I’ve written about how hard it is to donate our things here in Italy. We’ve been downsizing for years, but for a while, much of the clutter had turned into a pile of donations in our garage.
Note: At first, this was going to be called “5 Unconventional Ways to Donate Your Things,” but I didn’t want to lose the value of our story in some cookie-cutter article. Plus, I didn’t want to have to find three or four other “unconventional ways to give.”
Here’s how it started…
We had to find a way to get rid of everything without spending 40 hours a week listing things for sale on swap shops to end up basically adding a minimum-wage job to our to-do list. It’s simply not worth selling most of the things we want to get rid of.
So we had to get creative.
Starting With the Church
At first, we started bringing things to our church. They work with refugee camps here in Italy and they provide them with all kinds of the things Americans and Italians have gotten rid of. It’s a great cause for sure, but we were overloading the church with stuff. They have a thrift shop (super thrifty, since everything is free), but there is only so much room.
We started going through our things and weeding out the complete junk. Some things simply need to be thrown away, and since Italy is big on recycling, we don’t feel bad about trashing old, cheap and broken toys and other things along that line.
Once we eliminated the garbage, we were still left with a huge pile. On top of that, our friend just had to move quickly, so they gave us three beds, a few night stands, and some other furniture.
Our house was cluttered again, but we knew it was temporary.
Reaching Out to Refugees
There’s a house down the road from us with a lot of people living in it. Every time we drove by, we saw different people coming in and out. My wife was pretty sure they were refugees.
We wanted to go see if they needed anything, but we assumed they didn’t speak English. My wife speaks decent Italian, but we weren’t sure if they spoke Italian either. We could tell they were likely African, given their dress.
My wife worked up the courage to go over there when she met a friend who speaks five languages fluently. One of her languages is French, so we thought between English, Italian, French and the other languages our friend spoke, we would be able to communicate.
It’s already weird going to someone’s house and saying, “we have a bunch of stuff, do you want it?” So asking that when you likely don’t speak their language is even weirder.
An Awkward & Necessary Conversation
After a short conversation, we found out they didn’t speak much English at all and few of them spoke any Italian. French worked, but even that was a fairly broken conversation.
At the end of the day, they understood what we were asking. They said, “we’ll take everything!” We could see they really didn’t have much of anything. We learned they had four families living there. There were 10 children in one of the four families alone.
They were in desperate need and we had a lot to give. It was simple, really. They didn’t have enough and we had too much.
We told them we would be back the next day.
Giving to a True Need
When we showed up with the first load, we brought beds and some furniture.
They asked if we had anything for the kitchen. We did, but we also reached out to some friends and found even more kitchen supplies. We were back a day later with more furniture (this time from our house and our friends’) and some kitchen supplies.
They were ecstatic.
They asked if we had a refrigerator. We decided to empty out our deep freezer and give it to them. We reached out to the church and found someone who had cleaned out a fridge the day prior and was looking for a need to give it to. It was God’s timing for sure.
We decided to give them our couch, as they needed it more than we did. It’s a large sectional and I’m pretty sure they are using it for more beds.
Our kids wanted to give away everything when they learned of the situation. It was adorable.
Everything Coming Together
I had already thought of the fact that, since they were from Africa (Burkina Faso to be specific), they were likely Muslim (60% of Burkina Faso is). We didn’t start this journey solely to try to convert anyone to Christianity, but I wanted to learn a little more, so I picked up the book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (which is a great book by the way).
No, we haven’t talked to them about religion yet, but the book did give me some great insight.
The craziest thing was this: when the author started talking about how we could help Muslims, he said, “Think about how you would help anyone, even yourself. Basic needs. If you needed a mattress, you would go get a mattress. So if they need a mattress, go get them a mattress.”
I don’t think it was a coincidence that a mattress was the first thing we had brought them, before I had even heard of this book. I think God is showing off a little, which is always so heartwarming to see.
Today, we’re getting some more things together to take over. When we get there, the kids always jump up to help unload any toys, so we’re taking some more toys. Some friends of ours have a TV, which is one of the things they asked for. When I say “asked for,” I mean they show us a picture of the things they want/need and then we try to find it.
It’s turned into a normal thing. We show up with one or two vehicles full of stuff. They help us unload and they are super grateful. It’s a level of gratitude we rarely get to see in the States.
Us and Them
I have no idea what they think about us. All they know is, some random Americans showed up one day, asked them if they wanted a bunch of stuff, and now come by regularly with large loads of random items.
They are all smiles. Of course, they’re happy to see us every time we show up.
I don’t want this to be an “us and them” thing. We are all created equally. We all have equal value in the eyes of God. In God’s eyes, we’re all kings and queens. We’re no better than they, nor are they better than we are. We’re just in different situations and come from different backgrounds.
We get too caught up on equating success with wealth or material possessions. There’s a reason Africa is constantly one of the most grateful countries in the world and why the States have one of the highest suicide rates. Stuff doesn’t equal happiness. It often causes us to want more. Wanting less and appreciating what we have is what creates happiness.
It was my wife’s courage, along with her friend who speaks multiple language, that made all of this possible. My wife tries her best to live a Christlike life and often I feel like she really understands what that means more than I do. I’m blessed to have her for sure. I’m learning from her and she may even be learning from me. I know one thing: I’d follow her anywhere.
We may never have the opportunity to introduce the refugees to Christ, but it was Christ who made all of this possible, from the first conversation to the fact that we have so much abundance to give from in the first place. And they are seeing Christ in our ability and act of giving to their need. All glory be to God!
I’m not sure how all of this will play out. I’ll keep you updated. But it’s a pretty awesome journey.
Further Book Reading
- 10 Practical Steps to Start Practical Minimalism
- How to Raise Grateful, Selfless Children
- 47 Things You Weren’t Taught in School (That Our Kids Need to Know)
- How to Travel Light With Kids (A Comprehensive Guide)
- Stop Saying Adoption is Expensive
- Large-Family Minimalism: How We Declutter 5,000 Things a Year