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Clothes on their backs beat castoffs

Clothes on their backs beat castoffs

As we celebrate our newly combined holiday — Black Friday-Thanksgiving, where we give thanks for vas

As we celebrate our newly combined holiday — Black Friday-Thanksgiving, where we give thanks for vast quantities of newly acquired stuff — the problem, of course, is what to do with all our old stuff.

Well, if there is anything positive about natural disasters like Stormageddon Sandy, it is this: It allows people who might not otherwise get around to it to clean out their attics, garages, etc. of near-trash and to feel good about donating this used stuff, especially clothing they would not consider wearing themselves. And maybe even get a nice little IRS credit, like Bill and Hillary used to do with their unwanted duds.

For the most part, organized charities will not refuse to accept used clothing for fear, I’m guessing, of scaring off what they really want and what they really can use, namely cash donations.

Although I did read the other day that the Rotary Club in Stroudsburg, Pa., was conducting a relief drive for Sandy victims and the Rotarians sent out the word — ixnay on the used clothing donations. Already they had so many old socks and threadbare blouses and ripped jeans that they hadn’t had time to sort through the piles. Amazing that folks in the Poconos aren’t walking around naked, so copious was the used clothing handed over.

Me, personally, I don’t want anyone’s used underwear, no matter how hard up I am. But you almost can hear the yelps and howls right now about the many victims of Sandy who have nothing but the clothing on their backs and how even used clothing, to them, would be helpful and welcome. Maybe, but almost always, cash is so much more efficient. Cash is always the right size, the right color.

Here’s an example not entirely analogous to Sandy, but instructive anyway. It’s the summer of ’78 and Tropical Storm Amelia caused severe flooding over huge sections of the state of Texas, including the little, dusty town of Albany, Texas, population 1,900, about 120 miles west of Forth Worth, in the north central area of the state.

Someone at a Capital Region radio station decided that, because Albany, Texas, and Albany, New York, share the same name, maybe they are sister cities and we should help them out. Strike up the food and clothing drive! In just a few days, a huge pile of stuff was amassed. Unwanted clothing, canned goods, a whole bunch of stuff. But how to get the stuff to the Texas Albanians? The radio people made a few phone calls and presto!, the Air National Guard people at what came to be known as Stratton AFB produced a C-130 Hercules cargo plane to transport the stuff 1,500 miles to the flood victims. I suspect that the Air National Guard was an unwilling participant due to what happened next.

Several news reporters were invited to go along on this mercy mission and there we were, on the tarmac, about to board the C-

130. But some of us began asking questions, like, how much does it cost to get a C-130 off the ground, how much petrol to fly the 3,000-mile round trip? The answer: About $40,000 worth, to and from Texas. Think of it, we had this pile of stuff, canned goods and old, used clothing, and the whole pile could not have been worth more than several hundred dollars. Dole had canned the vegetables in Central California, trucked or railed them eastward across the United States, sold them for 59 cents a can back then, and now the flyboys of the Guard were spending tens of thousands to carry the cans back westward. Genius!

Then came a stiffening of the spines among the Air Guard folks. Minutes before takeoff, they announced we were not going. Sorry guys, the C-130 stays put. The radio guy makes a phone call to the Washington office of Congressman Sam Stratton, a very powerful member of the House Armed Services Committee. Minutes later, the Air Guard guys announced that the C-130 would indeed be flying that day, that it would be a “training exercise,” thereby justifying the cost to taxpayers. We landed at Dyess AFB near Abilene and the airmen there trucked the embarrassing bales of old clothing to Albany, where a town father confided to me, off the record, of course, that most of the clothing would be tossed.

September of 1989, a similar story. Hurricane Hugo smashes the Charleston, South Carolina, area and yet another C-130 with used clothing gets sent there. At Charleston City Hall, the mayor thanked us for the bundles but he also seemed to have a curious little grin. “Where you boys all from?” he asked. Several other C-130s from other areas were there to deposit their used stuff too.

Keep your used underwear; send cash!

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