Posted November 06, 2006 in One Man's Scrap:
A Beggar’s Dilemma

by Cathy Mitchell, local director of MH Combermere.

I am writing to you, our dearest friends, to share with you a question and concern we are wrestling with here at MH Combermere.

What do you do when you live by begging, and the generosity of your friends overwhelms you?

In the last while we have been receiving many donations at the Infant of Prague sorting building, and much of it we have difficulty passing on.

The causes for this are many. In our consumer society, people are urged to buy more things and to update more often. Hence, we are receiving more.

It’s kind of a Catch-22, because we do need some donations. We continue to rely on them for our own needs; and to help the missions, we sell them in our gift shop and book shop. Also, many people benefit from our clothing room and rummage sale at St. Joseph’s House.

But even with all these uses, we still have more than is needed, and finding outlets for anything other than clothing is proving very difficult.

Even taking things to the dump is problematic. The municipality instituted dump-fees a while ago!

In short, we are receiving more donations then we can deal with.

This summer we had to close our sorting building—that is, put a moratorium on receiving donations—for six weeks, and then again for the first two weeks of October. This was necessary in order to give us time to deal with what we had received.

There is also a problem with the quality of donations that we are receiving. (There is even a misconception around that we are a recycling center!)

Our foundress Catherine taught us to give the best to the poor because they are Christ. We try to do this.

Moreover, in recent years, the economic situation of many people in the area has improved, so there is less need than there was in the past. This is reflected in a change in the quality of what people will buy.

The prices in both our clothing room and rummage sale remain what they were 30 years ago, but we are finding that, even at 25 cents, no one will buy a sweater that is "pilled" or a shirt with a small stain. We can’t even give some things away!

In the past the St. Vincent de Paul Society would come from the city with a large truck and take the clothing and miscellaneous items that we couldn’t sell. Now they only take clothing. Like us, and like many thrift stores, they, too, are having a hard time dealing with the quantity of donations they receive.

A further difficulty is that, due to safety concerns, the government now has restrictions on what can be sold at rummage sales. For example, helmets, car seats for children, strollers, cribs, and even some children’s toys must meet certain safety standards, or the seller is held responsible. So most of these items, we have to send to the dump.

Here in North America, we are living in an age of opulence, or at least of overabundance. For those who can afford it, the latest gadget, an upgrade of the computer, a cell phone that can take pictures and receive e-mail, are musts.

And for those who can’t afford it, the pressure is to live beyond one’s means, because, if you don’t have "it," whatever "it" is, it reflects on who you are as a person.

Nothing could be further from the truth. But this is what is being fed to us, and we are eating it—or, more accurately, "buying" it.

How many clothes are in our closets? Have they been worn lately? Each one of us is responsible for what we purchase and how we dispose of it.

Is this something I need or want? If it’s not a necessity, perhaps it’s helpful or convenient or something I really enjoy having. Perhaps it is beautiful or delights me. Wonderful!

On the other hand, how many things do I purchase on a whim? Then, what do I do with it?

We are not the only ones facing this situation. Some of our major cities are struggling with what to do with their landfill garbage. One solution has been wonderful recycling programs, and we are all responsible to do our part in dealing with what our households generate.

It all comes down to the bigger issues of want, need, and stewardship.

We are so grateful to those of you who read "One Man’s Scrap" and donate to us. Through your prayers and gifts, you share in the work of our apostolate.

We will continue to list our current needs in that column. And in order to help you, our beloved benefactors who save things for us, we are going to try and be more specific. We may also, from time to time, list the things we cannot use.

With the price of gas these days, we hate the thought of your driving all the way here with donations we can’t use, donations that could perhaps be used right in your city or town.

So, if you are driving any distance, we suggest you phone ahead (613-756-3713) and ask to speak with the person who is responsible for receiving donations. They would be happy to let you know which items would be of use.

We also ask that you phone ahead if you are thinking of donating any large, heavy items, such as furniture or appliances.

These days we are asking for your continued prayers as we pray and listen to the Lord in our efforts to discern his will for us, his beggars of Madonna House.


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