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How to donate what's really needed right now

Tips for making more helpful and impactful donations to charities and non-profits in your community

Tips for making more helpful and impactful donations to charities and non-profits in your community

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Most donations of clothing, toys or household items by Canadians to charitable or non-profit organizations tend to happen in the fall; a post on CanadaHelps.org notes that a large percentage of our annual giving to charities takes place between September and January

At the same time, donating clothes and other used goods has become a slightly more complicated process, with many thrift stores and donation sites temporarily closed this past spring, and some organizations still not accepting physical donations or offering pick-up services right now due to physical distancing requirements and other logistical issues. 

But don't let these minor complications discourage or delay your giving — with heightened demand in many communities due to the pandemic's financial impacts, and the imminent arrival of winter weather (and the corresponding, seasonal need for donations of warm clothing and accessories), it's worth taking the time to find out which charities and non-profits near you are still accepting donations of items like clothing, household goods and furniture. 

And for those looking to make their donations this season (and beyond) extra helpful and impactful, we reached out to two Canadian charitable organizations to find out how COVID-19 has impacted donation protocols for them, what's really needed right now, and how you can best help the charities and non-profits in your community. Here are some key tips to keep in mind ahead of your next drop-off. 

Do your research

You'll definitely want to call ahead or look online to confirm which organizations are currently accepting donations of gently-used goods right now, as things may have changed for this year. Calgary's Women In Need Society (WINS), for example, is once again accepting donations at all of its stores and Donation Centre, but isn't currently able to offer home pickup for furniture and other items. "We've stopped sending our trucks out to people, because we don't want to send our employees into people's homes with COVID being so active in our community," explains Karen Ramchuk, the charity's Executive Director. 

Find out in advance, too, what the current protocols are for donating goods, so that you can come prepared. At WINS, employees receiving donations wear PPE, and donors are asked COVID-screening questions at drop off. Other organizations may require contactless drop-off, or ask that donations be packaged a certain way (for example, in see-through plastic bags or bins).

Ask what is needed

Some organizations, especially those that operate or partner with thrift stores, will generally take in a wide range of second-hand goods. Check their websites for detailed lists of accepted products, and any exceptions. WINS, which runs six brick-and-mortar stores and an online clothing enterprise called Twice New, accepts everything from clothing to furniture to household items and even second-hand mattresses. "Our number one need that I don't think we could ever find enough of is mattresses," says Ramchuk. He says they take used mattresses as long as they don't have rips or stains.

Other charities may have much more specific needs that change frequently, depending on client needs and seasonal demands. Fred Victor, a social service charitable organization in Toronto that accepts donations of clothing and other items, runs 20 different sites and each may have different needs at any given time, says the charity's Fundraising and Communications Director, Marie MacCormack. "We encourage people to go and look at our website, find the shelter or the site that's closest to them, call it directly and say, 'What do you need?'" 

Some smaller, local organizations may not be able to store excess or out-of-season donations, for example, while others may only need certain items at specific times. To be sure that your donation will be of use to the charity or non-profit, MacCormack recommends checking in before you make any drop-off plans. "The best thing to do, if you want to donate items, is to call the organization in your community that you want to support and find out what they actually need," says MacCormack. Otherwise, you could unintentionally be creating new work for the organization, which may have to dispose of, or spend time finding a new home for, your well-intentioned donation. 

Consider both seasonal and organizational needs

If you have any extra winter gear sitting around, consider donating it. "The stuff that's always really needed at this time of year is cold weather apparel for every person," says Ramchuk. "Everyone thinks of winter coats, which is great, but there's so much more to it; kids need new boots every year, mittens, toques, scarves, long johns." 

And both Ramchuk and MacCormack note that there is high demand for certain home items year-round. "The other huge need that we always have is furniture and household items," says Ramchuk. "Think, if you were moving into your first small apartment, the items that you really need." That includes everything from beds and dressers to cutlery and cookware, explains Ramchuk. 

At Fred Victor, which helps people find permanent housing, donors are encouraged to put together complete "home starter kits" filled with new, essential household items (like sheets, towels and dishes) that would be useful for someone who is moving into a new home. 

Make sure everything is good condition

When donations arrive in good condition — wiped down, clean, hygienic and ready to go — they can be repurposed and put to use much more quickly, notes Ramchuk. "The better the shape an item comes in, the quicker we can get it moved through our supply chain and into the hands of needy Calgarians," she says, adding that fixing or cleaning a donation can cost the organization valuable volunteer hours. 

With clothing donations in particular, do take the time to check to make sure there are no rips, stains or broken zippers, suggests MacCormack. Each item should be clean, and in gently used condition. 

Develop long-term relationships

One-time donations are great. But for maximum impact, MacCormack suggests connecting with an organization in your community, finding out what they need on a regular basis, and keeping that need in mind throughout the year as well. "For charities, there's nothing better than regular, strong, long-term relationships… you'll get so much more out of it as a donor, and the charity will get so much more out of it because you're going to give things that they actually need," says MacCormack. 


Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.

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