Serge Bloch
Illustration by Serge Bloch for The Washington Post

Clearing Out for a Cause

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

With the holidays behind us, January becomes prime time to think about streamlining our overcrowded lives -- and homes.

Consider that hulking desktop computer now shoved aside for a sleek laptop, the old coffeepot outclassed by an espresso system, and clothing you'll never diet back into. Don't overlook housewares, toys, bikes, furniture, books, DVDs, sheets and towels. Even kitchen cabinets, refrigerators and vintage radiators are prime candidates for clearing out if you're poised to renovate.

One usual approach to decluttering is to pack stuff off, unsorted, to large charity thrift stores for public resale, with the proceeds used to finance the organizations' good works. But another, more targeted solution is to find organizations that direct specific items to those who most need them. But remember, most groups require that donations be "gently used" or in "dignity condition."

Inside, we have rounded up a sampling of local groups looking to match donated goods with people in need. Some county and city government Web sites --, for example -- provide a similar service, with names of such local charities. Neighborhood e-mail discussion groups, schools, civic groups, churches, temples and mosques often know of families who need a bed, stove or clothing.

There are also online directories of nonprofits in need of donated items. The Web site run by Charitable Choices in Gaithersburg,, describes dozens of Maryland, Virginia and District tax-exempt groups that have been pre-screened by the federal government's Combined Federal Campaign. A section called "where to give away your stuff" explains what each group needs and what percentage of its operating budget goes to fundraising and advertising.

"Sometimes you can have more impact on a smaller organization because your money and your stuff means more," says Charitable Choices director Tim Saasta. -- Annie Groer

Towels | Computers | Clothes | Entertainment | Housewares | Tools | Books| Materials

Old Towels to Comfort Puppies

If you're thinking of getting that jumbled linen closet organized this year, donating old sheets and towels may give you that extra motivation to do it now. Some local animal rescue organizations and shelters welcome sheets, blankets, towels and even old fur coats and hats throughout the year.

In Gaithersburg, Second Chance Wildlife Center rehabilitates injured or orphaned wild animals such as squirrels, ducklings and foxes and educates the public about wild animals. Kathleen Handley, office manager and wildlife rehabilitator at Second Chance, says the group accepts clean flat sheets and unadorned towels, which can be used for animal bedding. Donated linens "keep them warm. It's comforting," Handley says. Plus, towels and sheets are "easier to maintain than pine shavings and straw."

Linda Jasper, president of another rehabilitation organization, the Wildlife Rescue League in Falls Church, says her group cuts up donated fur coats and hats and uses them to keep baby animals warm during the winter. Donations chair Jen Connors says fur is "strictly used for mammal babies . . . [Furs provide] a familiar feeling, like a motherly kind of feel."

For more information about these groups, visit or

To locate other organizations that accept linen donations, contact your local animal shelter, rescue league or even ask at a veterinarian's office, Jasper says. Be sure to call before dropping off donations because a shelter's storage space may be limited, Handley says. -- Kathleen Hom

Teaching Old Computers New Clicks

If you've gotten a new computer over the holidays, resist the urge to banish the older model to the basement or garage. Lots of local organizations would be happy to take it off your hands and either harvest usable parts and recycle the rest or pass the whole thing on to others who can use it, sometimes regardless of the age of the technology.

District-based First Time Computers is a nonprofit group that fixes donated computers and gives them to students from low-income families. The group also offers a training program in which young people learn to repair computers; upon completion, participants are given a computer to take home.

"It gives the computer a second life, and it's putting them to use where they are really needed," says First Time's founder, Lowell Dodge. "In the broader scheme of things, it helps level the digital divide."

Dodge says the organization will pick up at locations inside the Beltway. For more information, visit

To find other area organizations that accept donations of used computers, visit For local organizations and retailers that take old computers for recycling, visit -- Terri Sapienza

Clothes Ready to Wear

Warm clothing is always needed this time of year by organizations serving the homeless.

"Our donations increase in December, but then they drop off," says Rachel Akins, director of resource development for the Arlington Street People's Assistance Network (A-SPAN). "Our shelters have been filled to capacity, and we really need clothing."

