Donate Don’tate: A Homeless Shelter Primer

November 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

During this time of year people always become so damn charitable. It could be that they’re making way for new and fabulous items that they will be receiving from their friends and families in shiny wrapping paper and ribbons or that they will have to purchase themselves to make it look as if they are “keeping up with the Joneses” when the in-laws come into town. Either way, a lot of stuff ends up getting bagged up and sent off to thrift stores or homeless shelters.

First, as an employee that spends countless hours grueling over sorting and processing donations through the night here at my facility, I would like to thank you for your donations. Without these items we would be hard up to help out the people we are trying to support. However, sometimes things should just be taken to the thift store. I have decided to write out a helpful little guide to assist you.

Also, please remember that most shelters are open year round. (with the exception of winter warming centers) Donations are actually sometimes needed more in May than in December. Plan your tax deducible donations sensibly. Your CPA will appreciate it and so will we!




I know you loved your great aunt Elsie very much and it broke your heart when you had to box up her property at the retirement community she lived before she passed away. Your favorite memories of her were when she stood up in church and testified and the sun rays glinted through the windows and shone off of the sequins on those fabulous sweaters she wore every Sunday morning without fail. Cherish those memories. Maybe hold onto a couple of those sweaters and sniff them every once in a while to remember her scent, but for God’s sake, do not donate them to a homeless shelter. If you wore it to your nephew’s christening and you’re donating it because you just can’t think of another occasion when you’ll wear it, I will guarantee you it’s not appropriate for donation. DRY CLEAN ONLY. Seriously? I know why you’re getting rid of it. You didn’t check the tag when you bought it, or convinced yourself that if it ever got dirty you would absolutely go to the dry cleaner. When have you ever been to the dry cleaner? Honestly? Now you’ve pawned it off on someone else. It’s not a white elephant gift. It’s supposed to be charity. I realize that the first goal is to keep people clothed and warm. However, these people are often going out and looking for jobs and apartments. (At least in my facility.) So, I am adding, don’t donate outrageously out of date clothing like anything with shoulder pads.


Everyday pants of any material (denim, corduroy, canvas, etc) in any size. Often shelters are lacking in the xx-large woman’s sizes. (IE 22 – 28) Pajama pants, t-shirts without alcohol or offensive slogans/language on them. (Even ‘positive language’ can be borderline. Unfortunately a ‘Gay Pride’ shirt can have a lot of negative reactions.) Plain shirts, button-down, etc. Casual, business, etc. Sweaters and sweatshirts. New underwear. (Some shelters accept used underwear, but not all. Underwear is an item we always need in every size, especially in the larger ones.) New or gently used socks. Shoes that are in good condition; not just regular sneakers, hiking shoes or whatnot, but nicer shoes as well. New and gently used bras.



The great thing about men’s clothing, is for the most part, it is timeless. . . except for Hawaiian shirts and anything from about 1984 to 1996. It’s OK, though. The hipsters want those things anyway, so go ahead and free box that stuff and they will flock to it like a kitten to a saucer. Especially if you throw a brown button down cardigan on top to lure them in. Let’s just go over the obvious of what not to put into the donation bag. Don’t put polyester suits. The ones from the 70s with the big collars. Let’s just make this really easy on me and I am going to say don’t put out of date stuff. Yes, I know 80s is “back in vogue.” No, no, no – it really doesn’t mean it’s OK to bestow your Van Halen denim jacket on some poor unsuspecting soul. . . actually, you could send it to me. Also, offensive or promotional t-shirts. I know you don’t like it. I know you were given it at a bar or a street fair and it’s been hanging out in your drawer forever. Use it as a shop rag. Give it to the thrift store. Paint the house while wearing it. You know what’s not cool to do? Give a dude in recovery a t-shirt with a giant beer slogan on it.


Men’s clothing is really easy. Pants. You all wear them. For the most part, you all want to be not wearing them from what I understand. Well, give them up and give them to the shelter. Jeans, slacks. Even your great grandfather Torvold’s high rider’s can find a home at the shelter. Even though his trousers were pulled up around his nipples, I am sure they can rest comfortably around some guy’s normal waistline. T-shirts and long-sleeved shirts. Button-down shirts, both of the casual style and job interview quality. Suit blazers if they aren’t obviously dated. You are welcome to donate neckties, but please be aware that these often are slow to be handed out to clients in the shelter environment, so personally I would advise against bringing in the bag of 50 ties you have from your grandfather’s recent death. I would choose a few that are neutral, would most likely go with many different shirt colors, are of a modern width, and then give the rest to the thrift store. . . or mail them to me as I do a lot of fun craft projects with ties. . .  New and gently used socks. As I said before with the women’s clothing, not all shelters accept used underwear, and it’s just really nice to give new underwear people. Seriously. Both boxers and briefs, though from the little time I’ve worked at a men’s shelter, they were more grateful for anything than picky. Shoes of different calibers from sneakers to running and hiking, dress shoes and the like.


