Imagine you have been living in a shelter for 6 months. Before that, you were living on the street for two years. Finally, you get the news for which you’ve been afraid to hope – your case manager has found a permanent place for you to live. But on the day you move in, you bring the one bag you own with the few belongings you have. A shiny new house key is handed to you, and you turn it in the lock. You open the door, step inside and see a pile of slightly stained clothes in a beat-up laundry basket. A box of dented pots and chipped dishes sit next to it. Well-worn sheets are folded in a neat pile by the bed.
Now imagine you step into the same apartment, carrying the same bag and nothing else, and see dignified clothing hung neatly in the closet. Shiny pots and pans are placed on the kitchen counter. Soft sheets, brand new in the packaging, are waiting to hug the mattress in your new bedroom.
The difference between these scenarios is striking.
At MCCH, we are fortunate to receive a lot of donated items from generous community members. Most of these items are new or in excellent condition and are given to clients exiting homelessness by moving into their own homes. But sometimes, we receive donations that are well intentioned but lacking in dignity for our clients.
When we speak with people who want to help by donating items for our clients, people often ask us:
Isn’t something better than nothing if all I can give are things I no longer use?
But shouldn’t people be grateful for anything they can get?
The short answer to both questions is no. Our clients have the same needs and wants as everyone else. They want to wear clothing that has no stains, rips or broken zippers. Imagine trying to go to a job interview without feeling confident in the way you look. Or sending your child to school wearing clothing that is stained. Now imagine sleeping in a bed with sheets that are threadbare and discolored. How would you feel? Would you feel grateful that others think you aren’t worth more?
We know that donations of imperfect items are given with a generous spirit, but the reality is that people who have experienced the trauma of homelessness are just like all of us. They want to wear nice clothing and have nice things in their homes.
So the next time you’re gathering donations for MCCH or another organization, be sure to check the quality if the items and make sure they are as dignified as your good intentions. Plus, this helps the organization by saving staff time to sort through items that aren’t appropriate for their clients.
If you’re interested in giving some dignified donations to MCCH, we are always in need of move-in kits! You can even organize a collection drive with your co-workers, congregation, family and friends. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for ideas on how to get started!
Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless (MCCH) is a non-profit with the mission to provide solutions in Montgomery County to ensure that homelessness is rare, brief, and nonrecurring. Learn more about MCCH.