Dildos And Gimp Suits: The Weirdest Stuff Ever Donated To Charity Shops
The Debrief: The weirdest and worst donations made to secondhand stores
I bloody love rummaging in charity shops. Everything’s cheaper than a kid’s portion of chips; you never know what unexpected treasures (or irresistibly kitsch tat) you’re going to unearth, and whatever you purchase helps a good cause, which is great justification to #BuyAllTheThings.
I always imagined it’d be great fun to volunteer in thrift store, and get first pick of all the second-hand bounty as soon as it’s donated. However, it turns out that some of the heinous hand-me-downs people give to charities are truly gross. Like, really gross. Grosser than if Lindt chocolate actually contained little gritty, fluffy pieces of bellybutton lint. In fact, even grosser than that time I worked for a company who tried to save money in their office by only getting the sanitary bins in the ladies’ lavs emptied every three months, which led to an infestation of tiny black menstrual midges that would fly out in clouds every time you lifted the little metal lid to dump a tampon.
And then, alongside the items that make you wanna bring up your breakfast, charities are also bequeathed XXXL amounts of WTF – peculiar paraphernalia, utterly confusing cast offs and some things they can’t even identify.
I spoke to a bunch of charity shop managers and store staff to discover the most ferociously foul and fantastically freaky donations they’d ever had the displeasure of having to handle…
‘I work at an Age UK shop. We once received a huge box, which when opened was found to contain just a solitary pair of very well used Turkish slippers – they were absolutely fetid – and a stainless steel vaginal speculum. Someone else gave us a tin full of toenail clippings.’
Shirts and giggles…
‘I used to work at an Oxfam shop in Brighton. One guy used to come in almost every week to make a donation, and it would always be the same: a big plastic bag full of high quality men’s shirts that were practically brand new… with a different obscene sex toy hidden amongst them each time. After handing over the clothing, he’d hang around the store, or loiter outside the window, gleefully hoping to watch us grab whatever dastardly dildo he’d stashed in the carrier. We didn’t feel we could tell him to sod off, because we made a tonne of money for the charity from all the designer shirts he gave us – he always made sure they were really decent, so there was sufficient incentive for us to sort through his stuff without complaining about the “surprise” rubber todgers.’
…and shits and gimp suits
‘I used to be based at Oxfam in Dalston, and I quickly found out why my boss insisted that everyone wore protective gloves when sorting through donations. On one occasion I plunged my hand deep into a bin liner only to find that it was full of used syringes. Thankfully, I wasn’t hurt.
‘I saw multiple dog turds, knickers encrusted with so much vaginal discharge they looked like they’d been rolled in bread dough, and innumerable filthy pairs of boxers sporting more skidmarks than the tarmac of a Tesco car park populated by boy racers in tricked out Vauxhall Novas.
‘There was also the time someone donated a full body latex gimp suit. Management thought it was hilarious, so they hung it up behind the till. A journalist spotted it and wrote a funny story, then the next day we got a call from a bloke really, really far away who sheepishly explained that he’d seen it in the papers and begged us to let him buy it, bless him.’
Sport it out
‘At my shop we get an endless, unceasing stream of Sports Direct mugs. At least two a week. Are they breeding?! Look in any charity shop you like – I bet you a tenner you’ll find one.’
Pic of the bunch
‘I walked into a second-hand shop and was shocked to spot a photograph of me sitting on a shelf. My mum had donated the picture frame with my portrait still in it.’
Yellow, is it pee you’re looking for…
‘We got 18 old pickled onion jars and squash bottles that had been filled with a straw-coloured liquid. We weren’t sure if it was home brew or piss. We actually kept one in the staff room for a laugh, and it was the reigning Grimmest Donation Ever for ages… until the week we received a delivery of furniture from a house clearance, and opened the sliding doors of a cabinet to find a dead cat inside, riddled with maggots.’
‘I’m a regional manager for Barnardo’s. It amazes me what people think is a good idea to give to a children’s charity. We’ve had a toilet brush covered in little bits of matted bog roll and poo, a single potato, and a ‘Rude-Boy’ 7-speed vibrating prostate massager. We got excited when we were given what appeared to be a huge collection of Disney DVDs, as they can fetch a good price, but when we opened them up they were full of hardcore porn discs – we reckon someone was trying to hide their stash of smutty Backdoor Babes flicks from their parents and they ended up reaching us by accident.
