I have tried to write this piece for months. MONTHS.
It should be simple – talk about The Family Place Resale Shop and get Frisco fired up to support this non-profit philanthropy. But it’s me, and I can’t because that idea is just too…simple.
Because sure, we can donate items we’ve finally decided to sever from our lives, and we can make the drive to the shop and pick up a few things…
But what if we could do even better?
When I was a sophomore in high school, a classmate eagerly came through the door, grinning ear to ear. “You won’t believe the deal I got. I went to the Goodwill yesterday, and found these flawless Doc Martens for only $10!”
I wanted to scream. Even though I knew I should have kept my mouth shut, I immediately called her out, “(name redacted) what the heck? Why would you do that?”
“What do you mean,” she defensively squawked back, “It was a good deal.”
“Because,” I began, trying not to fly out of my seat, “It’s not for YOU to find. The entire point is so that someone who could have never have afforded those, to find and enjoy them.”
To say she was angry is an understatement (and embarrassed, although I promise you it wasn't for the right reason.) See, she came from a family who could easily afford those shoes…plus she already had a pair. (This was the 90’s, they were a thing.)
But ultimately, she missed the purpose of a resale shop. It’s not just a place for someone to find crazy cheap deals on gently used clothing, it’s an outlet to give people a safe and dignified place to shop.
An opportunity to purchase better items, inexpensively, not cheaply. And there's a difference.
A quality top lasts far longer than a $9 Old Navy shirt (not trying to start nothing with Old Navy, but they know it’s true…it’s also why it’s only $9) and when you’re in a position where money is so tight, and it’s between a shirt on your back or a hot meal, you CANNOT AFFORD TO BE CHEAP.
Donate. Shop. Change a Life?
That memory kept biting at me when, in February, I went to The Family Place resale shop for a tour. Nestled in a lively shopping center, I walked in to find it’s set-up like a Marshalls: apparel on one side and home goods on the other.
From what I spied right away, it had some really cute stuff, and quality items, at that. Open daily to the public, I was told it gets quite a bit of traffic.
Despite the urge to drop everything and start shopping, I had a job to do. And with a wistful sigh, I went to the back to find Meg Bittencourt and meet the team behind the scene.
Meg immediately introduces me to Belinda Mendes, who can best be described as Superwoman. And I’m not even kidding. It only takes me five seconds to gather that a place like this takes brains, guts, and heart.
She's tasked with processing the families who apply for need, as well as, managing the whole operation – and it’s an impressive one at that; people sorting through loads of clothes and household items, large furniture making its way in and out through the back, the basic hustle and bustle of a retail store. Many items are even brand new, from very generous retail donors.
And for a minute, I forget the whole point, and think, “Man, it looks like they’ve really got a hold on things. It seems like they're effectively meeting the needs of the community. Problem solved!”
I look at Belinda and I’m afraid to even ask how she copes because I don’t want us all to start weeping.
Then she leads me the closet where they make the emergency packs, and I’m humbled by the items I take for granted. Toilet paper, soap, shampoo, deodorant…things you leave behind when you’re dropping everything and escaping to a new, safer, life.
These items have to be new, obviously and are purchased with the funds (and direct donations as well) earned through the store itself. My throat gets tight, and although I should get a photo, I’m worried if I try to mess with my phone, they'll notice my hands are shaking because that’s what happens when I start to get upset.
But this situation doesn't need my pity, it needs my attention.
I look back and notice a rack of wedding gowns, and we exit the closet and talk about their more luxury-type items. Designer bags, shoes, et al. Those are priced higher, but the really high-end donations go to the online Poshmark store.
We walk back toward Belinda’s office, and I ask about what they’re in short supply of: “Pots and pans, cooking utensils, and household goods,” she replies, and I can’t help but think of how many unused pans I have in my kitchen.
They also reveal that it’s difficult to fulfill clients needs for kids clothing, most of all, shoes. Especially toddler to mid-teens. I get another pang of guilt because I always donate these items around the holidays, but completely forget the other 11 months of the year.
