzotti

      It’s great you’re so involved. If anything, volunteering can be more helpful than donating sometimes. Of course, the more I read everyone’s comments, the better perspective I have on the whole process.

  • Cindy Cerquitella

    I think it’s a little unfair to accuse people trying to make a living as being greedy. It’s unfortunate that donated clothing is mismanaged but donating clothing to less privileged nations has many downsides, the least of which would be people getting to sell those clothes to make some money. Donated clothing floods local markets and pushes out independent business. In the long run Ghana won’t get better because it got free clothes, it’ll only get better when people are able to provide for themselves.

  • Jessica Renee’ Snyder Green

    I work for the goodwill in my community, I have for nearly 3 years now. And while I can assure you that the money received from the sell of the goods everyone donates to us goes to programs that train assistance dogs, gives out free medical equipment to the needy, free clothing to fire victims (and most recently in my east TN area, tornado victims), job training, and many other programs, it also keeps people like me, a single mom, in a job. Now, I do swap with friends FIRST, but after we’re done whatever isn’t wanted we donate to the goodwill or other local thrift stores. and to add the cherry on the sundae here, these donated goods are sold CHEAP to help people (me again lol) who can’t afford to buy clothes or home decor brand new all the time. It’s easy to focus on the flaws in the world, but please don’t write the thrifting world just yet!

    • Alessandra Rizzotti

      You are totally right, Jessica. I’m in the same boat as you in terms of finances, etc. All your comments are well-said and most definitely true for people like us. I think it’s important to just see how the machine runs.

  • Olivia Colsman Langford

    This article is a great reminder…Please donate to goodwill or other REPUTABLE charities. A big metal bin in the parking lot of walmart is not necessarily a reputable charity. GoodWill is a great one, or you can also donate to your favorite thrift store, after checking where their profits are allocated. My local fave supports lupus research and treatment.

    • Alessandra Rizzotti

      Great idea to research charities that give to specific causes.

  • Liz Brown

    I was a social worker for a long time. In my experience it’s always better to give as directly as you can–the smaller the organization the better and if you can put the clothes right into the hands of someone who needs them then that’s best of all!

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