‘In Epsom, an elderly gent came in with a beautiful vintage suitcase. He seemed very emotional about handing it over, and kept telling us how sad he was to part with it; he was almost in tears. After he left, we lifted the lid to find 167 pristine, stark naked Barbie dolls inside.
‘We get a ridiculous number of packed lunches, too – people are always mistakenly handing over the wrong bag, and only discover their error when they find they’ve brought an old swimming cossie to work instead of a sarnie later on in the day!
‘Barnardo’s have a lot of corporate partnerships; companies and factories will give us items in bulk that are off the end of a production line, or old stock. We’re always grateful, but it sometimes means we end up with very large numbers of pretty specific products – like 24 mugs emblazoned with the slogan “60 AND SEXY”, or 120 personalised Betty Boop biros that can only be sold to customers with the name Gemma. I recently took delivery of two dozen hardback copies of Not For Turning: The Life Of Margaret Thatcher – it’s not appropriate for one of our shops to look like it’s on a Tory campaign trail, so I had to be careful where I sent them. They ended up in our Rochester outlet – they get a lot of foreign tourists who’ll buy virtually anything connected to British history.
‘The saddest thing I’ve ever discovered was a suicide note in a jacket pocket. I really hope the wearer got some help, and that their coat didn’t reach us because they’d passed away. It was utterly heart-wrenching.’
‘I’ve volunteered at a charity shop for a few years now, and I’ve seen some truly odd items turn up in my stock room. One of my favourites was a commemorative brass model of one of China’s Shenzou spacecrafts, presented in a velvet-lined wooden box, complete with special handling gloves. Another time, we were given an old china doll of a Buckingham Palace guard – the kind with weighted eyes, so they opened when you stood him up. The previous owner had tried to make the doll’s pupils bigger by colouring them in with a black marker, but the effect was terrifying; it looked like a normal toy until you picked it up and suddenly it’d glare at you with these soulless great white shark eyeballs. Shout out to the brave staff member who had to dispose of a soiled adult diaper buried at the bottom of a sack of cardigans, and also to whoever donated only the packaging from a butt plug with an extremely wide diameter. I would love them to walk into the store one day – just so I can see how a person operates their legs after shoving something the size of a catering industry Thermos flask up their arsehole.’
Throwing shade (on the fire)
‘I’m a press officer for Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People. We’ve had to bin literally thousands of copies of the Fifty Shades Of Grey books, because so many are being given to us – more than we can feasibly display and sell. We have wood-burning heating systems in some of our facilities; there’s been talk about seeing how much money we could save by setting fire to EL James novels instead of fuel. It’d probably be the hottest those stories have ever gotten anyone. We also get a heck of a lot of pairs of used false teeth.’
Too hip to handle
‘Our strangest donation? A weird metal, ceramic and plastic thing that we thought was a posh designer door handle. A customer who worked in medicine informed us that it was actually a prosthetic hip replacement implant.’
BUT DON’T BE PUT OFF – THERE’S STILL SO MUCH AMAZING STUFF IN SECONDHAND STORES, YOU’D BE A RIGHT CHARI-TITTY NOT TO SHOP IN ‘EM!
Everyone I interviewed was anxious to stress that only clean, safe donations ever make it to charity shop shelves. Staff sort the rubies from the rubble so that you don’t have to, and there are infinite gems to be found; for every tale I heard about dead pets and dookie, volunteers had ten more about being thrilled to find ‘thigh-high gold leather Valentino boots that had only been used on the catwalk’, ‘samples from Vogue magazine and Chanel purses sent in by celebrities’, and ‘an incredibly rare original Kansai Yamamoto suit – the guy who made Bowie’s outfits for his Ziggy Stardust tour’.
For inspiration, check out @BarnardosRetail on Instagram, and take a look at their blog, The Thrift – Girls Aloud’s Nicola Roberts frequently writes guest posts there about her pre-loved hauls.
Traid are more smashing than a double-glazed window being carried by the Chuckle Brothers, too. They often team up with designers to offer ranges of upcycled clobber, and also offer workshops where you can learn how to customise and repair thrift-shop clothing, as well as late-night store openings with DJs and celebrity presentations.
Second-hand = first class.
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