by C. J. Hirschfield
Pandemic purging is definitely a thing. Being at home for so many months has caused us to re-evaluate what we really want and need, and what we feel could be let go. But no one wants to add to the landfill. Luckily, there are now more options than ever to re-gift nearly anything you have. I know—I’m in the process of moving in order to downsize and have discovered wonderful local options for donations of every sort. Before going, be sure to check the websites of these organizations regarding various COVID guidelines and for information on what items they will—and won’t—accept.
Out of the Closet (OOTC): These thrift stores are located all over the country, and there’s one conveniently close to Lake Merritt, on East 18th Street. Ninety-six cents of every dollar collected in their stores directly funds AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s HIV/AIDS programs and services in the U.S. and abroad, providing cutting-edge HIV medical care, regardless of a person’s ability to pay. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but donating books these days can be a challenge—even the usually reliable resource Friends of Oakland Public Library didn’t accept any books until August 22, and still limits donations to 4 boxes or 5 bags at a time. OOTC was a lifesaver for me, as I needed to donate books from a family of five, collected over 30 years. And although they won’t take small paperbacks or textbooks, anything else is a go—with no limit. In addition to my books, they accepted a ton of clothing, and even a sewing mannequin. There’s free parking (!) and a very nice staff and vibe.
East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse: For over 40 years, the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse (“The Depot”) has been a leading pioneer in the field of reuse. Founded in the late 1970s by a group of Oakland schoolteachers to provide ecological, reused supplies at low cost to educators with dwindling budgets, the Temescal neighborhood’s Depot diverts over 200 tons of reusable material from the landfills each year. It’s best to check their website to see what they can and can’t accept at any given time; my extensive rubber stamp collection was rejected, but a snake made by my young daughter and me of strung together bottlecaps was enthusiastically accepted, along with picture frames, CDs (no jewel boxes), jewelry, and an iron. Always appreciated by the Depot: toilet paper tubes, egg cartons, paint brushes, and yarn. The Depot’s primary mission is to collect discarded materials donated by businesses, manufacturers, and the general public, keeping the materials out of the landfill and offering them for sale in the Depot Store. Jasmine Fallstich, the Depot’s Executive Director, told me that some of the strangest donations they’ve received were a large bag of cleaned wishbones (accepted) and a huge box of used shoe inserts (rejected). To make the operation more manageable and to prevent staff burnout, donation days and hours are now limited, and a line of both cars and people patiently wait to have their items checked. Facebook’s Buy Nothing Project: My friend Cathy told me about this project a few months ago, and it has proven nothing less than amazing. Founded in 2013, and with membership of over half a million, The Project is a global network of community-based groups that encourages the giving of consumer goods and services over conventional commerce. The site is hyper-local, so you’re connecting with your neighbors (who are lovely, it turns out). Just post what you’re gifting, along with photo/s and your general location for porch pick up. If there are a number of interested parties, you can choose the lucky recipient at random. This site is particularly effective in our Adams Point/Pill Hill/Grand Lake neighborhood, which boasts the highest density in Alameda County. Seems like people are interested in anything that’s posted—from a big bottle of distilled water, to furniture and packing materials. Oh yes, and a piano. My piano; a perfectly workable 1920s workhorse baby grand that an extremely appreciative neighbor will soon own. I’m happily paying for the short transport so this glorious instrument will be cherished and not end up in landfill. You can also post “ISO”—In search of—anything. The Project’s motto is “Give. Ask. Gratitude,” and the group is run by 4,000 volunteers. Check out the site—you’ll have fun seeing what’s changing hands in your ‘hood, even if you don’t have anything to give or take. Uhuru Furniture and Collectibles: Uhuru, a nonprofit operation located on Grand Avenue, is a great place to donate furniture and housewares. Their resale shop supports local African self-determination, and they offer free pickup of your items. I’ve purchased a lamp and a vase there in the past, and recently donated three chests of drawers. They’ve served our community for 30 years and refer to themselves as “the baddest nonprofit on the planet.” Check them out. Salvation Army: Our local Salvation Army thrift store and drop off location is on Webster Street in Chinatown. The Salvation Army has come under fire for its long and controversial history of anti-LGBT positions, but in recent years the evangelical Christian organization has made efforts to change. Regarding donations, they’ll take almost anything, and you can pull up and easily unload. Weekdays before 4PM seem to be better staffed and easier to manage. It made my day when I dropped off a big stuffed animal and the worker gave it a big hug before depositing it in the donation bin.
There are also other drop-off locations for specialized items:
Used shoes: DMS stores (San Francisco/Pleasant Hill) and Sports Basement (Berkeley/Walnut Creek)
Used sports equipment: Play it Again Sports (Concord/Dublin)
Used eyeglasses: Iris Eye Center on Piedmont Avenue
Unneeded/expired prescriptions/expired over-the-counter pills: any CVS pharmacy in Oakland
Household hazardous waste: Stop Waste’s Oakland drop-off center is extremely well-run, with a cheerful and efficient staff. Their pandemic protocol requires that all of your items fit in your car’s trunk and that their team do the unloading. Be sure to bring your driver’s license, which they scan.
And, for the really big stuff (couches, mattresses, appliances): Waste Management allows for one bulky pickup per year, per household. Because it has become common in Oakland for neighbors to add and subtract from your pile, the company now requires you to take photos of your pickup material to ensure that you followed the required dimensions, before the mysterious alteration begins.
Be sure to also check out the wonderful donateoakland.org, which will help you identify all of the worthy nonprofits seeking donations and, equally important, organizations on their “do not support list, which includes postcard solicitations and unattended donation bins.
To be honest, conscious and responsible giving takes a lot of time (and a strong back), but I’ve found it a really worthwhile and satisfying experience; I’ve literally gifted hundreds of pounds of stuff.
Thinking about all of the people who will enjoy items that have delighted me over the years makes me happy. This whole process has been all about heartfill—not landfill.
C. J. Hirschfield recently retired after 17 years as Executive Director of Children’s Fairyland, where she was charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park. Prior to that, she served as an executive in the cable television industry where she produced two series, ran San Francisco’s public access channel, and advocated on behalf of the industry. She has penned a weekly column for the Piedmont Post for 13 years, and now writes regularly for The Oaklandside, EatDrinkFilms and Splash Pad News. She holds a degree in Film and Broadcasting from Stanford University. Hirschfield currently lives in Adams Point and serves on the programming team for the Appreciating Diversity Film Series showing free documentaries in Oakland and Piedmont, as well as on the advisory board of Youth Beat, a youth media training program that provides low-income Oakland students with the tools and opportunities they need to thrive in today’s workforce.