POSTCARD: Secondhand Cactus

CAMBRIDGE, MA—On behalf of Harvard Habitat for Humanity, and probably most of the world, I’d like to take this opportunity to clear something up about charitable donations. No one wants your underwear. Not if it’s a crumpled up lacy thong, not if its neatly folded expensive briefs, and especially not if its shredded granny panties.

Of course, unlike these unsightly unmentionables, a lot of the stuff people donate to Habitat at the end of the year is really great. It’s by selling used futons and fridges and those secret storage containers disguised as ottomans that we make money to fund build trips in the U.S. and abroad. It’s amazing to see students’ generosity with their stuff, and hilarious to see what else they throw in.

We set up a “Shrine of the Bizarre” to display the weirdest stuff we found: a plastic torso, a statuette of a woman deflecting a greyhound from her groin, a plush horse head cut to fit’s over a person’s head.

One blue donation bin contained an upside-down cactus.

Then there’s the slightly more normal weird stuff. We get complete collections of homework, laminas of expos essays, bio problem sets, orgo midterms, and MCAT study books.

Others unload their snack stashes. Most of the food items are along the lines of ramen and oatmeal packets, but occasionally we get a batch of not so freshly baked muffins, or a carton of Chinese take-out.

Sometimes I run across something I also own. This usually makes me a little sad—especially if its something from a club or event—like I’m a sucker for holding onto the kind of things another person would toss.

Between the books, the spattered microwaves, the discarded photographs, it could all become a strange kind of anthropology. For every pair of designer jeans, there’s a truly hideous sweater.

Suddenly, sifting is like hearing a secret: everyone here is just as dorky as you!

Or, at least, the things they throw away are.

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