Originally published on CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on November 21, 2016. 

Exactly four days ago my family and I moved from one area of Kamloops to another. Before packing up the house we selected the items we no longer use but are still in good condition and we took them to a couple of our thrift stores of choice (ran by volunteers and raising money for worthy causes.)

Upon unpacking in the new place, we sorted some more and more things went to the thrift stores. We’re not crazy shoppers in any way, but when kids grow up and life happens, so does occasional surplus. The simplest thing for us and least time consuming would be to throw it all away, but how much garbage (a lot of which is not really garbage) can our landfills hold? The answer is a sobering one: a lot less than we send there.

The big stores are already playing the happy holiday tunes. Smiling Santas and bouncy reindeer plus all that winter wonderland décor make us go ‘what the heck’ and we add one more item to the basket. Not all bad if we give the extra away to someone who needs it. After all, ‘tis the season to make sure that all of us have what we need, from food to clothing and shoes to household stuff.

Right. With so much surplus you’d think that would be a no brainer. If you ever stepped into the donation drop-off area of a thrift store, you were likely amazed to see the sea of objects. The volunteer on site probably advised to leave your treasures ‘anywhere you see an empty spot’. So much stuff.

And yet, there is still so much need.

A few years ago while still living on the Coast my sons and I went to visit the cargo area in the port of Vancouver. The number of containers was staggering. As far as the eye can see. Some of the best known big box stores were topping the list of ‘most containers received on a regular basis’, our guide said.

With so much merchandise on the shelves of big box retailers, the needs of all the needy ones should be covered. With everything from food to bare necessities and beyond, the homeless, the poor and all the organizations dealing with the least fortunate such as shelters and soup kitchens should have enough to spare.

Yet reality reveals a more somber image. Allow me to burst your happy thinking bubble with a few facts that can and should be rectified soon by all of us:

  • Some of the big box stores (in Kamloops too, yes) would rather throw away their merchandise than donate it, not before rendering it unusable by breaking it or tearing it apart (shared by a couple of my kind friends and acquaintances who have come across it first-hand)
  • Shelters need so much more than they have. A Facebook post I came across not long ago was a plea for donations for one of the women’s shelters in town as the ‘shelves have never looked so bare’. Knowing that a store destroys its merchandise instead of donating makes one’s run blood cold.
  • According to a statistic from the Elizabeth Fry Society, it costs $55,000 to leave a homeless person on the street, compared to $37,000 if the same person was to be provided with housing and adequate social services (the cost would likely decrease considerably if all the big box stores would kindly donate their goods rather than destroying and sending them to the landfill)
  • Approximately 50 percent of children from single-parent families and 13 percent of two-parent families live in poverty in British Columbia, as per last year’s report by the advocacy group First Call. Upsetting, isn’t it, that good food, clothing and household items get thrown in the garbage before someone benefits from them.

What then? We could each do our part and divert most of our personal surplus from going to the landfill by donating it to where it’s most needed. Beyond that, we ought to speak up so the big corporate machine can hear: throwing things in the landfill not before rendering them useless points to lack of social conscience and overall poor form.

After all, a store, no matter how big or small depends on its customers to keep on existing and thriving. We are the customers. We have the right and the responsibility to speak up and ask that those in the community who need help be helped. All it takes is for someone to say: move the surplus to the donation area.

Imagine, if only for a few minutes, a community where waste would be minimal because:

  • Adjacent to the landfill there would be a ‘still good to use’ area where someone’s surplus becomes someone else’s treasure
  • Stores big and small would donate their surplus to the needy in town and beyond
  • Surplus construction materials and household stuff would allow for building of more homes for the homeless and the poor, reducing the number and intensity of problems caused by poverty and social neglect

Say, wouldn’t you like that? I would.