Do you ever see a homeless person freezing in the winter and wonder, “How can I help?” I sure did. I live in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, where seeing homeless men shivering under a flimsy blanket is unfortunately common. But that doesn’t make it ok. Last week, I decided to do something about it. “I have a social network, and lots of friends in my neighborhood,” I thought. “Why not tap into my communities to collect coats and other warm clothes for those who truly need them?” And why not make collecting the coats fun? Eureka! The idea for a Cookies for Clothing Drive was born.
Here’s what happened next. I’m sharing the step-by-step with you in case you want to organize a Cookies for Clothing Drive in your own community. It is actually very easy to do. In fact, it only took me 10 days (and maybe 20 hours total) from the time I had the idea to the day we collected over 30 warm coats (and lots more, as you’ll see below).
How to Organize Your Cookies for Clothing Drive
* Identify a Charity to Accept Your Clothes – First and foremost, know who is going to take the clothes and what they can actually use. I already volunteer for Miriam’s Kitchen in Washington, D.C., so I got in touch with Steve Badt. Steve not only runs kitchen services for MK – he lives two doors away from me, and is a good neighbor. When I broached the idea of organizing the drive, he responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!” “It’s going to be a very harsh winter, and the people we serve are chronically homeless,” he said. “They really need warm clothes to survive.”
* Set a Date and Time – I figured I would need a week to fire people up. But also, I didn’t want this to go on forever. I was specific about when the drive was happening so people would feel like there was a deadline to observe. I gave myself a week to pull it off, figuring that way it wouldn’t take up a huge amount of my time for weeks and weeks nor drag on into the holidays. I opted to collect the coats the next Saturday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when people are already running around doing chores.
* Be Flexible & Make It Convenient – To make it as easy as possible for people to donate, I invited folks to drop off their clothing anytime during the week before the drive if they wanted to. I also offered to go to people’s houses to pick up their donations. I happened to meet with my book group during the week of the drive, and some people brought their clothes to book group for me. All good.
* Make It Fun – Who can resist home-baked cookies and hot cider? That was the “reward” we offered to anyone who made a donation. I invited everyone in for treats, but some people didn’t stay. “We will take some cookies, though!” they said as they made their drop-off.
* Use Social Media to Build Participation – Once I got the ok from Steve and Miriam’s Kitchen, I immediately sent an email to a list of neighbors and friends inviting them to participate. I also reached out to my book group, and got the invitation posted on our neighborhood list-serv. I asked some of my Facebook friends to repost the invitation on their Facebook pages, and friends who lived in other neighborhoods also posted it to their list-servs and offered to help collect donations. Throughout the week leading up to the drive, I posted updates on Facebook. Two days before the big day, I sent another reminder to my email list. The morning of the drive, I posted a reminder to the neighborhood list-serv.
DAY OF THE EVENT
* Make the Cookies, Heat the Cider -I offered home-made cookies, right? With the help of my daughter, on the eve of the drive, we made enough batter to make 12 dozen cookies: half chocolate chip, half oatmeal raisin (no nuts in either batter). On Saturday, the day of the event, I got up at 6 a.m. to make all the cookies fresh. I piled them on two big platters as they came out of the oven. By 8 a.m., 12 dozens cookies were ready and waiting to be gobbled up by anyone who dropped anything off. Expecting people might start arriving around 10 a.m., at 9:30, I poured a gallon of apple cider into a big pot, added some cinnamon sticks and cloves, and turned the heat on low. I didn’t want the cider to boil, just get hot enough to be warming for whoever showed up. I put out a lot of mugs next to the stove so it would be quick and easy to serve people who stopped by. I didn’t worry about plates or napkins for the cookies.
* Offer A Donation Form – Because the clothing was going to a non-profit organization, the donations are tax deductible. I got donation forms from Miriam’s Kitchen to hand out to anyone who wanted them. At times, there was so much going on that I forgot to give people their form, so this week I’m dropping them off in their mailboxes so they can fill them out when they file their 2014 taxes.
* Set up a Staging Area – It was cold but not windy or wet outside, so I set up a staging area on my back porch to collect the clothes. I had separate boxes and piles: one box for hats, gloves and scarves; separate bags for jeans, sweaters, and jackets and coats. It kept things organized, and also made people feel good when they brought their contributions by and could add them to the growing piles.
* Answer the Door, Enjoy the Camaraderie – Once the cookies were made and the stage set, all I had to do was receive people as they came by. It felt a little like an open house: people dropped by at their convenience, we enjoyed some conversation, had a snack, and the next group of people stopped in. It was really fun!
* Tally Up What You Collect – I wanted to know how much of what was donated so I could tell both Miriam’s Kitchen what quantity and quality to expect and share the information with all the donors. It would have saved me a little time if I’d tallied as the donations came in, but that’s ok. It took me no longer than 30 minutes to tally everything up when the drive was over.
* Sort and Label the Clothes – The people at Miriam’s Kitchen can get inundated with random clothing donations. I figured it would make their lives easier if I sorted and labeled the clothes before they got picked up, and that’s what I did (everything except the heavy jackets was sorted, as seen below). As I filled a box or bag, I simply wrote what was inside on the outside. Easy peasy.
* Arrange a Pick Up – I could have driven down to Miriam’s Kitchen myself, but Steve offered to come by and pick up the clothes for me. That actually made my life a lot easier, and he didn’t seem to mind at all.
* That’s It! – That’s all there was to it.
Day One – Idea: Cookies for Clothing Drive!
Day Two – Seven -Build participation through social media
Day 8 – Get donation forms; Get cookie supplies and cider
Day 9 – Make cookie batter; keep up the social media promotion
Day 10 – Make cookies; heat up cider; collect clothing; have fun; sort and label clothing
I left all the sorted clothing under a waterproof tarp on my back porch. Steve picked it up at the end of the day.
Of course, you don’t have to offer cookies for clothing. I just thought it would be fun, and it was. The important thing is to collect the clothes. However you want to do it is up to you.
What Did We Actually Collect?
I expect that if Miriam’s Kitchen had had to purchase the clothes we collected, it could have cost them a few thousand dollars, a sum they, as a non-profit, couldn’t really afford. As it was, we were able to provide:
* 30 Warm Jackets
* 30 or so Sweaters and Sweatshirts
* Many hats, scarves and pairs of gloves
* 3 full men’s suits
* Several pairs of blue jeans
* A comforter and several sheets and pillowcases
Thanks to everyone who helped make this such a big success. If you want to plan your own clothing drive, let me know. I’m happy to offer whatever advice and social media support I can.