Junk for Jesus

I am not sure who coined the phrase "Junk for Jesus," but it came into my lexicon a few years back.  Already, many of you are nodding and chuckling at the mention of this short phrase because without any explanation needed, folks who work in churches or organizations that solicit and welcome in-kind donations know exactly what "Junk for Jesus" is. 

For the good-hearted donors among you who would appreciate a definition of the phrase "Junk for Jesus," let me enlighten you:  "Junk for Jesus" is cast-off stuff, sometimes neatly tied into recycled plastic bags, often labeled, and happily placed into donation bins.  It is the stuff that is "too good" to throw out.  It is the stuff leftover from rummage sales (usually with price stickers still affixed).  It is clothing and shoes that children have worn well or which have been stashed for a few decades in an attic or a basement.  Junk for Jesus sometimes has sentimental value.

Sentiment is one reason why the receivers and sorters of kindly-made donations do not like to bring up the issue of Junk for Jesus.  No one wants to critique the quality or usefulness of someone's donated stuffed toys or grandmother's dresses.  No one wants to suggest that donors place inflated values on well-used or old items because of their own hardships.  No one wants to call someone's donation "junk."  Caring recipients want to honor gifts given with a spirit of love and sharing, even if those gifts quietly need to be thrown away.  No one wants to challenge donors who believe their donations are "good enough" for poor people. 

Yesterday, we spent a solid day sorting donated coats, hats, scarves and mittens at our home church.  The intended recipients are children in our US community who live in homes with limited financial resources.  It is COLD where we live, so these new and gently used winter things are a tremendous blessing.  We set up a "store" where each child can choose a jacket, try it on, find a good fit, and select matching accessories.  We have sizes from infant up to 3XL and serve children up to college age.  This year we have more than 400 new and gently used jackets.  About 2/3 of the hats are hand-knit.  We are grateful.

But, there was Junk for Jesus.  Hats covered in old hair.  Gloves with holes in the fingers.  Mittens caked in mud and grass.  Adult coats from the 1950's through 1990's that high school kids would only wear on a costume day.  Kids coats that are torn or have broken zippers or are covered in mud.  Clothing - lots of clothing - though we are clear that we do not give out clothing. We threw away a few things.  We spruced up the stuff we could.  We removed tags for ski hills and toboggan runs. 

One thing about Junk for Jesus is that it can make it hard for the recipient agency to stay in it's lane.  We give out coats to kids.  Can we take a few adult coats?  Yes, sure, there are adults who need them.  We received mountains of adult coats.  We try to be good stewards and to let nothing go to waste.  We set a couple of dates to offer coats to the adults in our community who need them.

One half of the adult coats we can't use for kids.  We did
receive lots of adult-size new and wonderful jackets for our
older kids.  This is just the stuff that is old, dirty, broken zippers, trench-style, etc.
When it comes to packing up a suitcase for El Salvador, or whatever international donation destination, the process is similar.  In our experience with the Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fairs, we put out a list of things we are collecting.  We gather funds to purchase many items in El Salvador, but we also want to provide an opportunity for US families to connect with this health education ministry in a concrete way.  Our solicitation list includes:  toothbrushes, bandages, nail clippers, wound care items, and undies and washcloths for Days for Girls washable feminine hygiene  kits.  Today's sorting party did not yield too much Junk for Jesus - just some old gauze and first aid tape and medical supplies, and only one rusty nail clipper.  We have been talking about healthy donating practices.  In the past we have sorted out used toothbrushes, half-tubes of toothpaste, long-ago expired medications, and used underwear.  Yes, used underwear is definitely Junk for Jesus.

When it comes donating in-kind gifts to our local churches, our sister churches or any charitable organization near or far, I think we put forth a few mutually helpful guidelines:
  • We should always treat one another respectfully and with dignity, no matter what our income level or where we live.
  • Honesty in giving and receiving is the best policy. 
  • If the recipient did not ask for it, the donor should not just donate it.
  • If the donor has a good idea for a donation, or has received a great blessing of a large quantity of something to donate, the donor and intended recipient should have a conversation to determine the best management of the donation or to decide if it should happen at all.
  • Donors should try to stay within the guidelines of solicited donations.
  • Let's be real:  If your kid won't wear it, neither will our kid.
  • If you would not hand it down to someone in your family, you should not hand it off to someone else.  Or, if you pondered throwing it away, that probably is the right choice.
  • If items are traveling in a suitcase to a far away land - are they worth the baggage fee ($50-$75)
  • Again, for international donations, what is the purpose of collecting and carrying the items and could purchase of the items in the destination country have a positive impact on its local economy?
  • Donors can REALLY help by sorting donations (or at least vacuuming the cat hair and dead bugs out of the boxes).  Going through random bags and boxes from basements and garages to pull out the useful and relevant donations, to organize and pack up the useful and irrelevant donations (to take to another donation site), and to properly recycle and dispose of the Junk for Jesus is quite time consuming.  
We know the joy of giving a special gift to someone we love.  We know the warmth in our own hearts when we receive special gifts.  We are often moved to give when we learn that there are suffering brothers and sisters, near or far away, in need of something which we can provide.  And when we need help, we can be confident in our relationships with one another to ask for help.  In a creation filled with abundance, God intended for us to live as people who share...but let's just hold back on sharing the Junk for Jesus.  OK?

(PS:  If you have recently donated to a ministry of which I am a part, and if you are wondering if your donations were Junk for Jesus...ummm...if you think they were, then maybe...)

(PPS:  To all the donors who make cool ministry stuff happen in my local setting and Salvadoran setting...thank you.)


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