Friday, 5 February 2010

Charity Bags

There are probably a million small things in the way that business and general life is conducted that differ in the UK from in the US. One of those that came to my attention recently was about donations of unwanted clothing and such to charity.

In the States, at least where and when I lived there, you bagged up your clothes and deposited them at the store or warehouse of your chosen charity. I remember this also included transporting furniture, but perhaps there were alternatives of which I was not aware.

Also, in the States, the Federal Post Office deems it an offense (as in Federal offense) to deposit anything other than official Post Office delivered mail into a mail box. You'll have heard the funny observation that in the US the mail is delivered by the Post Office, but in the UK the post is delivered by Royal Mail? I'm never sure which word to use, so I tend to use them both. Anyhow...

In the UK, hoards of people walk around the neighbourhoods depositing adverts and coupons from restaurants and other businesses, political posters and...plastic bags from any number of charities or the like. All that and junk mail means I keep a wicker waste basket on my front porch into which a good deal of these items go. When it fills up I go through and separate plastic from paper so that at least part of it gets re-cycled. Unfortunately the Avon woman and certain other catalog sales people tend to want their catalogs back, and make a fuss otherwise, so I just sling them back out the front door and if their plastic bag isn't water tight, it's not my problem. I've really come to appreciate the stance taken by the US Post Office.

In recent times I've noticed a number of the plastic bags soliciting clothing and shoes are not actual charities, but sell the clothes on to developing countries. I remember a fascinating chapter in The Fashion Reader about what happens to huge blocks of clothing sold to market traders in Africa. The other day I got a bag that was labelled Action for Children, but in reading the cover, the collection was going to be done by Care2Collect. Some of the information on the cover suggested to me that not all the money raised from the collection would go to Action for Children and so I discarded the bag. In writing this, I've research and found that though Care2Collect's website says "Registered in England No. 641385", that number isn't listed in the UK's Charity Commission website, so I think I was right in believing them to be a business that serves charities. Action for Children is a registered charity.

So, in going through boxes and closets and finally admitting that I need to let go of some things, I've started keeping a bag for those items, ready for the next charity bag that looks OK to me. Only they don't always collect them when they say they will. In which case, the stuff goes into another bag; this is all in one week, you understand, giving you an idea of the volume of solicitations that come through my mail slot. I tried putting a "No Solicitations" sign on the door, but everyone only associates that word with prostitution, so the message didn't work.

I saw the man from St. Oswald's come for the bag and watched him from an upstairs window. For a moment I thought he was going to give the stuff back to me, but he didn't. Rather he left a slip of paper as thanks. In that bag was some boots, taupe suede boots in size U.S. 5/U.K. 2.5 that I've had since the early-to-mid 70s. I loved those boots for most of my youth and still loved looking at them and stroking them. I tried them on yet again before putting them into the giveaway bag.

These were 3 inch heels mind, not very comfortable. Also, I've always had big calves, so the zipper was always getting stuck. In fact, I was expecting the man to come read the gas and electric meters (Something else that is different here: the meter in our house is inside, under the stairs, not out in the back yard or on the side of the house like in the US). I was panicking at not being able to get the zip up or down and feeling yet again like I was in I Love Lucy, imagining me hobbling down to answer the door. That cinched it -- they went. I caught myself crossing the road towards the St. Oswald's shop the next week just to see...but no, I didn't actually go look for them.

My last bag went to Kidney Research UK. I've actually heard of them. I was thinking as I came back from setting the bag out that I actually know someone with kidney disease. Unfortunately it is someone who used to drive me nuts, not that I wish them any actual harm, and I'm really pleased they are no longer in my life.

Whatever charity, I was trying to decide if having those bags disappear made me feel good because of where they went or just because they are out of my life. I have to admit, it's the latter. I wonder if this means I'm finally going to get to grips with serious uncluttering....nah, not likely.


Frugal Scholar said...

In London, I saw many large containers for donations. In fact, we plan to bring clothes and then donate if we ever take another trip there. I wonder if those charities are good ones.

TKW said...

Sorry, but I'm giggling at the picture of you hobbling around, trying to yank that old boot off!

Jo said...

I think it great that someone actually comes and picks up your filled bags. Ours sit in the garage waiting for us to take them to the charity's drop off site.

Shelley said...

FS - That's an interesting proposition, bringing clothes from the US to donate in the UK... Are you sure would wouldn't rather go to The Gambia or Goa, Budapest or Krakow? That's probably where most of the contents of the textile bins would end up.

The link in my post to the Charities Commission gives you detailed information about what a charity is for and how it gets and spends its income, the main things I look for in deciding if a charity is good or not.

TKW -- Good - you make me laugh often enough, I'm pleased to be able to return the favour!

Joanne - At least you have the stuff bagged up. You don't seem likely to me to go out there and change your mind, which I have been known to do...

Pauline Wiles said...

I know it's good when our cast-offs go to proper charities, but I'm a bit like you, I just love having the stuff out of the house.
For ages after we moved here I had no ideait was an offense to put things in mailboxes, and I must admit I still find it very strange and very sad! How else do you hand-deliver a thank you note or small gift? I'd much prefer pizza leaflets in the mailbox, rather than blowing around our front porch :)
Also, in the UK, free newspapers used to come through the door, rather than sitting, getting soggy, on the front drive. I've been caught several times by the neighbors, going out in my PJs to retrieve them!