Best items to donate to local shelters during the pandemic
When it comes to donations, especially during a pandemic, the number one rule is to check with the shelter before donating. It’ll save time for you and the staff at the shelter if you confirm items that are fair game to donate. Each shelter will have different needs, especially in different season and climates, so it’s always good to check in with your desired shelter to donate.
These shelters offer wish lists on their websites for people to donate things the shelter urgently needs. Wish lists are checked and updated regularly, so make sure to keep up to date with the shelter’s most pressing needs. You can find the wish list for YWCA Madison’s housing programs here, the list for Mary’s Place here and the list for YESS here.
While every shelter has different needs, if you’re looking for ideas of items to donate during the pandemic, we’ve combined a list of items the shelter representatives told us are in high demand.
Here are some donation item ideas:
- Cleaning supplies
- Face masks
- Underwear of all sizes (brand-new and unused)
- Twin blankets and sheets for shelter beds
- Seasonally appropriate clothing
- Toys for a large age range for families and kids
Donation items that homeless shelters may not be able to accept
Food. Check with a shelter or housing agency before donating items like food, even canned items. Look for a local food bank, food pantry or food drive if you have food you’d like to donate.
Personal items. While donating your things may help you clear your closet or shelves and give back to the community, Jael from YWCA Madison cautioned that items donated that feel too personal can hinder the family’s ability to find their own unique favorite things.
“When we donate things, a lot of us think about what we would like or what we would like to give to others, but a lot of times that can take away the autonomy of families,” she explained. “We always encourage gift cards. We understand that it sometimes takes away the personal connection that folks who are donating are seeking, but it empowers our families to buy what they need for themselves instead.”
Used fabrics. Many shelters would prefer new, versus used, clothes, towels or other fabric items.
“As a general rule for us, we typically don't like to accept anything used, like used clothing, used shoes or used bath or wash towels. We really prefer that those be new,” said Brette from YESS. “A lot of times, these kids coming into a shelter have never had anything that is just their own, so it’s really cool for us to be able to give them something brand new when they arrive. It is such a seemingly small thing, but it's huge for these kids, so anytime we are able to give them something brand new — that’s just for them — is ideal.”
If you do have old clothes you’d like to donate, look for clothing drives or clothes bins. You can also look to donate used fabrics to organizations that can make them into recycled new clothing.
How to Volunteer with a Homeless Shelter During COVID-19
Shelters are handling volunteers during the pandemic differently. Some can offer volunteers virtual work, some have closed their doors to volunteers entirely and others are still having volunteers come in with extra safety precautions. Make sure to check your local shelter’s website or give them a call to find out how they’re handling volunteers if you’re interested.
Some organizations like the YWCA Madison may have limited shelter volunteers due to COVID-19, but they are currently in need of housing program volunteers.
“We do have volunteer needs in our housing department,” explained Jael. “This area is where we always have needs because it's based upon a volunteer model in our children's program. We provide social and developmentally appropriate opportunities for kids as young as infants, usually up to 12 or 13, but we also have older kids involved.”
“The program is run by a staff member who coordinates it, but volunteers actually staff it so the program can run,” she continued. “So, that is a current volunteer need that wouldn't directly benefit shelter only, but it would benefit children that live in our building downtown.”
If your shelter does have in-person volunteering, requirements differ by the shelter, and they might also change depending on what type of volunteering you want to do.
“Restrictions depend on the volunteer tasks that they're coming in to do, and we have a pretty lengthy volunteer process or application process for our volunteers, as you can imagine,” shared Brette as she walked us through the process. “We want to be very aware and cognizant of who is in our shelter and around these kids. Depending on how closely these volunteers will be working with the kids, we’ll run a background check on each volunteer as well.”
Linda also reminds people considering volunteering that they can do so emphasizing their strengths, “I always remind people that volunteering can include a wide variety of skills,” said Linda. “There are plenty of ways to support shelters other than cash donations. If you have a skill set that you want to share — maybe you’re an artist, teacher or tech savvy — you can teach a class remotely so you can share your expertise or passion.”
Do you have a skill you could share with others? Find opportunities to use your talents to make a big change in someone else’s life.