Once a family has applied for assistance, been approved, and is processed, (an action Belinda and her team works as hard, and as fast, as they can to do) they get credit to purchase items in the store.
My breath catches a bit when I hear that part, and I immediately think of the items out front, and how I was going to shop just for pleasure, not for need. Now I’m feeling like maybe I shouldn't shop at all.
While we're chatting, the team is constantly fielding calls from generous people all over the city trying to coordinate large item pick-ups and drop-offs. It’s difficult, because drivers are also volunteers, and the need clearly outweighs the availability. That isn’t even taking into account how to store the incoming items while waiting for trucks and people to help move out the existing items.
I look back at the overwhelming piles of clothes. It must take them ages to sort through them, and I know they carefully do because based on what I saw out front, it’s intentional that they don’t put just anything on the rack.
They would never complain, but I’ve lived a long life of service and I’ve helped with sorting like this and it’s a nightmare. (Everyone I ever worked with already knows I’m not nice, so they weren’t shocked when I wanted to come across the table, and find the person who was patting themselves on the back from bringing in a bag of clothes that had pit-stains on every shirt.)
This group of angels is all working their fingers to the bone, and they are getting it done, and joyfully I should add. Spirits are high and their smiles are infectious. It’s been an hour, and time is as valuable to a business like this as the actual donations are, so I gratefully thank them and Meg reminds me to “Go shop!”
I return to the main storefront and began perusing the aisles, taking an even closer look at everything. There's a ton of stuff for women, and it’s clearly been carefully procured by Belinda and the team. I would proudly wear any of it.
I go over to the men’s section, and it’s sparse. “Makes sense,” I thought to myself, “Most men have fewer clothes than women and come to think of it, I don’t think my husband has bought a new coat in a decade, so he certainly hasn't donated one.”
As I happen to be over there, two men are combing through the limited amount of jackets. One turns to the other and tries one on – it’s clearly too big, but the man simply shrugs his shoulders, and I can tell he’s resigned that it's really cold outside, and something is better than nothing.
This man is going to spend hard-earned money for a coat that doesn’t fit and he doesn’t even like, because that is what is available.
“We can do better,” I whispered to myself.
The “Aha Moment”
I can easily shop here because the coat I’m wearing won’t need to be replaced next year. I invested $200 and barring any stains or sharp changes in the trajectory of current fashion, I'll wear this coat for the next five years. And when I say wear it, I mean it will get in the rotation of other coats, and will likely not see much bad weather or strain.
I went to look at the coats available. They were ok. Coats are hard things to let go of, I get that. I’d never given one away, I love all of mine. But I can do better.
I got angry at my friend in high school, but have I ever really parted with something really good? Have I ever given up something I thought I could resell myself?
If you're like me, when it comes to clothing donation specifically, it’s usually after a closet purge, and it’s items I’ve either decided I hated, or have worn to death. Is that something I would want to pay money for? Or even be grateful to get for free? I couldn't help but wonder…
Frisco, what if we committed ourselves to take a new approach for The Family Place?
Forget quantity – let’s focus on QUALITY. And I hear you – do I think someone should be walking around in a Chanel coat while trying to pay the rent? No.
I promise my point is coming….
When it comes to donating to a resale, or any charity, don’t try to come up with a bag of items you’ve resigned to let go of, just pick one really decent thing. If you can’t, consider buying something that can’t be resold (like underwear and socks, something everyone needs) and donate that. They're grateful for every donation, but I believe we can do better for them.
Have a luxury item? Donate to their online Poshmark closet. You can shop there, too.
Because here’s the deal: every dollar spent, and many of the donations, go to victims of domestic abuse. And remember that folder from above? That was just the families they were able to process. The more strategically we help, the faster they can turn those families around.
For more information, or to coordinate a drop-off, visit thefamilyplace.org