Old clothes mean new ways to help

CHATHAM — Ever wonder what ends up in the clothing collection boxes at the town dump and other locations? Where does it go? Who does it benefit?

According to Captain Patrick O’Gara of the Salvation Army in Albany, the money raised through clothing donations support “a good portion” of the budget for the organization’s Adult Rehabilitation Program, a 6-to-9-month residential program for men — up to 90 at any given time — recovering from drug abuse, alcoholism and other profound difficulties, who are provided clothing, housing, recovery services, job training and spiritual education.

The Salvation Army’s process is this: the boxes in Columbia and Albany counties and environs are emptied weekly, and the contents brought to an Albany processing center, where gently-worn clothes are sent to the Salvation Army’s stores for resale. Items that are not sold or that are unusable are bundled, sold and shipped overseas, usually to South America. Captain O’Gara says that this recycling process marks the Salvation Army as one of the earliest “green” organizations.

Tony Quirici, who drives a truck for Rock Solid Ministries, which collects donations on behalf of Upton Lake Christian School at boxes located at the Chatham’s and Kinderhook trash transfer (“convenience”) stations, among others, laments that a great deal of garbage is placed in the bins. It’s a problem for every group that puts out these un-monitored donation boxes. Rock Solid must pay to remove the garbage, diminishing the value of what is donated.

Fran Husak at the Salvation Army’s Hudson facility, says that only 25% of what is donated is usable, and the 10 area stores spend about $150,000 a year to dispose of the rest at various landfills. After sorting the items that it does not sell — shoes, books, toys, kerosene lamps, fans, weight lifting equipment and glassware have all been “donated” — Rock Solid sells all the usable recycled clothes it receives to third world countries, mainly in Africa and South America.

On the upside, Mr. Quirici says that it is also not unusual to find new, unworn clothes – sales tags intact – in the boxes. All of the groups that collect these donations make the point that donations of new and gently used material are important to the support of their mission. They also ask that donations be bagged before they are deposited.

Not everyone collects the same items, which makes donating more complicated for donors. For example, the Northeast Parent & Child Society, which provides adoption and foster care services, accepts not only clothes and shoes but also belts, blankets, drapes, stuffed animals, new underclothes and bathing suits, pots, pans and other household goods in the spanking new box it placed at the Chatham Bowl. At its store in Schenectady it also accepts nonperishable foods, hygiene products, cleaning supplies and other items. The Institute for International Cooperation and Development, which has a box at the Price Chopper in Chatham, collects only clothes.

On its Eastern states website, www.use.salvationarmy.org, The Salvation Army has a list of practical tips for donating clothing and other materials, including:

*Do wash or dry-clean any clothing prior to donation

*Do not donate broken or soiled items

*Do not leave items outside a collection box or center

*Do not donate items that have been recalled, banned or which otherwise do not meet current safety standards.

Statistics that measure the need for the useful items charities collect from the boxes are difficult to come by; some studies list clothing as a “miscellaneous” necessity compared to food and shelter. But the most recent poverty data for Columbia County may shed some light on why the number of boxes appears to be growing. In 2008, before the latest recession hit the nation full force, there were over 6,000 people in the county living below the poverty level, almost 2,000 of them children.

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