Many people generously donate their unwanted items of clothing enabling us to distribute them every week at the Soup Kitchen. In winter we also supply blankets, quilted overcoats and thermal long johns. We began in November 2006 and have since distributed clothes in poor rural villages often to 5 villages at a time distributing clothes to up to 1000 people in a day. We make several trips each year to mountain villages having distributed to date to over 50,000 people.
By the middle of October 2006 X'an was already very cold, the previous year temperatures had reached as low as minus 11 degrees centigrade. People had already begun to wear their autumn clothes, but the homeless at the soup kitchen were still wearing their summer clothes. It was at this point that we decided to begin collecting old clothes to give to the people that come to the Soup Kitchen.
We began by asking all the homeless people what clothes they most needed so that we had a better understanding of what was most useful to them, in order that we could collect, or buy if necessary, the most practicle items. For instance seeing that most of them didn’t have socks or gloves we would have thought that they would be useful items but in reality they were more interested in jumpers, coats, thermal trousers and blankets.
The best thing about the volunteers is that when they hear of our actions they respond very quickly. After we spread the word, many people came to donate warm clothes and blankets. After a month of frantic collecting the clothes eventually took up the whole of Tony’s balcony area.
However, we discovered that once we had begun giving out clothes we couldn’t stop because more and more people told us they still needed clothes and new people continued to arrive who hadn’t received them previously. From then on donating clothes became a long-term routine like serving the food and we have given clothes every week ever since.
We have found that new volunteers that come to help always ask the same question “Do they really need help? Some people have nice clothes.” when in fact, most of their nice clothes were donated to them by the soup kitchen.
In the soup kitchen if we are not careful, we can often too quickly judge people by their clothes. Once, we refused to give food to a young man because he was wearing a smart thick black woollen coat. We explained to him the food was for homeless, people who are physically disabled, or people who can’t work. He just smiled so we gave food to him. Later that night, I asked some of the other volunteers and discovered that he always comes to soup kitchen, but he can’t speak. The nice clothes were given to him by us.
At the first clothes donation session on Monday 20th November 2005, we tried to give practical thicker clothes to older people and physically disabled people. At the Soup Kitchen the day before we had asked them how many people wanted blankets; only eight people said they wanted them so we didn’t buy more. But on the Monday at least 25 people wanted them. There was chaos! So we decided to buy some more and return the following day. This continued for as the had word spread that we were providing blankets more and more people came for them, in total providing over 100.
As of May 2007 we have the new Soup Kitchen building so we are able to organise regular collections and have a storage room to put them in which means as people come to eat we have everything there on hand. We have also begun making regular trips to remote mountain villages to give clothes and practical household goods too. Our most recent trip 10 volunteers where able to provide clothes in two villages to around 100 families about 4-500 people. We plan to continue this as a minimum of every three months although winter will make access into the mountains more difficult.