Friday, December 26, 2008


I've been trying to find some indication of what may be prompting the St. V envelopes to be removed from the contribution packet in a local parish (see my first blog of the day down below). Haven't found much, but this story did turn up. It's a death notice for Baltimore's Leonard Whitehouse which describes his accomplishments. One in particular is a complete puzzle.

In 1947, he joined with a member of the Schapiro family, Daniel Schapiro, to start a business, Schapiro & Whitehouse, for many years at Parkin and McHenry streets....

His partner focused on rags. Mr. Whitehouse established the secondhand clothing division.

"Middle Easterners, Whitehouse learned, would buy men's jackets and shirts," The Sun's article said. "In search of foreign markets, he took the first of many trips to Africa in the early 1950s.

Back in Baltimore, he oversaw a clothing sorting and grading operation. Clothes, which the company purchased from charities, were carefully graded by quality, color and type. Mr. Whitehouse hired employees who sifted through tons of give-away dresses, shirts, coats, pants and blouses....

"He was good at finding customers in those overseas markets," said his daughter, Terry Whitehouse of Washington. "He had amazing stories about being held at gunpoint while going into the far reaches of the countries where he did business. He was once on a small plane when the engine caught fire. But he made friends wherever he went, and he'd be invited back for weddings."

His business became the largest clothing-grading operation in the United States, The Sun's 1997 article said. His employees processed a million pounds a week from the Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries and the St. Vincent dePaul Society.

Let me see if I understand this correctly. American Catholics package up their seldom-used clothes that are still in good shape, and deliver them to St. Vincent DePaul so that someone in need will have a coat or a dress to wear. Maybe it's a coat or a dress that the donor still likes or has a fond memory of, but staying true to the gospel message of giving the extra garment to the poor, lovingly tucks it into the St. V bag.

I still remember one black fake fur coat that I especially loved but tucked into the Good Neighbors bag because I had a new coat and couldn't justify keeping two if someone was going to be without. Was that coat sent off to a processing plant that created a profit for someone who knew how to work the rag business? Was it sold to a needy person, or perhaps a not-so-needy person who just wanted to have something that looked American? Did this help the poor in some way that I can't see in reading this obit? Does anyone know how charitable clothing donations really do fare once they leave the hands of the donor?

When I was very much younger, I worked for an attorney whose wife was office manager. She told us about it more than once and was quite proud of the fact that she wore dresses to work that had been siphoned off the clothing donations to the poor at her church. Apparently she worked with the charitable clothing intake and got first pick. I was appalled, and I never saw her in quite the same light again.

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