Toiletries are integral to the everyday function of the shelter. Here are some things to think about if you’re thinking about purchasing for a shelter near you. Also, if you happen to be cleaning out that drawer full of hotel shampoos and conditioners from your many amazing vacations, we love those! Put them in a big plastic bag and when you bring in your “appropriate clothing” donation bring those along as well! At my facility the hotel-sized shampoos get handed out to clients for their personal use, but regular sized containers of shampoo/conditioner are considered “House” and are shared amongst all clients, so it’s really nice to have the small ones for clients to have their individual containers.


Mouthwash with alcohol in it

Shaving cream (this seems weird, but at our shelters for instance, we charge for razors and get a ridiculous amount of shaving cream donations. Currently at my facility alone I have over 700 disposable razors and boxes upon boxes of shaving cream. Honestly, it’s not really that much of a necessity as you would like to think. We get the donations anyways and a little goes a LONG way.)

Giant Costco-sized value containers of anything. Sometimes the shelter hands out the products directly to the clients to keep. Clients don’t have the room for, nor do they want to lug around 4 lbs of pomegranate body wash.

Tampons. Weird, I know. They’re great. Most women use them. They’re convenient and all that. Unfortunately a great deal of shelters reside in older buildings with sub-par plumbing. My facility, while they can’t outright “forbid” them, doesn’t provide them for clients because they do exactly what they were made to do. . . which is clog up the pipes. . .


Toothbrush lids or containers
Toothpaste (the little tubes are actually better than the big ones)
Deodorant (unisex scents preferable)
Soap bars
Hand Lotion (light or unscented preferable)
Sanitary Napkins
Talcum powder
Cough drops
Standard first aid supplies (individual antiseptic gel packets, band aids and liquid hand sanitizer are my favorites)
Denture bond
Blood Sugar Monitor Test strips (we get the monitors as donations all the time, but they’re not very much use without the test strips and your donation can help a person manage their diabetes for a month)



California king size sheets. Yes, we need bed linens. Yes, I know you believe that the government just hands people experiencing homelessness welfare checks and food stamps. Unfortunately they still sleep on twin-sized beds, or worse, mats on the floor. So, stop giving us your old ginormous bed sheets. They’re ridiculously huge and I can’t do anything with them

Down Pillows. I love down. I have down pillows myself and a down comforter. Do you know that kind of funky smell they get when they’re not quite dry, though? Yeah. Now imagine that smell for days. It’s gross. Now imagine that smell multiplied by a room full of, say 30 – 50 of them. It’s terrible. Just don’t do it to me.

In fact, since we’re on the pillow issue, let’s just say used pillows at all. There is a reason you’re getting rid of the pillow in the first place. Its gotten flat. The fiber fill has matted down. Detritus has formed inside the casing. There is sweat stain on it. Sleeping on someone else’s used pillow can cause weird pressure points, migraines, etc. etc. However, you can buy a lovely brand new pillow at a store for like $5 and donate that instead.


Coffee (Donate lots of coffee. Not decaf. Not instant. Just some good old fashioned pre-ground coffee)
Flat & Fitted Twin-sized Sheets (if the shelter specifically asks for bed linens)
New pillows
Sleeping bags or tents (depending on the specific needs of the shelter. If they don’t ask for it, I would ask them) 
Food Donations (often shelters will post what kind of non-perishable donations they need. If you want to donate large meals, call their volunteer organizer for details)

While I am sure that this is a greatly incomplete list as all shelters have different needs for their situations, but I hope this is something that can help you make informed and generous decisions in your donations throughout the entire year.

A Note on Children: I haven’t purposefully omitted them from this list. When making child based donations, there are many professional organizations that will ensure that toys and clothing will end up with children and needy families. Putting toys and kid clothes in donation bags sent to homeless shelters not “family oriented” usually means that those items will end up being reprocessed and end up being sent off to a thrift store or even thrown away. My particular shelter is 18+ so we don’t deal with kid items at all. Many local organizations have clothing and toy drives during the holidays and even offer large bins conveniently at super markets and such so you don’t even have to go out of your way to dump your kid’s old crap.


