The Story of Stuff: We Don’t Want Your Stuff

We get lots of calls at the shelter.  Many calls are asking about space and resources, but many people call  asking if they can donate their stuff to the shelter.  These are the calls that often leave me a little salty.  Let me explain…

When a guest arrives at the shelter,  one of the first questions is “what do you need?” Sometimes people arrive with bags and bags of their personal items, but even among all of their stuff, they may not have clean underwear, a warm enough coat, or shoes and socks warm enough for winter.   More often,  guests arrive with just what they are wearing and carrying in their pockets.  They need a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, socks, and something to sleep in.  Our bottom line at the shelter is to treat all people with dignity.   For our people, dignity isn’t always easy to come by and so we dole it out in heaping spoonfuls and that moment when we can offer new socks and underwear, a fresh toothbrush, sweats to sleep in – we see a little of that dignity restored. 

And this is where I get a little salty about donations.  We are incredibly lucky at Connections in that when we have a need, we can put the word out and 9 times out of 10, that need is met.  From mitten and coat drives, to calls for pajamas and underwear, our community is great at rallying to meet the need.  We need people to answer that call and to step up in abundance.  However,  we have to be picky about what we take.  In the early years of doing this work, I said yes to any donation that was offered.  Yes, I will take your toiletries.  Yes, we will take clothes you are cleaning out of your grandma’s closet.  Yes, we will take all the winter lost and found items from your business.  As more and more things came  through the door, I realized that I needed to say NO more often.  As I started saying no, people would become rather put out.  “But it is decent stuff!  For those people, it’s good enough!”   “It’s a perfectly good___________, it just has some stains.”  “But if you don’t take it, what am I supposed to do with it?” (this is my favorite one- how exactly did your giveaways become my problem??)  

Imagine coming into a shelter and being given the left-overs, the ½ empty bottles of lotion or shampoo.  The sweats that are ratty on the edges and the elastic stretched out- but good enough.  The winter jacket that is better than what you have, but doesn’t actually zip. Giving in this way reinforces the societal commentary that because you are experiencing homeless, you don’t deserve anything but the scraps.  After you have heard this in words and through actions time and time again, you believe it deep in your soul and it is pretty hard to change the narrative.  

So all this to say- we don’t want your stuff.  Your stuff that is good enough, that ‘those’ people should be grateful to have, that you pass off to us because you don’t know what to do with it.  If it isn’t good enough for you, it isn’t good enough for me to pass along to our guests. Yes- we still need donations, but we need ones that are a blessing and not a curse. 

 As I make a graceful dismount from my soap box- 🙂 I want you to try to reframe your thoughts about donations.  Think of them as little donations of dignity.  Buy the new set of sweats from Walmart, fill an order from the amazon wish list, do a new underwear drive at your place of work.  Restore dignity with stuff that says you matter, you are worthy, someone cares.  I promise you- it makes a lasting difference. – Pr. Erica

Published by parkinglotpastors

Pastors Erica Koser and Collette Broady Grund live and work in Mankato, Minnesota. In 2017, the birthed Connections Ministry, an ecumenical organization which operates a seasonal homeless shelter. On Easter 2021, they launched Shelter Church, a new worshipping community of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) which meets outdoors around a free community meal every Sunday evening.

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