Clean Out Your Closet to Help End Homelessness

Thrift Shopper storeI’ll admit it: I was wrong! Very wrong! Up until I connected with the Rescue Mission in Central New York , I pretty much thought giving directly to people was the best way to give out gently used clothing. Often people contact me and say: “we have clothing we’d like to donate, but we don’t want it to be sold”. I would then connect them to shelters, or actually pickup their donations and then drive around to distribute the clothing out of the back of my SUV. Part of the reason I did that is most every ministry and shelter I worked at, if anything of real value came in, staff and volunteers get “first dibs” on the good stuff.

My paradigm about clothing donations and thrift stores started to change when I first visited Rescue Mission Alliance of Syracuse. In fact, I was literally blown away by their 3fifteen store located near Syracuse University. In the past, I’ve seen some pretty amazing for-profit recycle and vintage clothing stores like the Buffalo Exchange, but the not-for-profit stories always seemed to be a little grungy. The 3fifteen store takes thrifty shopping to a whole new level. They partnered with Café Kubal to create a comfortable, modern and cool shopping/hangout experience. But that spirit of excellence can be seen in all of the Rescue Mission’s Thrifty Shopper stores, even the store on their campus that gives clothing to homeless and low-income men, women and families.


3fifteen and Café Kubal near Syracuse University

So here’s the deal. Right now money is tight. Less people are donating badly-needed funds, simply because so many people today are facing their own financial crisis. Added to that, government support to fight homelessness continues to be cut. This is happening all while need for support services keeps increasing! Government reports may be saying there is less homelessness, but everywhere I travel I see more people on the streets than ever before. Sadly, there is a large group of hidden homeless that most of us don’t see, and our government refuses to count. Add all this up and we have a serious crisis that will continue to get worse – unless we find a way to fuel services that are getting people out of the shelter system and back into society or in permanent  supportive housing!

Thrifty Shopper stores make up 60% of Rescue Mission’s budget here in Central New York. That means the people who donated clothes and furniture last year helped house 324 of the 540 people the Mission placed into housing. They also helped provide 175,933 of the 293,223 meals given to those in need. That’s AWESOME!

Ladies We Need You!

Let’s be real. Guys wear their jeans until the literally fall apart. Cleaning out a closet is not on most men’s radar. Because of this, jeans in normal men’s sizes are a desperate need at most homeless services. We often get a lot of women’s clothes, but there is always a huge need for men’s clothing and items like belts. Ladies, please grab a large bag or a pillow sack and walk into your man’s closet. Start packing up all the stuff you know he’ll never wear again. You may hear him cry: “I’ll be a size 36 again so I am saving them”, but we all know that’s never going to happen. Now ladies, you don’t save clothes like that do you?!!

I am not sure where you live, but I am pretty sure there is a thrift store that supports homeless services near you. If you’re in Central New York, I strongly recommend you give those unused items to Thrifty Shoppers. They take everything: recycling what can’t be sold — reducing our footprint in landfills — so just give it all. If you’re in another part of the country, do a little research and find an organization that is working hard to end homelessness and uses the thrift store model.

Rescue Mission has thrift store donations down to a science. In this short video I interview Christin Mixon, merchandise manager for Thrifty Shopper, about their operations and how donations play a huge role in saving lives.

If you were like me, or know someone who has the wrong idea about clothing donations, please share this post with them. Yes, there are some for-profit thrift stores that sell your donations just to make a buck, but if you take a moment to look, you’ll find organizations that will accept your donations and give them to those in need, and sell the rest to help better your community. From now on, I’ll be giving my clothes to a thrift store that helps fight homelessness. How about you?

  • RH

    If you want a homeless person to have clothes you donate, give it directly to them ! After having spent 18 months in a shelter in Lexington, KY, I can report that nice clothing dropped off at the front desk can, and does, disappear out the door with shelter workers. Even higher quality donated food disappears, such as boxes of frozen steaks that the cook thought too good for homeless men.