A Noodley Effigy

September 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sometimes when I read the log when I first get on shift at work, I really have to wonder what my co-workers are thinking when they are making their entries. For sake of privacy and, you k now, not getting fired, I can’t actually post actual entries, but I am going to paraphrase what transpired recently.

Earlier this evening, a client had volunteered to cook a “house dinner” for everyone. This is a fairly common thing. It’s nice. Everyone enjoys it. Sometimes it can be a little stressful for one or two people to cook for 60 other women, but usually it runs pretty smoothly. For some reason, this client decides to take the plastic packages of dry pasta and stick them into the oven that at the time, she claims was not turned on, but when my co-worker checked, it was on broil. For sake of argument, we’ll just say the client put them there for safe keeping. Why? I have no idea. There’s lots of counter space. There’s no reason to put packages of pasta inside an oven. You know what’s going to happen. It happened. The pasta comes aflame and smoke fills the building, the fire alarm goes off, the works. Everyone is evacuated. Hunky firemen show up. The noodley-effigy culprit was found.

Life continues at the shelter and the client finishes dinner. My co-workers proceed to write in the log “and house dinner went off without a hitch.

The best part about this story however is the big steaming pile of suck after this where they leave me a happy little pink note taped to a yellow aerosol canister of oven cleaner asking if I can clean the oven out. Now, they asked, but since there are only two ranges and 38 women on this floor, it’s more of a ‘I need to do it’ kind of situation. So, I spent an hour sitting on a chair with elbow length rubber gloves on huffing aerosol lye and scrubbing out baked on dioxin fumes and gunk so that my clients can fry up their Jimmy Dean convenience store sausages in the morning.


September 15, 2011 § 3 Comments

A few days ago I came to a profound discovery. I can no longer taste carbonated beverages. Perhaps I would have noticed this sooner, but I don’t drink soda on an every day basis and it happened to be a random situation that I was ordering one in the first place. You see, I also don’t drink alcoholic beverages. So, when we go out with friends, in lieu of a beer, I will indulge in a sugary, fizzy soda as a treat. Apparently, not any more.

I blamed the CO2 at the restaurant for being out and drank my flat, sugary drink without complaint and even had a refill, not noticing a difference in the [lack of] carbonation. Lame. I was hopeful for the tingly bubbles that excites and thrills accompanying soda enjoyment.

What brought about this sudden flatness in my life? I have just exceeded my first week of tritrating a new medication. What does that mean? It means I am starting at a very low dosage and working my way up to a much higher one. What medication? Topamax.

I am super excited about this medication, despite the fact that soda is no longer appealing to me. I am I am still going to attempt my favorite, Jamaicaian gingerale, as I am hopeful that the fierce bite of that might penetrate the effects of the drug.

Most epileptic medication causes horrific weight gain as I have experienced in the past and Topamax has seemed to immediately curbed any sense of craving to graze or snack out of boredom, which is fantastic. There are also many, many accounts of significant weight loss, which I am not counting on, but could be a pretty neat fringe benefit.

There are no miracle drugs and side effects are always present. So far, I have experienced a few of the more common ones noted, such as paresthesia, which is a tingling kind of numbness usually in the hands or feet. In my case, it has mostly been in my face. It went away after the first couple of days, but I just increased my dosage, so I assume it will return again.

I have had some pretty outrageous mood swings. Breaking out into full blown random crying fits. I am unsure if these have been simply side effects or actual break-through seizures induced by the new medication. One type of my seizures presents itself by uncontrolled shaking sobs.

Other than that, I am just tired all the time. I am still working graveyard shift, which I know doesn’t help matters any. All I want to do when I get off work is sleep and all I want to do when I am at work is go home and sleep. I am hoping that once my body regulates to the medication that will ease up a bit. You know, that or I get a day job.

So, I am just one week into this new stuff. Decided to make a note of it. Haven’t really been keeping up the blog, so thought this was a good enough entry to revitalize my presence.

America Needs a Moral Swashbuckler

June 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

I was reminded of the BBC version of Casanova (not like the sanitized, cute US film) recently, and began to think about the limits of behavior in our era. The real Casanova was a daring, sensual, fairly unscrupulous fellow, and would have been locked up in prison just as quickly in our age as in his. Some of the things he did were certainly amazing and even inspiring, such as his escape from Venice’s infamous prison, and his rather egalitarian treatment of many strangers.

