Jun 4, 2013

The Economics of Used Clothing and Shoes


Today I read an article that Oklahoma doesn't need used clothing and shoes. I want to say that SYM categorically does need them in Austin, Texas. There flat out is insufficient supplies of adult clothing for our our impoverished people here in Austin. Clothing is rationed and people regularly are turned away with shoes falling apart or pants torn due to lack of stock and sizes.

The agencies responding to the crisis in Oklahoma correctly point out that cash is more flexible and requires far less work to manage. They point out correctly that is makes more sense to stimulate the local economy in a crisis by enabling people to purchase new items for themselves. SYM completely agrees with all of this, however, we have to be practical when dealing with a daily flow of impoverished clients seeking help. Funds are not available to cloth our impoverished in Austin. However, we are blessed with volunteers and people willing to donate used clothing. And I know there is a lot  clothing out there. We just need to organize it and get it to the right spots.

First, let's establish some scale of need for SYM. I would love to receive 500 to 1000 pairs of used adult practical shoes today. We and those we are partnered with can give out 30 or 40 pair of practical adult shoes weekly, about 25% women and 75% men. We can use flip flops, practical sandals, work shoes, work boots, army boots, and even practical dress shoes. Most used shoes don't last long, unfortunately, and especially when they are your only pair and worn without "rest" every day. We have the storage for about 1000 pairs right now. We don't have the money to ship it, but we can manage it once it's in Austin. Would we prefer money to purchase 30 or 40 new pairs of shoes weekly? Sure... but we have to be practical. And there are choices... we'd far rather spend that type of cash on food or rehab or health, for example. For the records, we need about the same number of shorts and belts. These are always in short supply, especially for men. I'll finish this paragraph by stating that we also give away about 100 pairs of socks every week and could probably give away about that many underwear. (Our ladies prefer panties and our men prefer boxers or boxer-briefs.) We strive to give away new socks and underwear but sometimes we don't have them.

With that paragraph out of the way, let me share my dream. I dream of the local church in the Austin area collecting used clothing, laundering it, folding it, sorting it, and holding it in a closet. Each church would become part of a network of churches, feeding upwards toward every clothing closet in the city. Some would be collection points; some secondary hubs; and some primary hubs. We'd have a supply network with storage, ready to deliver when needed by a closet. It's not easy to run a clothing closet, but it would be easy to be a collection point and supply hub. That's our dream! Certainly we'd like to see it for our most excellent clothing closet partner, University United Methodist Church, and we'd love to see it for every clothing closet in the city. UUMC has the most space dedicated to clothing storage for the poor that I have seen in Austin, and yet they must ration mens clothing and rarely have shoes to fit their clients. We could change that! Distant small towns saving clothing and moving it on occasion to suburbs. Suburban churches saving clothing and moving it to larger hub churches. Volunteers at clothing closets sending out emails to their hubs with monthly needs to be filled. It would be awesome!

Why bother? I think it's important that the local church gets involved in the lives of all the impoverished people right in their back yards. I know that simply buying "new" clothes would be "cheaper" if you factor in people's time. But the time is a precious gift, and it may make more of an impact that the clothing can ever do.

If you're part of a network of churches who would like to organize this clothing railroad, please contact us. This railroad would have a lasting impact on our city for years if not decades to come. It would be green, it would foster fellowship and church inter-working, and it would be run by people who care for and encourage those impoverished in the city of Austin--now 11th largest city in the country. It would be a blessing to the poor and, I know, the volunteers would be blessed as well.


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