How to Give Back Better in Raleigh

Ready to donate your old stuff? Read this guide first so you can better help our local nonprofits. 
By Ayn-Monique Klahre

A volunteer at The Green Chair Project | Photograph by Bob Karp

For many of us, December is a season of abundance: trees filled with decorations, gifts overflowing in the trunk of the car, appetizers on platters, a house stuffed full of family. But it’s not so for many in Raleigh and Wake County, and this year especially, with the pandemic and its aftereffects. “The pandemic has only increased the need,” says Susan Meador, volunteer services coordinator for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle.

Come January, the instinct often turns towards sharing (and shedding) that abundance: cleaning out the house, donating gifts that we won’t use, and being more mindful of those who have less. In a fit of goodwill-fuled organizing, it can be tempting just to take all your old stuff and dump it at the nearest drop-off point. But that, say our sources, is not necessarily the best way to make sure that usable goods are getting to the folks who need them. 

So before you donate, take a look at these tips to learn how to be more thoughtful in your donations and truly help those in need.

Check the Needs List

Not every organization can use all the things you want to donate. The best way to make sure you’re meeting their needs is to check the website ahead of time, as that information is often readily available.. “We have a high needs list and regularly update it,” says Dallas Bonavita, executive director of Note in the Pocket. “There are some items, like baby clothes, that people love to donate, but often it’s the less popular items — like adult-size underpants for our middle and high school age children — that are overlooked.”

→ Check out this list of where to donate clothing, furniture, books, and more.

If there’s an organization you know you want to support, take a look at the needs list before your next trip to Target, Costco, or the grocery store — it’s easy enough to toss in a 12-pack of new socks or some toiletries into your cart when you’re already at the store.

Note the Donation Times

While you’re on the website, make sure you pay attention to donation sites and hours, as many organizations have had to scale back operations to operate safely during the pandemic. “We use volunteers year-round willing to pack and deliver bags or boxes of food to our neighbors facing hunger, but due to the pandemic, we are keeping our volunteer shifts small,” says Meador. Leaving a box outside a donation site may seem harmless enough — surely they’ll pick it up in the morning? — but inclement weather or critters can ruin perfectly usable goods, even overnight.

A donation to Note in the Pocket | photograph by Jillian Clark

Sort Your Items

Remember that for every bag you drop off, someone has to go through those items, so a little organization on your part can be a big help. “We are happy to get all the clothes, for any age or adults, but if you sort your bags by season and label them, that is a huge help,” Bonavita says. For example, if they know which bag has summer clothes and which has winter clothes, that’ll help the team better use their time to get, say, winter jackets to families that need them right now. 

And be aware that not every drop-off site takes all items. At Note in the Pocket, for example, “We provide clothing, but we don’t provide dishes,” says Bonavita, noting that the Missions Thrift Store next door does want household items. “You may have to make two trips, but it’s so much better for both of our organizations, so we hope you make the extra effort.” 

To cut down on trips, consider pooling donations with neighbors and divvying up the trips by category. As a bonus, the accountability of committing to dropping off someone else’s stuff may just help you finish your own cleanout project.

Be Ruthless

When you’re ready to move along something that’s been well-loved, like outdated kids’ toys or an old sweater, it’s easy to overlook the wear because you know you made them. But that doesn’t mean a stranger wants it. “Our standard is, If you would be happy to receive it as a gift or proud to give it as a gift, we want that donation,” Bonavita says.

For clothing items that are stained, torn, ripped, or overworked, place them in a bag marked “recycle” and the volunteers will add them to the textile recycling truck, without losing time sorting.

For items that still have life left, but aren’t quite good enough to donate to a stranger, offer them to friends or neighbors, list them on Freecycle or your neighborhood listserve, or just leave them on a curb with a “free” sign — it’s amazing what gets scooped up! 

When in Doubt, Give Money

The one thing that all organizations can put to good use is… a nice check. If you find that the items you’re ready to pass along are of very high quality or are by designer brands, consider consigning them and donating the proceeds to charity, so they can use the money to get exactly what they need. Win-win on cleaning out and helping a nonprofit of your choice at the same time! 

→ Find a list of consignment and antiques stores here.

For kids’ items, have your children manage a sidewalk sale, with the proceeds going to charity. It’s another good way to pass along items they’ve outgrown, but still help out an organization in need. And especially in a time when it’s hard to volunteer your time due to covid protocols, it can instill the spirit of giving without visiting an organization in person. 

Know That Whatever You Do, it’s Appreciated

One thing all of our sources noted was that, even though they were happy to offer guidelines, they appreciate all of the support they receive from the community. “We are so grateful for all the help we receive through donations and volunteers,” Bonavita says. “We don’t want to discourage anyone, but with a little knowledge, your donations can go even further.” 

This article originally appeared on in December 2021.