On the other hand, he once seduced a young woman whom he later discovered to be his own daughter (her mother, also in bed with Casanova, told him of this after the fact). This revelation did not appear to phase him, as he proceeded to father a child with her as well.

Another celebrated personage of the 18th century in this respect was the Marquis De Sade. I have read a number of his stories, and they often descend into depths of cruelty and neurosis which are difficult to understand, let alone justify. Anyone who has seen Quills and compared it with his writings can see how the Hollywood version was very much ‘tidied up‘. De Sade certainly exceeds any humanistic or religious standards in that he speaks of harming others for one’s own pleasure.

One aspect of his stories which I do have some appreciation for, however, is that he was unafraid to expose the hypocrisy of the authorities in his day. A great number of his tales feature priests, nuns, and others of the cloth engaging quite enthusiastically in sexual acts. Judging from other contemporary accounts, this was not by any means an exaggeration. As Casanova also noted in his escapades, the hallowed halls of monasteries and nunneries concealed a great upwelling of sexual expression. Note the example of televangelist Haggard, who was found to be conducting a secret liaison with a male prostitute. With magical powers of vision, what other hypocrisies might we uncover in government, churches, and other institutions? I’m sure Dr.Kinsey would not be surprised by the results, and neither should we.

As someone once said, the Moral Majority is neither moral, nor a majority.

So I do feel a genuine admiration for what both of these men accomplished with their writings, primarily because I see them as great iconoclasts. They did not create the reality of what was occurring in society- they simply participated and recorded their observations. The schizophrenia and repression that the Puritans bequeathed to America makes Casanova in particular all the more attractive as a symbol of defiance to moral orthodoxy. And orthodoxy is exactly what I think needs to be scrutinized and judged- there are certain societal limits which are useful to have, in order that people are not harmed by others.

Yet when laws and taboos go beyond that and dictate how one can feel and express pleasure or love, that is where an iconoclast is needed to put things into perspective.

That Was Zen. . .

May 31, 2011 § 1 Comment

The idea came to me, in the fuzziness of my emergence from a work nap, that there is a dichotomy in my regard for Buddhism. Yes, strange things do present themselves during that twilight period of consciousness on many mornings– and upon this occasion, I began to consider whether I would be a good Buddhist.

I do support the notion that people do bad things because they wish to grasp power over others, to have a sense of ownership whether it be as a national leader, or as a lover or spouse. There is a neverending parade of murder on the news, reporting about men who have killed their wives and even their children, rather than lose them. It’s like that ironic quotation from the Vietnam war, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” That’s a prime example of someone believing that they own the ones they love. I suppose there are many reasons for this, one of which is our cultural belief in the traditional Christian marriage.

I do think it is romantic and endearing when couples state that they belong to each other. The difficulty may lie in the extension of this notion to ownership. Take, for example, the doctrine of the Mormon church, which I am familiar with. In that religion, it is both explicitly and implicitly declared that a wife will belong to her husband in the eternities– and not only her, but also any other wives which he chooses to acquire. Hence, and notwithstanding the protestations of LDS leaders to the contrary, a woman is effectively the chattel of her spouse now and in the hereafter.

This sense of ownership leads to many ills, including forcible polygamy, incest, child molestation, etc within the fundamentalist LDS community. I suspect matters were not much different in many of the original Mormon settlements back in the days when polygamy was still legal.

In our modern culture, the effects are less obvious but still quite negative.

I think that if two (or whatever number you prefer) people genuinely love and care for each other, there is no need for the belief in ownership, and the craving to have another person. If love is mature and true, I think that the lack of that belief makes it far stronger, close to indestructible.

As for material wealth (as distinguished from wealth in love), I would say that it is not inherently evil, but the pursuit of it leads to evil things. Let me produce another example to illustrate this. Microsoft is a gigantic company, and is well-known for its shady business practices. However, Mr. Gates has an enormous and very generous charitable foundation which has done much good in the world during its relatively short existence. But this does not compensate for the wrongs which his company has committed. Imagine for a moment the impact which Microsoft has made upon the world’s economy – the many competitors it has forced out of business, the many people who have lost their jobs due to unfair tactics, the stifling of potential new technologies which are perceived threats, and the unseen suppression of third world countries’ innovators who don’t even bother to try anymore.

