I could simply take all those highlighters and anything else on my “donate shelf” to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. These organizations do terrific work. But I like to ensure my items get put to good use by places that specifically need them. All of which led me to wonder, what kind of places need the specific items — such as business clothing or, in my case, office supplies — you don’t want, don’t need or can’t use anymore?
That’s the question I posed to Ali Wenzke, author of “The Art of Happy Moving,” and Denver recycling guru Sally Kurtzman, as well as friends, family members and colleagues. Their suggestions were practical and, in some cases, surprising. In many cases, I’ve included a specific organization to point you in the right direction in your own community. Here’s what they had to share:
Books. Local libraries can turn your books into cash through book sales. Comfort Cases in Rockville, Md., packs books for ages 3 to 16 years into duffel bags or backpacks for kids going into foster care.
Dress for Success, with affiliates in 40 states and the District, helps outfit women in work-appropriate clothes for interviews and jobs. It could always use suits, blouses and tops, pants, skirts, accessories, and shoes. In California, Chrysalis collects clean, gently used business attire, makeup and business-suitable handbags for homeless men and women looking for employment; individual shelters sometimes accept those items as well. Another suggestion: Check with your local college career centers. Some, such as California State University at San Marcos, have a “career closet,” — a room of gently used business attire. Students can get a few items a year free for important interviews.
Prom attire and accessories. Organizations such as Prom Dress Exchange in Denver and Chicago’s Glass Slipper Project provide juniors and seniors with dresses, shoes, accessories, jewelry and makeup so they can attend their prom in style, regardless of financial status. They typically collect items throughout the year and then host boutiques where students can come and “shop.” If you Google “donate prom dress,” you’ll likely come across a similar organization near you.
T-shirts and men’s shoes. According to Kurtzman, men’s shelters are your best outlet for these kinds of items. Most general collection centers are overwhelmed with old clothes and shoes, so they just end up in landfill.
Feminine hygiene products. For those going through menopause or who decide to change brands, don’t toss those extra boxes of pads and tampons. They are welcome at women’s shelters.
Children’s clothes and toys. Preschools, elementary schools, foster-care programs and domestic violence centers can always use extra kid stuff. “As an elementary school teacher, [I know] our school’s office staff is always in need of clean clothes and shoes of all sizes. During the day, students have bathroom accidents, shoes fall apart, or students get wet or muddy at recess,” says Lauren Tingley, a blogger at Simply Well Balanced. “By donating clothes, jackets and shoes to your school, you can make sure that children are able to change quickly when parents are unable or unavailable to quickly bring a change of clothes.”
Furniture. You can help formerly homeless families build homes by donating to Furniture Bank. “This is a wonderful way to create a home for someone,” says Wenzke, who is familiar with the Chicago Furniture Bank. “You call, and they will pick up your furniture for a nominal fee. Then, they stock a showroom in a warehouse, and families transitioning out of homelessness who get a new place can pick a package,” she says. You can do a Zip code search on Furniturebanks.org to find a nearby organization.
Quilts, duvets and towels. Even if they’re stained, give them to animal shelters, Kurtzman suggests. Animals love to snuggle and don’t care if the colors are passé. Note that most shelters don’t take pillows, because the animals tear them up.
Cleaning supplies. Bring a bucket filled with supplies to refugee centers or other organizations working with those moving into homes. Usually their clients are moving into an empty residence and can use anything you have. These organizations also usually accept dish-drying racks, mugs, kitchen utensils and glasses.
Eyeglasses. Look for Lions Club Recycle for Sight donation boxes at optometrist offices, schools and other public locations. Gently used prescription glasses and sunglasses are distributed to those in need worldwide. Eyeglasses are cleaned and repaired, then the lenses are measured for correction and labeled. When Lions Club members hold eye screenings, patients are evaluated and fitted with the appropriate eyewear.
Blue jeans. Cotton Incorporated’s national denim recycling program, Blue Jeans Go Green, helps consumers repurpose their unwanted old denim into housing insulation (yes, it’s denim blue in color) used by groups such as Habitat for Humanity. Check their website to see whether a local retailer is accepting donations; if not, mail them to Blue Jeans Go Green.
Mason jars and vases. Random Acts of Flowers collects these so it can deliver flower arrangements to people in hospitals, assisted-living facilities and hospice centers. If you have leftover blooms from a large event such as a wedding, Random Acts of Flowers accepts flower donations as well. The nonprofit has only four locations, but has inspired similar missions across the country, and you can find them on its website.
Office and school supplies. Schools can use pens, markers, crayons, paper and craft supplies. Or check out Breakthrough, which has 24 affiliates across the United States. The nonprofit, which accepts donations of school supplies, builds a path for college beginning in middle school for students from low-income communities who will become the first in their families to earn a college degree.
Didn’t see your items on this list? Most charities have a wish list on their website, Wenzke says (make sure to check whether they’ll accept used or only new items). Kurtzman adds that if you can’t find the ideal recipient for certain items, consider posting in neighborhood websites such as Nextdoor.com or ask your local church or parent-teacher organization. You’ll probably get a response and your stuff will find a wanted new home.