Spring cleaning came early for my family when I was young. Like many Canadians in sunny Vancouver, my parents usually started sorting out unused belongings and amassing their boxes of household donations long before the winter snow melted from the ground. My mother called it "paring down," but anyone who watched her burrow through closets and cupboards -- setting aside this, saving that -- could see that it wasn't the tidiness of her closets that mattered, but the good the items would eventually bring to others in need.
When the Canadian Diabetes Association began collecting donated household goods for charity in the 1980s, that late-winter ritual (which, incidentally, went on at least twice more throughout the year), took on a special, personal significance. By the time I was in my 30s, at least a third of my immediate family members had been diagnosed with diabetes. In the years to come, our family would become a reflection of rising statistics in Canadian society.
Today, says Janelle Robertson of the Canadian Diabetes Association, more than 11 million Canadians live with diabetes and pre-diabetes (an early stage in which 50 percent of those affected are later diagnosed with the disease). Robertson is the vice president and general manager of CDA's Clothesline program, which coordinates the collection of donated goods. In the last decade alone, the number of Canadians impacted by the disease has doubled, increasing the demand for CDA's services. The Clothesline program has become an essential component of what makes CDA such an effective nonprofit.
"We do about 2 million home pickups across the country every year," Robertson told TriplePundit. The donations of used clothing, shoes, bedding, small appliances, electronics and other household goods are picked up by CDA drivers and taken to a central location. They are then weighed and then sold to Value Village, CDA's for-profit partner. Value Village, a subsidiary of Savers, then sorts the items for resale. Most go on their thrift store shelves to be resold to consumers. Those that are too old or used to sell in the store often have use elsewhere. Fabrics may be repurposed into cleaning rags. Old, out-of-date electronics are often broken down for their valuable components, which can then be resold.
Consumers who find it easier to drop off their household goods can also take their donations to drop-off points around the region. The CDA maintains about 3,500 drop-off points across the country Value Village stores, CDA offices and local sponsor locations.
The funds raised from the Clothesline program help to support a wide array of programs and services, from CDA's D-camp for children, to classes and nutritional counseling that help newly-diagnosed adult patients understand the nuts and bolts of a diabetes-friendly meal plan.
"The great thing ... about the funds that are raised by Clothesline is that they are undesignated funds," Robertson explained. "[That] means we are able to use them across a variety of programs and services. Approximately $7 million goes toward diabetes research each year to help further investigations into management techniques and hopes of a future cure."
The money also helps fund the organization's renowned D-Camp, summer and day camps that teach children with Type 1 diabetes how to manage their daily insulin injections, blood monitoring, and and other issues that often make them feel apart or "different" from other kids.
"Approximately 2,500 children every year attend those summer camps and oftentimes it’s the first opportunity for them to meet other children that may have Type 1 diabetes and actually learn to manage their diabetes in a medically supervised setting," Robertson said.
The program also provides other benefits that coincide nicely with today's growing concern about the environment by keeping discards out of the landfill. While environmental concerns may not be the first issue on every consumer's mind when sorting through closets or garages of old stuff, Robertson says the feedback that the CDA gets from donors shows that they care about what happens to those items they give to the Clothesline program.
"[Oftentimes] what prompts them is just the need to get something out of the house," she admitted. "But when they are making the decision where to donate items, they are very interested in what organization they are donating to, and what that organization does with the goods." That "three-part decision" process reflects what Savers has found as well: Donors care about the actions they inspire and what impact it may have on the environment.
These days, the Canadian Diabetes Association is almost a household name in many cities across Canada. That familiarity hasn't just helped ensure donations, but it also cut down on some of the advertising costs that can weigh a nonprofit down. Robertson says CDA will often organize marketing to coincide with seasonal donation drives to remind repeat donors to "spread the word" about the Clothesline program. That word-of-mouth support, which is often through families that are acquainted with diabetes and the importance of CDA's work, has been an invaluable factor in Clothesline's success.
But the true reason the program works, she says, is the support it enjoyed over the years from both donors and its professional partner, Value Village.
"Probably the greatest [lesson] that we have learned over the years is that people, in general, or donors from a charitable perspective are looking for unique and varied ways to be able to donate to charity," Robertson told us. Recent economic times have made it difficult for many people to donate cash. "So, one of the great things about this program is it really allows people another channel through which they can donate and support the association, such as with used but useful household goods.
"I think the [lesson] has been is that even in the charitable sector, much like the for-profit sector, in order to engage people. And in order to be able to garner their support and maximize their support, you need to be able to offer them different and unique ways to both support and become involved in the organization."
And CDA's partnership with Value Village remains an essential part of the Clothesline's success. The last 31 years of joint effort has been a learning experience."We were able to grow with Savers, or Value Village as they are known in Canada, when they were really were growing their stores across the country," Robertson explained. "It allowed us to make this [Clothesline] a national program" with door-to-door impact and household recognition.
Sara Gaugl, director of communications for Savers/Value Village, said both organizations benefit from the long-term partnership.
"[Savers/Value Village was] founded on the idea that businesses have the power to create social good in their communities. That’s why our business model is rooted in developing local nonprofit partnerships," Gaugl said. "We’re very proud of our partnership with CDA [and] we are grateful for the opportunity to help support their efforts across Canada to make an impact through their vital diabetes research and programing"
"[The] partnership that the Canadian Diabetes Association has with Value Village is a fantastic one," Robertson added, "and it’s one that quite frankly, allows us to do so much work in Canada in terms of supporting people with diabetes, that we would not be able to do without this partnership."
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.