Commentary: Donate Clothing—Get A Ticket By CAROL DENNEY

Tuesday September 27, 2005

All across the nation people are collecting clothes for the needy. But in Berkeley they're throwing clean, freshly laundered clothing in dumpsters, locking the dumpsters, and threatening potential donors with misdemeanor tickets. 

And you’re paying them to do it. 

The University of California, which is flirting with paying its $200,000 - $300,000 executives even larger salaries from private donors while asking you for donations, is paying its park staff to destroy clean, useable clothing rather than allo wing it to be distributed to the poor. 

Because, they say, they have no place to put it. 

They have a point. People's Park’s freebox was recently damaged and removed. But in September the University of California ripped out both the footings for the old freebox and destroyed the initial efforts of a group trying to replace it with a new freebox, making it safe to assume they don't really want a place to put it. 

People’s Park, like many other parts of Berkeley, has always had a tradition of free clothing exchange which takes the form of boxes, cardboard and otherwise, large and small, in which one might find a sweater, a book, or the discarded kitchen utensils donated by someone trading up. You take what interests you, and you toss in whatever doesn’t. Th e scarf or the shoes you no longer wear find a new home, and you don’t have to worry about hauling things down to the dump or figuring out when the receiving hours are for a local non-profit. 

My neighborhood has several of these boxes, in which one might find a couple of books, a pair of pants, the sweater Aunt Mabel, who likes very bright colors, decided to give you for Christmas. As the autumn chills deepens, an extra layer is not only handy, it can make the difference between life and death for someon e in need. 

Write to the city and the university. The alleged era of cooperation between the two ought to at least enable us to discuss alternatives to the wholesale destruction of clean, usable clothing. We look foolish in no small degree scrambling to c lothe those shivering in Louisiana and Texas while letting people shiver here at home. 

The city and the university could agree to store the clothing in the park’s office, where it is dry. They could gather it up and donate it to a local charity. They cou ld simply allow the community to create a dry place for it. They could stop trying to ticket people simply moved to help others. Times may not be hard for executives at the University of California, but for some, even some here at home, these are very hard times, indeed. 


Carol Denney has been an advocate for People’s Park for many years.