10 Worst Things to Donate After a Disaster


Used Clothing

woman looking at clothes donations, Thailand
A woman picks through a mountain of used clothes at a donation center in southern Thailand, after the massive 2004 tsunami. PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images

In the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm that ravaged the South Florida coast in 1992, truckloads of used clothing began pouring into the recovery areas. When drivers were unable to locate organizations or warehouses willing to take the clothes, the trucks unloaded the goods on the side of the road. A combination of afternoon rainstorms and late summer heat transformed the piles of old clothes into rotting, foul-smelling heaps of trash [source: HolguĂ­n-Veras].

We know that clothing is a critical need for people who've lost everything, right? That's the logic behind the clothing drives that spring up in the wake of a natural disaster, sometimes hundreds or thousands of miles from the scene of destruction.

But boxes of used clothing can actually hinder, rather than help, the recovery effort. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) cautions that used clothing is "rarely a useful item" to collect and donate to disaster relief efforts. Boxes of mixed clothing need to be sorted by size and type, cleaned in some cases, repackaged and deployed to those who need it most. If relief agencies and local officials don't have the volunteer resources to wade through all of the donations, the clothing will quickly fill warehouses or end up in the landfill with the rest of the disaster debris.

A better idea is to sell the used clothes at a yard sale and donate the funds to a disaster relief agency like the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army. If you really just want to get rid of some old clothes, take them to a thrift store like Goodwill instead. They will be sold, and the money usually goes to helping the needy in your area.