02/15/06 — Some 'blessings' are a real problem

View Archive

Some 'blessings' are a real problem

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on February 15, 2006 1:49 PM

Clothing overflows the full bin. Bags and bags of clothes and household items are strewn on the loading dock and around the dumpster. Sometimes two or three couches are thrown onto the pile.

This is a typical Monday in front of the Salvation Army's thrift store. Donations have accumulated over the weekend.

But what seems like a blessing is actually a problem, Salvation Army Commander Maj. Andrew Wiley said. Many of the drop-offs are unusable, he said, and if they have been sitting out in the rain, none of them can be put into the thrift store.

Instead, the entire mess has to be hauled off to the landfill, for which the Salvation Army pays dearly.

"We have a real problem," Wiley said. "People bring to us many times what they think is usable. Then, sometimes people bring us stuff just because it's easier to do that than take it to the landfill."

He said the Salvation Army often gets furniture that nobody can use because it's in poor condition or old.

"We get appliances that just don't work," Wiley said. "We don't have any way of repairing items. If it is not in working condition when it comes in to us, we can't do anything but throw it away. They have to be usable as they are."

The same is true for furniture, he added.

The Salvation Army then must pay Waste Industries to have the stuff hauled off. Wiley said a low month might cost anywhere from $1,500 to $1,800 to haul off the trash. But there have been months when that bill has gone as high as $3,000 or more.

Wiley said the Salvation Army's average trash bill runs about $20,000 a year.

Two commercial dumpsters behind the Salvation Army building have to be emptied at least once a week and sometimes twice if there's a lot of stuff that has come in.

Wiley said there's a flat fee for picking the trash up plus a weight fee for the contents. "When donations have been out overnight and have gotten wet, that just adds to the weight along with the nastiness of it," he said. "A waterlogged sofa or a waterlogged mattress -- that's a lot of weight. We can't lay it out and dry it before we get rid of it."

A big problem with donations that have laid out in the rain is that they get mildewed and moldy and can cause sickness if anyone uses them.

Even the dry, hot summer can cause problems with donated items that sit out by the collection bin over the weekend. Wiley said most donations are put in trash bags and tied. The bag sits out in the sun for a couple of days and the heat and moisture build up, then the donations get damp and become unusable.

"So we're paying by the pound to dispose of this stuff," he said. "That's thousands of dollars that could be going into other programs to help people put food on their tables or pay their utilities and support other things we do in this community."

Wiley said the high trash removal costs must be paid because if the Salvation Army just lets the stuff sit there, it will be fined by the city.

The Salvation Army commander said weekends are "horrendous" and that many times it takes the staff most of the day Monday just to clean up the stuff that's been put out Friday night, Saturday and Sunday.

"There have been Monday mornings where the back dock has been loaded to the point that we could not get to the door from the outside," Wiley said. "Then there would also be stuff piled up in the yard below the dock. The dock is entirely covered and the yard filled with loose clothes. One time there were two or three sofas flipped upside down on a pile of stuff."

Wiley said a lot of the problem is people who use the drop-off as a convenience.

"They can bring it there, throw it out next to our collection box after hours when nobody sees them and go on their merry little way. Then we're left to get rid of their trash."

He said the Salvation Army needs contributions for its thrift store.

"If folks would bring us their usable stuff and stop using us for a dumping grounds, it would not only help eliminate the immediate problem, but it would also allow us to turn dollars into programs rather than into trash service."

Wiley encourages donors to take their contributions to the thrift store instead of dumping them in the bin or outside. The store is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Salvation Army has a limited pickup service for large items.

The Salvation Army hopes to get rid of its collection box altogether because people pilfer through the piles left while the thrift store is closed, taking the usable items and leaving the trash.

"We constantly are running people off," Wiley said. "Some of our staff have been threatened. One night a shelter employee went across the street and told someone that they were stealing and to put that stuff back. They told him if he didn't get back across that street and mind his own business, they would shoot him."

Wiley said stealing is a serious problem. People pull up and haul off items by the carload.

"Almost on any given night there will be somebody out there backed up to the dock digging through donations," he said. "You see the same vehicles over and over. We've had one who's been several times and they come without a tag so we can't get a tag number to report it. Those who want to do it are clever. And they're brave."

Wiley said his staff has called the police when they have seen someone taking items. But when the police arrive, instead of taking items out of the bin and putting them into his trunk, the person begins putting stuff from his car into the bin. When questioned by the police, the person says he's just making a donation, so the police can't do anything.