Do you look at the increasing number of charity shops in your local high street and wonder how local people benefit?

The presence of charity shops on the high street is increasing, and in some cases they almost take over the street, so you could be led to believe that families in need are benefitting even more from our increased social conscience and generosity.

But are they? As I browsed in a local charity shop recently I was genuinely shocked at how expensive some of the items were and at the demographic profile of the customers. Most of the customers were well dressed middle class women after a bargain but prepared to pay a little more than you’d expect for that bargain.

Maybe I’m naïve but I had always assumed that if I donated my clothes and toys to a charity shop they would be recycled and that those who could not afford to buy new items would benefit from a good quality and affordable second hand offer. However I realise now that this not the case and that the ‘stuff’ I donate does not go directly to the needy but rather a small proportion of the profit from the sale of them, after large charity overheads have been deducted, may weave its way to the end user.

That’s ok – it’s part of the policy and strategy of the large charitable organisations and forms part of their income generation and so long as we all understand that then we can choose what we do.

However there is another way of making a direct difference to families in need – donate directly.

At Family Gateway we pride ourselves on our simple and effective model of directly supporting families who are struggling with a range of issues and who live in poverty and disadvantage. Many of them tell us they cannot afford to shop in charity shops because they are too expensive and they desperately need shoes and coats for their children or clothes and household items for themselves.

So we have expanded our original Clothing Exchange enterprise which was initially set up by a member of staff, Michelle, when she was a volunteer in the community and saw many families struggle with the cost of baby clothing and school uniforms. She set up an exchange where parents donated clothing that children had grown out of and ‘swapped’ it for other larger donated clothes. Michelle would wash and mend donated clothing and in some cases sell clothes that were unusable to the ‘rag man’ to generate funds to increase her stock and fund the washing.

Today the Family Gateway Exchange still operates and has expanded across North and South Tyneside. Donations from people across the region are collated, sorted and distributed by volunteers to the families we support, many of whom have a range of complex issues and live in poverty. The stock now includes clothing, bedding, curtains, household goods, toiletries, all of which are essential items to our families who have very little. Imagine the difference this could make to a child with no bedding or curtains in their room or to a little boy who doesn’t have those ‘essential’ trainers to play with his friends. Remember that dreadful scene in I Daniel Blake where the mum had to steal sanitary items…

And now where we have surplus stock we sell it at real charity prices at local events and markets and use the profits to fund school holiday activities for children who have nothing and need social activities, learning, fun and a decent meal during the holidays.

If you, like me, prefer to see your used items go directly to families in need please contact us at Tyne Gateway (www.tynegateway.co.uk) to donate your unwanted items or follow us on social media to find out where our next market event is.

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