San Pedro Sula, Honduras — From Global Sisters Report: Notes from the Field is our summer blogging project. Working with the Catholic Volunteer Network, we’ve enlisted four young women working in ministries of Catholic sisters around the world – Honduras, Thailand, Ethiopia and the United States – to blog about their experiences.
When was the last time you participated in a donation effort? Gave some money? Cleaned out your closet or pantry? Volunteered? Bought an item whose proceeds went toward donations?
When I was younger, I remember raiding our pantry during food drives at school – usually just clearing out the things that I didn’t really want to ever have to eat. In a similar fashion, my sister and I would go through our closets about once a year, removing the clothing that no longer fit or, as I grew older, wasn’t something I wanted anymore.
I know the saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” but why is that so? Why don’t we give things that are actually “new and gently used” to places like Goodwill? Fast forward from my pantry-raiding days to college. As a freshman, trips to the local Goodwill or Good Samaritan were almost weekly. Obviously . . . because where else would I find the proper attire for the ’80s dance parties and ugly-sweater-themed Christmas events?
Almost always, my friends and I encountered a fair amount of clothes, furniture, appliances and other odds and ends that smelled weird, were missing parts or pieces, or simply didn’t function anymore.
Living at Escuela María Mazzarello, I’ve been in the unique position of experiencing the receiving of many donations, some incredibly wonderful, others . . . not so much.
Several months ago, I entered the community to find boxes and boxes of all kinds of random items that had been donated. Among them were a dozen Swiffer WetJet mops – all of which were broken or damaged in shipping. When things like this come in, the director of the community asks me to go through everything and explain what it is or what it’s used for.
As I began to explain the Swiffers, she looked at me blankly, which was to be expected. This is not a Swiffer culture. Here, we use the good ol’ brooms and mops. In fact, most places have strategically placed outdoor faucets with a cement basin, specifically for rinsing the mops.
While we also receive donations of food items like beans and rice from organizations such as World Food Programme and Food for the Poor, it’s donations like a bucket of paint from Matthew 25: Ministries or TOMS shoes that I like most. These items are thoughtful and practical. Not only that, they strike a personal chord with me.
As a freshman in college, I participated in an alternative spring break trip to Cincinnati. Among the places where we volunteered was Matthew 25: Ministries, an international humanitarian aid and disaster relief organization that provides basic necessities, nutritional supplements, educational materials, micro-enterprise supplies and disaster relief. You can imagine my surprise when I answered the door here in Honduras, to find a man holding out a bucket of paint with stickers bearing the Matthew 25: Ministries logo. This year, the sixth-grade project is fixing up our library, and a parent has contacts with a donation service that received the paint from the organization.
Even more surreal was my first encounter with TOMS donated shoes here in Central America. Last October, we took the internas to a big fiesta, put on for all the children’s homes in San Pedro Sula. We were treated to food, games, goody bags, cotton candy, popcorn, dancers and local pop artists. The pinnacle of the afternoon was each of the girls being fitted with a new pair of TOMS shoes. For those of you who don't know, TOMS is a company that operates with an incredible “one for one” business model. In addition to a variety of other humanitarian efforts, their company is founded on the principle that for every pair of shoes purchased, TOMS will give a pair to a child in need.
I have purchased TOMS in the U.S., and many of my friends and family have TOMS, but never did I think I would have the opportunity to be present in a “giving” of TOMS!
Just a couple weeks ago, all of my third-graders were pulled out of English class. They were instructed to make their way downstairs. Out of curiosity, I followed. As I passed the line of girls waiting on a line of benches, I saw two men, each kneeling in front of several girls. With each child, they took their time slipping on new TOMS shoes, giving each child a Cinderella-like treatment and ensuring the shoes fit perfectly.
Later in the day, I was called downstairs, too. After fitting each and every one of our students with a new pair of shoes, the gentlemen outfitted all of the sisters, volunteers, teachers and auxiliary workers of the community.
Regardless, while some people only see the fashionable side of TOMS, and some people only see TOMS as the free shoes they were given, I feel fortunate to be one of the few who has gotten to see the full TOMS circle. It’s even more wonderful that the donated shoes are ones that are made to be durable and long lasting. While a rubber sole may make them a little less fashionable, it definitely makes them more practical.
Participating in the full-circle of donations hasn’t been without its adventures. We regularly eat canned salmon, and for Thanksgiving, I made a pumpkin pie. Thanks to a generous donor in the States, our girls have weekly ballet classes, which are proving to be excellent for helping them expend some of their seemingly boundless energy. Due to the donation of a massive box of store-returned women’s health items, I am now an expert on the pros and cons of several different tampon brands.
Donating is a simple way that we can all be involved. Whether it’s your time, money or personal belongings. My only suggestion is that you make sure that you give the best of it. Volunteering? Don’t be a “Martha” (Luke 10:38-42). Cleaning out your pantry or home? Make sure it’s something others would like to eat or that they can actually use. Giving your money? Have a purpose in mind or try to find out what its use will be. Commit yourself to the process of donating; don’t just be distantly involved.
[Kirsten Rotz is participating in an internship with Global Sisters Report while volunteering among the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.]