Flashback: The False Charity of Clothing Drives

Originally Posted in February 2006

The story goes something like this:
A typical church in a well-to-do neighborhood is inspired by the stories shared by a visiting missionary. In an effort to contribute to the needs that the missionary has shared the church has a clothing drive and encourages members to donate their winter coats for those who don’t have a coat to keep warm. The drive is a wonderful success and the missionary sends word of how the coats have benefited the people she works with. This is a wonderful thing.
The following year, the church again encourages it’s members to donate their coats and clothing and again they fill boxes with used clothing and coats. Now we have a problem.

Why is this a problem? The needs of the community are being met, with coats and clothing coming their way. And to the degree that those needs are met it is hard to critique without being looked at poorly. Yet I will still address my concern about the church.

Let me entertain you with some questions:
1. Have you ever participated in a clothing drive?
Having heard about a need in the world, you recognized that you had more then enough for yourself, and you where compelled to share your possessions with those in need.

2. Look at your closet now. Does it reflect those same convictions that moved you to donate your clothes in the first place?

3. More specifically, if I looked at your closet now, would I be able to see your convictions reflected, or would I say you are a prime candidate for our next clothing drive?

See, the problem with clothing drives is that often they result in a “hand me down” sort of charity. We donate our old, out of fashion, and undesirable clothes and make room in our closets for the new wardrobe we’ve been eager to purchase. Not only do we physically clean out our closet, but do it in the name of “charity” as if these actions are a noble act of giving. (If I am not describing you, please don’t feel judged or feel the need to defend your actions). This is a “false charity.”

What am I suggesting instead? I would like to see convictions drive our actions, not events like a clothing drive. If you have two coats and you only need one, then you should give the other away. The next time there is a coat drive your only option should be to buy a new coat and donate that one to the coat drive, because the one you currently have you need. If you have more shoes then you need you should give them away, and if you have more clothes then you need you should give those away too.
A church full of people living out their convictions would have no use for a clothing drive (unless it was to collect new items), because every member would have already given away their excess.

“The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”*

4 thoughts on “Flashback: The False Charity of Clothing Drives”

  1. Great post! 🙂

    I am reminded of two things. The first being we should give our BEST. Meaning, when we go out and buy that *new* coat, we should give IT to those in need and then keep our old. It’s what Jesus would do. 😉 Mother Teresa died with deforemed feet. Why? Because she plundered through each donation box and picked out the absolute worst pair out of eacxh bunch…and gave the best of the vbest to those in need. She died with the “beutiful feet” e gospel speaks of. She didn’t want anyone in need to have to live with the “worst” pair of the bunch, so she took them Her whole lfe.

    The second being this, thanks to the promptings of Shane Claiborne (who is repeating God’s desire):

    The tragedy of the church is not that we do not care about the poor but that we do not KNOW the poor. So charity gives usn easy way out. Jesus would have us come to *know* the poor…to build relationship with them. That’s what HE did.

    If we gve up our clothing to “other hands” that will give our items to those in need, we are letting ourselves build an “insulation” of sorts between “us” and “them”. What Jesus would have us do *INSTEAD* would be to get to know the people in need, through very real and tangible relationships. To not only provide a “physical” manisfestation of His love and grace, but provide a spiritual one as well. Someone to walk with them and talk with htem. Nurture them through their life, all the twists and turns that may come.

    The sad state of humanity (especially here in America) is *not* that we don’t WANT to help thoose in need. Cause I truly believe we do. It’s simply that we dont’ “know” the poor. We can’t relate to what they’re going through…we can’t relate to what they need…we can’t relate to what kind of solutions would help them in the “practical” areas of their life. If we could do this simple thing…I think we could change the world.



  2. word on your community. i read the post when you were just starting. how is it going now? also i followed some links to a book you are publishing. very cool. is that still in the works and are you still looking for submissions?

  3. I have struggled with this for a while. Especially because Mother Teresa says “if you have two coats, one belongs to the poor”.

    Here’s my question, though… do any of you bloggers reading this actually only own one coat??? Have any of you actually succeeded in giving away your extra jackets? I confess I have been unable.

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