  • You are correct that in many places anything that’s good is taken first by staff or volunteers. I know of a homeless shelter that does this intentionally to reward volunteers. I do not agree with this model at all, and I think it’s horrible that intended donations to those in need are often scarfed up by staff that get a paycheck!

    That said, there are places that make sure donations get to their intended use, and it’s actually another good reason to give to the thrift store model that has procedures in place so this type thing does not happen.

    For years I would give directly to people, but that wasn’t helping them get out of homelessness. I will still provide direct support when I see someone without shoes or other needed items, but as my own personal policy I will not give to thrift stores that are working to end homelessness.

    Turn your old clothes into housing is a brilliant idea.

  • Monica

    You are “figuratively blown away”, not “literally”. If you were literally blown away, you would be dead.

  • Carolyn Stephens

    The Assistance League in Las Vegas (and I assume everywhere there is a chapter) operates entirely with volunteer staff. Donated items (not just clothing) are sold in thrift shop and the money is used to purchase brand new clothing for school children in need through their School Bell program. Walking through their “store” is like visiting a department store with racks of new shoes and clothes. It’s a personal thing, but I’d rather turn my old stuff into new stuff.

  • Jordan

    I think it would all depend on if it was a soft landing if were literally ‘blown away’


    I had lots of men’s pants to give away. They were almost brand new. Worn once if that. I just gave the whole lot of 100 plus pairs of pants to Catholic Charities homeless services in Baltimore. I wouldn’t know where the homeless hang out now.

  • AC- Miami University

    I think this is a wonderful opportunity to help people of all needs. While there can be many different misconceptions about for-profit thrift stores, there are also many places out there that are simply trying to help the community by any means possible. I also thoroughly appreciate the fact that there are ways that even worn-out and tattered clothes can be recycled and used for good in other ways rather than being thrown out. This place can be such an incredible opportunity for so many people, and hopefully it will continue to help people for many years to come.

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  • SG Fitzpatrick

    I always suspected (especially after a guy at, of all places, the Jesus House in downtown Oklahoma City, saw a pair of Levi’s in my pile to donate and said “Ooh! Levi’s, are these MY size?!” Um, no) that this was happening, that staff of many places are getting first go at donated clothing. I have also bought a few items at the Goodwill Thrift store and I know that what I paid is not going to go very far in helping others. 🙁 It should not be so darn hard to help the many people who are in need, I need to start looking in my city. I have too much and so many have nothing, it is past time for me to do some good again.

  • SG Fitzpatrick

    This makes me…. I can’t even tell, I guess that mad/sad combo platter. Hard to Do Good when people are fighting ya all the way. I think also I will ask my parents’ church, they go to one that is awesome about helping. I really want to help with food too, for the past 4 years I have been unable to help as many people as I used to, because I lived in an apartment with tons of neighbors, now am in a suburb I guess, and I have no clue who lives next door to me. Which is sooooo weird. Anyway, I have no car and no one knows me, so I don’t have teens knocking on my door “Are you the lady who made dinner for Kara?” and then I’d just make a big bunch of something easy but not junk, and we just had great dinners.

    I miss that so much, it sort of hurts my soul, if that makes any sense.

  • SG Fitzpatrick

    I would not need to take from homeless people as a reward for helping people in need, that is awful! Dang. Maybe they have never needed help, or know what it is like to have a need met. I do and it just makes me want to do that for as many people as I can during my time on earth. Kind of feel like I am just takin’ up space for now, need to see where I can be useful.

  • SG Fitzpatrick

    Pretty easy to find, just drive around your town. Here it is or was mainly our downtown, the bus station for some reason had a lot of people. But now that part of town has been all jazzed up so we can have an NBA team. Sort of gross and ironic, the stupid money basketball players make, but we had to pay tax to get them here, and now I imagine the homeless people are “shooed” away. Heaven forbid Kevin Durant be bothered by the site of a hurting human.

  • SG Fitzpatrick

    That’s great, friend! I hope you read something here too so you can help meet the physical needs of people too. I believe that is a VERY important part of being a person of faith. Caring for others, not just saying “I will pray” but praying and doing. Lots. 🙂

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