Akins says her organization, which provides emergency shelter, meals and employment counseling, is especially seeking coats, sweat shirts, hats, boots and long underwear for men and women (preferably large sizes). Items can be dropped off year-round at 2708-B S. Nelson St. in Arlington; 703-820-4357. The A-SPAN Emergency Shelter, at 2049 N. 15th St., accepts items daily from November through March; 703-528-3082. For more information, visit

Bread for the City, which serves low-income Washington residents, accepts women's, children's and men's apparel for all seasons. Last year, the organization distributed 150,000 gently used articles of clothing. Men's and women's suits are always in demand for clients who have job interviews or need to attend funerals, according to Adrienne Ammerman, a development associate. Donations accepted at the Southeast Center, 1640 Good Hope Rd. SE, and at the Northwest Center, 1525 Seventh St. NW. For hours of operation, call 202-386-7606 or visit -- Jura Koncius

Hit Replay for Music and Movies

Those forgotten stacks of DVDs and CDs spilling from your shelves (and onto the floor?) can be fresh entertainment for a wider audience. Walter Reed Army Medical Center, for example, welcomes donations of music and movies to help wounded soldiers pass the time during recovery. Twenty-something males make up the majority of the population there, says Steve Maguire, director of the Soldier Family Assistance Center: "Pop, rock, R&B and country are among the most popular genres." Among DVDs, he says, Arnold Schwarzenegger action flicks are always in high demand.

Donations can be mailed to Walter Reed Army Medical Center Soldier Family Assistance Center, Attention: Donations, Room 2Z91, 6900 Georgia Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20307. To donate in person, call 202-782-7811 or 202-356-1012, Ext. 40706.

VHS and cassette tapes are of little use because soldiers view movies and listen to music on portable devices that will not accommodate tapes. But these items can be donated to organizations such as Goodwill of Greater Washington.

Goodwill sells donated items at its stores and online. Profits provide job training and employment services for the disadvantaged and disabled. Brendan Hurley, Goodwill's senior vice president, says books on tape and vinyl records are hot sellers. For hours at the nine donation sites throughout the region, go to or call 202-636-4225 -- Jura Koncius

Housewares Help Make a Home

The extra bed, bureau or microwave that no longer has a place in your home could work wonders in someone else's.

A Wider Circle, a Bethesda-based nonprofit organization founded in 2001, directs basic items for the home to families living in poverty and sets up educational programs in shelters, community centers, low-income schools and housing complexes.

"Poverty is the cause of most of the social ills we have," says the group's founder, Mark Bergel. "If people don't have a bed to sleep in and a place to put to their clothes, it's going to be a lot harder to make other lifestyle changes."

The group's Neighbor to Neighbor program collects furniture and housewares, including pots and pans, dish sets, small kitchen appliances, linens and towels in good condition (not ripped or stained) and distributes them to those in need. Mattresses, box springs and bed frames, dressers and kitchen tables and chairs are in greatest demand. Four hundred families are on the waiting list for assistance, Bergel says.

Call to schedule a pickup or a drop-off at the group's storage site. Bergel says volunteers to help collect and distribute items and to coordinate neighborhood drives are most welcome, too. For more information, call 301-657-1010 or visit --Terri Sapienza

They Rake in Spare Tools

If you are faced with clearing out an old garden shed or workshop, several organizations stand ready to accept donated hand tools and power tools.

Our House Youth Home is a charity based on a 140-acre farm near Olney where at-risk youths live and learn construction skills and organic farming while completing their high school education. The organization accepts all kinds of tools and equipment used in agriculture and the building trades, says Richard Bienvenue, the group's founder. "Some people drop them off, and if they can't we'll pick them up," he says.

