The Journey of the Red Boots: What Happens To Your Donated Clothing?

Most of us at some point or other have donated gently used clothing to a nonprofit. You may have even donated items to Wellspring’s Baby Boutique. But if you’re anything like us,you’ve wondered what exactly happened to that item after you donated it.

This month, in conjunction with our shoe drive, we’d like to describe the journey of one pair of shoes. From the donor who brings them in, to the family that takes them home. Both play an important role in our Baby Boutique, which offers free basic need items, such as clothing, to children facing homelessness.

A reason to donate

It’s been raining in Seattle for weeks, but somehow the stars have aligned and it’s a nice weekend. With the sun shining, Jane decides it’s the perfect day to go to the park with her toddler. She dresses up her son in his clothes and rain jacket (just in case--it is Seattle, after all!)

Before leaving, she grabs his shoes. A pair of tiny, bright red boots.

They used to slip on easily, but now Jane struggles. Finally she realizes it’s time: She’ll have to add a trip to the shoe store to her weekend plans.

At the end of the weekend, the red boots get thrown into a cupboard, no longer needed. Over time, a mountain of other shoes grows above them. Eventually, the pile is so big that it’s hard to close the cupboard door. That's when Jane decides to donate the bright red boots to Wellspring.

She will join the more than 800 people who donate goods to our Baby Boutique each year.

Donating the boots

A few weeks later, Jane finally finds the time to do it. She collects a pile of clothing that her son no longer fits into: t-shirts, pants, socks, jackets and shoes. Her son has been growing so fast that some of the clothing is almost brand new. She puts it all into plastic bags along with the toys he no longer plays with and the books he no longer reads.

Jane loads the bags into the back of her car along with a stroller (still in great shape!) and baby bottles. For the first time in months, she can see the floor of her house.

She drives to Wellspring and is greeted by the agency’s front-desk assistant, Faridah, who takes the bags and puts them into a cart. She writes a tax donation receipt for Jane, who goes home with that satisfied feeling a person gets knowing their donated items will be put to good use.

The bright red shoes sit in the dark overnight. The next morning, Tai Powell, the Baby Boutique's manager, wheels the cart across Wellspring’s foyer and into the Baby Boutique. He empties the cart and Jane's bags join dozens of other donations waiting for the next step.

Sorting it all out

After a week, the bright red boots finally see sunlight again. A volunteer from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation removes them from the bag.

Due to the large amount of donations Wellspring receives, volunteer groups are a needed resource for us to sort items and keep the Baby Boutique running smoothly. Last year, 639 people volunteered in work groups, many spending an afternoon sorting. Microsoft, Fenwick & West LLP, Career Path Services, Recology, Uber, and Vulcan are just a few of the companies that have volunteered with us.

During the sort, each donation is put into a different bin based on clothing type, size, age, and gender. That way when items leave with a family, we can easily restock.

A volunteer grabs the bright red boots, checks their size and confirms that they match. They are placed in a bin with the other shoes of their size. For another week, the boots remain in that bin. That is, until a Wellspring intern grabs them. They're needed to restock the store’s shoe shelves.

A reason to shop

The scenario is familiar: It’s been raining in Seattle for weeks, but somehow the stars have aligned and it’s a nice weekend. With the sun shining, Michelle decides it’s the perfect day to go to the park with her toddler. She dresses up her son in his clothes and rain jacket (just in case), then before leaving grabs his shoes.

They used to slip on easily, but now Michelle struggles to put them on. Finally she realizes she’s put it off long enough: She needs to make another visit to Wellspring’s Baby Boutique. She’s been to the “store” a few times before and found out about it from another Wellspring program, the Early Learning Center.

The Baby Boutique provides free children’s clothing and essentials to families facing homelessness. Likewise, our ELC gives free trauma-informed care to many of those same children. It’s not unusual for our ELC staff to refer families to the Baby Boutique.

For a client to shop in the Baby Boutique, they need a referral from Wellspring or another partner organization, such as local homelessness nonprofits.

Doing the shopping

The next Tuesday, Michelle finds the time to visit the Baby Boutique. She’s greeted warmly by our intern, Lashonda, who looks up the referral and hands Michelle a shopping list. The shopping list lets Michelle know how many different items she can choose, for free, for her son.

Michelle’s son runs straight to the toy area, his excitement and delight are obvious. While Michelle picks out clothes, another intern, Gretchen, is on hand to sit down and play with the pre-schooler. It will be a great visit for both Michelle and her son.

Providing children’s necessities, with dignity

At Wellspring, we’re proud of the Baby Boutique, and especially how it looks and feels just like any other store. There’s a relaxed atmosphere as families bring their children along to find clothing and pick out toys and (unlimited) books.

Providing families a variety of clothing in a wide range of sizes (for children aged 0 to 18) is an important aspect of the store. But the Baby Boutique also offers customers a place of stability and dignity—an offset to whatever crises they may be facing elsewhere in their lives. For those families, it's amazing the positive effect a “shopping” trip can have.

Michelle looks through the racks of shoes for something in her son’s size. The bright red boots jump out immediately. When she picks them up and shows them to her son, he reaches up and tries to grab them away. A sure sign that he likes them.

When Michelle sits him down and tries to put them on his feet, she’s in luck. They fit!

Soon Michelle has picked out every item on her shopping list, and her son has picked out some toys and books to take home. Lashonda counts the items and bags them, asking Michelle if she needs any socks, diapers, or toiletries.

Michelle and her son leave with smiles on their faces.

The difference it makes

The next weekend, the weather is nice again. 

Michelle decides it’s a perfect day to go to the park. She dresses up her son with his new clothes, and puts on his rain jacket (just in case).

Before they leave, she puts on his bright red boots.

They are a perfect fit.

If you’d like to donate shoes to our Baby Boutique, you can find more information by clicking here. Alternatively, you can donate a gift from our Amazon wish list right now.