Goodwill Hunting

November 29, 2019

Just took a spin through the old bedroom closet and drawers, and I finally (regretfully) bagged up the bathing suits and flip flops until Summer 2020, and sent my summer clothes to the attic in labeled black trash bags. The labels invariably fall off, so when Steve (and it’s always Steve) climbs up to retrieve them in May, I’m never quite sure whose duds will be in the bag I’m tearing open.

When I ascertain that they (the duds) are mine, I realize that lots of them are, literally, duds: faded and worn, or otherwise undesirable. Next step? I confess I used to just fill up bags for Goodwill (here read Salvation Army, Vietnam Vets, etc.) and leave them outside for pickup, without really evaluating the items I was giving.

But then, on our 2008 mission trip to Vermont, we spent a day at a Goodwill Thrift Store, sorting the donations. I gotta tell you, it was a stomach-turning activity: bags were filled with, not just faded and worn clothes (mea culpa) but really gross castoffs: baby sleepers covered in dried spit up, muddy jeans and, my personal fave, a bag full of wet, moldy shirts and pants. At the end of the day, 90% of the “donations” were in the garbage. How is this thoughtlessness serving anyone, most of all the folks who have to rely on charities for their garb? It is akin to the food collections where people give cans and boxes of expired canned beets and stale cereal. It all reminds me of comedian Mitch Hedberg’s line: “When someone on the street hands you a flyer, it’s like they’re saying “Here, YOU throw this away!”

For years, our preschool participated in Operation Christmas Child. In theory this is great: you fill up shoeboxes with little toys and gifts, which are then distributed to children in third world countries. But then I read about what actually happens in too many cases: the stuff in the boxes is sometimes flimsy and breakable, often items the kids in those countries have no idea how to play with, and, most importantly, these “presents” take away income from the struggling local businesses who are trying to sell their own playthings.

So this year, the kiddos are instead giving brand-new stuffed animals to our local Children and Family Services. These cuddly toys will be given to children who need to be removed from their homes, due to neglect or abuse. I imagine a frightened little one, getting a small measure of comfort from a new teddy bear—that, to me, is the true spirit of giving.

Nowadays, I try to examine anything I am planning to donate, and ask myself: “Would this be something my family would truly appreciate, were they to need something to eat or wear?” If not, out it goes! I am just really trying to be more sensitive and aware of others and their actual needs.

It definitely makes for slower closet-cleaning, but I believe it’s worth it.


    I am an author (of four books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: or email me at



Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter