A do-gooder PSA…helping during the winter holiday season

Now that the winter holiday season is almost here, I feel it is my public duty as a career servant to the less than fortunate and head of a non-profit agency to share some valuable information with you. After all it’s that time of the year when those of us with a few rocks want to lend a hand and do something nice for the folks with no rocks, yet a desire to do well, doesn’t always end well so let me help you out.

First things first, in the ideal world before you go through your closet and your kid’s closet and start clearing things out to take to the local homeless shelter or social service agency, call said agency first and ask what they might need/want. Let me repeat, call and find out what an agency needs before you pull up with a carload of Hefty bags filled your discarded stuff.

See, in real social service agency land, often times your Hefty bags of used stuff creates more work and resources expended for the very people you are trying to assist. At my agency, we stopped taking clothing donations years ago because we had no washer/dryer and too many times the items we received were marginal and frankly should have been taken to the dump. Yet people still try to drop stuff off and seem bothered when we say sorry. Paying my staff to haul stuff away means money spent on something that is not of benefit to our clients’ and creates waste.

That said, if we say sure we would be happy to take your old *insert item* please, pretty please make sure it is in good working condition. Too many times people give items that frankly are on their last leg of life and again, I and other social service providers must spend precious dollars getting rid of this item thus creating wasted resources. After all my staff isn’t hauling stuff for free.

BGIM’s rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t give *insert item* to your Mom, BFF or anyone in your personal circle, please don’t give it to the poor, they may be broke but they are people too!

Issues of food insecurity get lots of coverage in November/December and everyone wants to do something to help but please, pretty please call the food pantry or food bank before you drop off 37 boxes of cold cereal and ask what would work best. For starters many food pantries can use actual dollars to buy food cheaper than you and I can via food banks and they know their clientele best. Which brings me to my next point, for the love of all things precious don’t give food items to the poor and needy that are outdated or gross. Many moons ago on this very blog I shared how once when I was a kiddo and my parents were on hard times someone gave my mother outdated chocolate syrup, 32 years later, I still remember the stench. Seriously, toss old shit out…the poor don’t want it.

Many people love the idea of adopting some poor kiddos and making their winter holiday fabulous and often times will try to work through the schools or local youth service providers. This is a nice idea in theory but often creates a sense of unease, please respect that poor parents are still parents and they have the right to decide what their kids can and can’t have. Please don’t ask social service providers or school social workers to play the role of God or parents. No, I don’t know what the “neediest” need and even if I do, I still need to discuss this with their parents. No, you cannot come and just give presents to the poor kids. Just because a parent is broke does not mean they have given up their parental rights.

Lastly social service providers would love to see you helpful winter helpers in the middle of the summer. For realz. Most food pantries experience a drop off in giving in July/August when you are off vacationing yet hunger and food insecurity does not go away just because the weather is lovely, so consider spacing your support throughout the year.


A frustrated service provider


PS: I know your family wants to do a group activity during the holiday season, but coming to serve food to the poor to teach your kiddos how good they have it really isn’t comfortable. We welcome your help and support but our clients are not creatures to be gawked at or a teachable moment. Please examine your motives and reasons before you sign up. Thanks.


8 thoughts on “A do-gooder PSA…helping during the winter holiday season”

  1. Our very small church is considered a “mission” church” because we are in the middle of an area of urban decay (that is rapidly being gentrified, wonder what we will be after that is completed).
    Last year there were several coats left over from a coat drive held by a very affluent church so the church. brought them over for us to offer to our food pantry clients. We did end up giving everything away (since it was in the middle of a very cold snap), but I couldn’t help noticing that most of these coats that were left over should have been discarded. Many had stains, tears, or were woefully out of date (not retro out of date).
    During the giving period, there were people from said church who were volunteering (with their children…teachable moment???) and complaining about some of the people who walked through who didn’t find anything to take out of the selection of coats. There were whispered comments that ran along the lines of who do they think they are to pick and choose…
    What a great example to set for their kids.
    Don’t even get me started on the people who want to give to these families and then sit in a circle around the kids opening gifts like they were zoo animals…
    Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that people want to give and I don’t want to discourage that, but just as you say, if you wouldn’t give it to someone close to you, please think about your motives for giving it away.
    PS I have been told that the local Goodwill, Salvation Army, as well as other groups take clothing discards that are in bad shape to sell in bulk to recycling companies. (I hope that is true).
    Boy am I glad you decided not to quit blogging. This is so important. I often feel alone in my feelings but you said it STRONG!!!!!!!

  2. This is very helpful. You would think you wouldn’t have to tell people not to donate gross or expired food. Sigh. I do not donate anything I haven’t eaten myself or wouldn’t feed to my own kids. I also have found that shelters and the like can also use toiletries and not just the usual soap and toothpaste, but some nice smelling shower gels and lotions too. I can’t imagine as a woman not having nice lotion to put on after a shower or a little lip gloss. At this time of year Bath & Body Works has huge sales where you can get those small lotions and shower gels and lip balms for super cheap.

    • Shelters love and I mean love toiletries especially for women. My career started working at a women’s shelter and good quality items were always in high demand. I would also say that in areas where women of color may be numerous especially Black women, haircare items were always a huge need.

  3. when I went to my kids’ schools last year to get “holiday assistance” (I was unemployed, divorced, and on food stamps), the school had a very helpful form that asked useful questions (about sizes, color and style preferences, and special needs like texture issues) and divided everything into NEEDS and WANTS. I was so grateful to a guidance staff that was experienced enough to know that the most important thing to me as a mom was that the stuff didn’t look like it was chosen by someone else!

  4. wait a minute, are you actually saying people who need help from social service agencies or public benefits might deserve things like dignity and respect?!? Shocking!

    (Thanks for this – I’m sharing it as far as I can.)

    • Thank you so much. I hesitated in writing this especially since I am not anonymous but I really feel people need to know what is helpful and what is not.

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