|Clothes and Charity (UÞ)|
|Written by Iceland Review|
|Wednesday, 15 February 2012 11:00|
When you outgrow your clothes, or they become a bit worn from overuse, and you donate them to organizations like the Red Cross so that they may still serve some greater good in the world, do you ever stop to wonder about the people who deal with these clothes, ensuring that they reach that new, loving home or at least pull them out of the nondescript, black bag you donated them in?
I’m not sure what I expected when I first arrived, but it’s fairly safe to say that my expectations were kicked to the curb. While the warehouse itself could be a touch drafty, the atmosphere was warm and friendly.
The production line was never quiet for long as we drones discussed whatever popped into our minds, occasionally even drifting to the subject of what we were actually doing, and generally kept ourselves entertained during what would otherwise have been three straight hours of drudgery.
I didn’t even notice how much my fingers hurt until later, though in fairness it serves me right for bringing gloves that were too thick and unwieldy for the work.
It occurs to me that I may want to explain here what we actually were doing, aside from the whole “making the world a better place” thing.
The clothes arrive, usually bagged, in big, metal shipping containers, one of which is wheeled into the warehouse and cracked open to reveal the small mountain of plastic bags.
That’s not a joke – I discovered a kid’s Batman costume in there once. Now imagine some kid in Africa dressed as the Dark Knight. Go ahead and laugh, I’ll wait.
Once we reach some mysterious quota that I’ve never learned the exact size of, usually after about two hours and half a container, the conveyer belt is carted off so we can begin Part II, the sorting.
Here, we bag up anything that isn’t already neatly packaged or has spilled out of a split bag and toss it into another shipping container, usually already half-full, so that the remaining clothes can go somewhere they’re needed, wanted, or at least making money off the hipsters via second-hand clothes stores abroad.
Meanwhile, the stuff we unpacked earlier is divided based largely on type, such as winter or summer clothes, and sent off either to Icelandic second-hand stores or one of the various countries the Red Cross assists, currently either Malawi or Belarus.
The proceedings from the stores are then used for further charity work, again in Malawi or Belarus these days, and those few things that prove completely unwearable by any self-respecting mammal are usually cut up and made into blankets.
In other words, the Red Cross takes the waste not philosophy and runs with it.
Returning to the subject of the worker bees in this charitable hive, it seems only fair to give the ones selling these second-hands their share of the spotlight.
The stores are arranged in shifts, with two people handling matters for the first half of the day before passing the reins to two more for the latter half.
With the stores open all week, that makes twenty-eight people for every store, and there are five such stores in the Reykjavík area alone, that being the city itself plus the five other towns divided from that city mostly by one street each.
And that’s just the stores. It seems that not having to actually pay your employees yields some serious numerical benefits, even if most of them are only around for four or five hours a week.
Probably the most popular second-hand store in the area would have to be the one on Laugavegur 12, (which roughly translates to “12 Pool Street". It sounds better in Icelandic).
Affectionately nicknamed L12 by the workers, the store caters largely to tourists and holds one strong selling point that’s kept it in the tourism business even in the deep, dark winter: If you’ve ever wanted one of those snazzy, woolen jumpers they sell at the souvenir shops for slightly less than the cost of a full organ transplant, you can find them here in pristine condition, but at bargain prices!
The commercial aspect aside, the work actually is surprisingly satisfying. Even if you’re not used to heavy lifting, the knowledge that the work you put in really does make someone’s life better, somewhere in the world, makes it all seem worth it.
With friendly coworkers, good hours and an honest-to-Odin noble cause even in the twenty-first century, it’s a great way to spend a free morning.
Who knows; maybe I’ll see you there.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2012 19:36|