I get a lot of reader-submitted questions, so I thought I’d start sharing the answers. Something you want to know? Ask me anything here

I have several items of women’s winter clothing and boots, scarves and gloves to donate to the Syrian refugees. Where should I take them so they will be given to them? Thank you. – D.K., Canada

It’s great that you want to do something to help. But what seems like simple math – it’s cold and they’re struggling; you have clothes you no longer need – isn’t actually that simple.

Shipping anything to Lebanon is expensive*, and not just for you. “We have to pay an enormous amount of money for shipment and customs clearance,” says a spokesperson from Lebanese NGO Basmeh & Zeitooneh, “and then it takes a lot of time and effort to get them out of customs. We received a shipment last year that took eight months to be cleared.”

The best way to help if you’re abroad, she says, is to donate cash. That money will do just as much good without taking away from the organization’s limited resources, which are already stretched thin.

Wondering where your donation will go? According to Basmeh & Zeitooneh, it may go to new clothing, purchased directly from nearby wholesalers for a reasonable rate (which has the added bonus of stimulating the local economy). It may also go to other potentially life-saving items: blankets, firewood, heating fuel and gravel to fill the holes in refugee camps.

And if you’re still unsure of what to do with those warm winter clothes, I’d suggest Googling homeless or domestic violence shelters in your area. There may be people close to home who would appreciate them just as much, saving you the money and hassle of sending them halfway around the world.

Donate what you would have spent on shipping those items to Basmeh & Zeitooneh here, and everyone wins.

* To give you an idea of just how expensive it can be, I once sent myself three pairs of old jeans and a jacket I’d left behind in the US. It cost me $120 to accept the package.


I have tons of old clothes to give to refugees. Should I sort through them (and if so, how do I know what they’re looking for), or just donate everything? And where do I donate? – R.K., Lebanon

If you’re hesitating between the donation bin and the trashcan, remember one thing: quality wins out over quantity.

“We only receive clothes and blankets that are clean and in good condition,” says Basmeh & Zeitooneh’s spokesperson. Throwing ripped sweatpants and stretched-out socks into the mix only creates more work for their staff; they have to sift through the unwearable stuff to find the useful items.

So if you’d still wear something but it doesn’t fit or is no longer your style, pack it up for the giveaway pile. Otherwise, toss it.

As for where to donate, here‘s a list of organizations accepting new and gently worn clothing. Mar Mikhael bar Radio Beirut is also accepting donations for Basmeh & Zeitooneh in a secure mailbox-like bin on the back patio. Drop off your clothes and then reward your good deed with a beer.

Images courtesy of Getty and Radio Beirut


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