The farm is at 19715 Zion Rd., Brookeville. For more information, call 301-519-1019 or visit

At the National Arboretum, the Friends of the National Arboretum accepts garden tools that can be used in its Washington Youth Garden, a large vegetable plot tended by inner-city schoolchildren. Contact Kaifa Anderson-Hall at 202-544-8733 or Kaifa

In Northern Virginia, Green Spring Gardens accepts garden tools and equipment, as well as books and containers, though not the black plastic pots from garden center pots, says spokeswoman Cindy Brown. Surplus donations are sold to fund the park's friends group, she says. The park is at 4603 Green Spring Rd., Alexandria. For more information, call 703-642-5173 or visit

Local chapters of Habitat for Humanity also accept tools and equipment, though they are sold to raise funds in the organization's ReStore building-supply retail stores in greater Washington. The Northern Virginia ReStore is at 7770 Richmond Hwy., Alexandria. The charity's Arlington office can be reached at 703-521-9890. The suburban Maryland store is at 9100 Gaither Rd., Gaithersburg; call 301-990-0014. -- Adrian Higgins

Used Books' Next Chapter

Some people are so attached to books that they find it hard to give them away. But knowing that those books will be helping a good cause might ease the pain.

Montgomery County's Friends of the Library hopes to clear $600,000 this fiscal year selling hardcover and paperback novels and nonfiction books as well as cookbooks, children's books and travel tomes, CDs, albums and books on tape. They do not accept encyclopedias, magazines or outdated nonfiction.

The money is used for grants to libraries, bookmobiles and detention centers, and special library programs for Black History Month and Cinco de Mayo, kids' summer reading and teen battles-of-the-bands that are held at branch libraries, says the group's executive director, Ari Brooks.

Donate (or shop) at the Wheaton Library at 11701 Georgia Ave., 240-777-0688; and the Randolph Hills shopping center, 4886 Boiling Brook Pkwy., Rockville, 301-984-3300,

Steve Hersey founded Books for America in 2002. He figures the group gave away about 60,000 books last year to homeless and women's shelters, soup kitchens, hospices, AIDS clinics, adult literacy programs, veterans hospitals, jails and disadvantaged public schools and libraries in the District, Maryland and Virginia. "I can't get enough children's books and would love to have more that are bilingual, in Spanish or with African American themes," he says.

The group also runs a store in Dupont Circle that sells books, CDs and DVDs; signed or rare books and collectibles are auctioned online. (No magazines, no hardback fiction unless rare or signed, no textbooks published before 2006, no yellowed or damaged books). Pickup is sometimes available for large donations.

Books for America Bookstore, 1417 22nd St. NW, 202-835-2665, --Annie Groer

Building on Generosity

Some groups are eager to reuse large household necessities, and even parts of the house itself. ReStore is one of more than a half-dozen thrift stores run by Habitat for Humanity in Maryland and Virginia to raise money to build new homes for low-income families.

"We generate between $250,000 and $300,000 a year" selling new and used building supplies and furnishings, says Kevin Crawley, manager of the thrift store in Anne Arundel County. "In the next few months, we hope to use $100,000 to build a new home."

Gently used lighting, cabinetry, flooring, windows, doors, plumbing fixtures, appliances and upholstered furniture are all accepted by the store. Winchester Homes, Annapolis Lighting and Atlas Tile often donate new goods still in boxes.

"I can't put a Jacuzzi in a Habitat house," Crawley says, "but I can sell it for enough to equip an entire bathroom."

The Anne Arundel ReStore is at 8101 Fort Smallwood Rd., Pasadena. Call 410-437-7755 or visit

Washington architect Jim Schulman opened Community Forklift near Hyattsville two years ago to recycle used doors, windows, appliances, fixtures, cabinets, lumber, masonry and other building materials otherwise bound for the landfill.

"A lot of our customers can't afford to shop at Home Depot. A used water heater might not be as efficient, but there are people who wouldn't have hot water unless they could buy one for $35 from us," Schulman says. "Habitat builds new, affordable housing. We keep people able to afford the homes they already live in."

Community Forklift is at 4671 Tanglewood Dr., Edmonston. Call 301-985-5180 or visit

Other local sites that accept such building materials as bricks, untreated wood, appliances, fixtures and carpeting are listed at -- Annie Groer

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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