Who knows what other effects there are?

I believe that it’s acceptable to enjoy the better things in life (most of which are free, yes, but money does secure one’s existence), although the pursuit of them and money itself is harmful. It’s a fine distinction. I would like to make the point that it can be good to desire certain material benefits, because life is short and should be enjoyed for the fruits it offers. If I sat under a peach tree next to an early Christian Anchorite, he might tell me, “I refuse to partake of this delicious fruit, because doing so would cause me to desire it more, and lust for that which is passing and ultimately unfulfilling.” I would respond, “To avoid that which can bring happiness, even a temporary one, is to abandon your humanity and deaden yourself to the same senses which cause us to bring forth art, poetry, and music.”

It is an old debate, one which can be found in any history of philosophy.

Would this make me a poor Buddhist? Others would have to judge that. Obviously, I do not call myself one, but I do admire many of the precepts.

Contraband Cup-o-Soup or How I Stop Worrying and Learn to Live Without Gluten

May 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

I really love ramen noodles. Like many kids, eating ramen was an everyday staple of growing up. So stringy and brothy, salty and delicious. For how shitty and cheap it is, we just can’t seem to get enough of it. Did you know you can buy it by the case?

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started paying attention to what I ate. At that time, however, all signs pointed to eating MORE wheat products. 100% whole wheat noodles are better than egg noodles, right? Should definitely get the all natural wheat grain tortillas instead of the corn ones. They have pretty convincing advertising, after all.

It never occurred to me that what they’ve been pimping in the media could actually be bad for me.

Living in Portland definitely increased my beer consumption quotient. I mean, in Utah, the household that I lived in was a Miller household, despite the fact that the gal drinking all of it (surprisingly, not me) was gluten-intolerant.

I’ve just always through that a swollen, itchy face was part of drinking alcohol.

So here I am. Sitting at work late at night clutching a Cup Noodles that I found in the food storage room. It’s fucking delicious. Also, my face is starting to itch. It’s one of those scenarios of how many times must I touch the stove and burn myself before I realize that stoves are for foreplay only. . . I mean. . . don’t touch stoves. Maybe it’s because my reaction isn’t severe enough that I dance the dance of puffy face, swollen stomach and general digestive issues.

Self-care sucks sometimes. Especially when it involves omitting things like doughnuts, greasy chow mien and convenience store burritos. Talking about healthy habits probably doesn’t include those in the food triangle, though.

I can’t promise to make an attempt to eat healthier. My defiant inner personality will take that as a challenge and I will head-dive into a diabetic coma after scarfing down my weight in cinnamon bears and jelly beans. Think about it. As you eat, your weight increases, which means that an infinite amount of vulnerable mammalian gummies will be mercilessly devoured all in the name of personal rebuff.

We can’t have that now.

So what is my solution? The same as always – that by announcing to the world that something is a problem I either have to suck it up and deal with it or risk being seen as a hypocrite. That’s about it.

The Joy of Mindless Tasks

May 20, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’d do it for free.

Stuffing envelopes, that is. Over the past two nights, I have had the pleasure of a “special project” from my director. These are very often tasks that are best done at night when there is little client interaction so that I can focus on them and let my co-worker work the desk. I enthusiastically accept any and all projects thrown my way.

I’m a brown-noser, I realize.

My thought process is that maybe they will notice all the extra work I am doing and move me into a more skilled position. I think the outcome is that they realize that I don’t have enough to do in my current position and so they’re always ready to laden me with more work.

I have been hand addressing, stamping and filling envelopes and I love it. Doing these kinds of tasks keeps me busy without really having to think ahead or about anything else that is going on in my life. Lately, I have been thinking about a lot, so this comes as a meditative relief to me.

I have often volunteered for organizations doing similar tasks. I even have been compiling an address list of my own to mail out brochures about my mad harp skillz.

I could be a little obsessive-compulsive.

During one of my classes at school this quarter, the instructor brought up an interesting notion. He said that when you study, you should only do it for a few minutes and then go do a mindless task for a bit before returning to study. I have always done this a bit, but I considered it to be a sign of attention deficit disorder. It still could be. He made an suggestion of juggling, which he performed in class – or washing the dishes, which he did not. The theory is that the short-term memory can only retain so much information at once before it caches it away into long-term memory so you need time to process it before piling on more data.

Kind of like a Commodore 64.