A dilemma of donations is plaguing thrift stores.
On one hand, donations are deeply appreciated and fund many valuable programs. On the other hand, donations can overwhelm volunteers and, if poor quality, can cost thousands of dollars at the landfill.
Patrons of Churches Thrift Shop and the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Hudson Thrift Shoppe may have noticed the stores have been closed for a few days this past month.
Over the August long weekend, Churches was closed for a total of five days.
Manager Linda Menzies says the thrift shop has closed extra days before, but not for a few years.
With real estate moving as quickly as it is these days, a lot of people are moving and downsizing, meaning more donations, she says.
At the Hudson Thrift Shoppe, manager Lorrie Campagnolo says the store has to close its bins about once every three months, sometimes on a Saturday and Monday in order to avoid garage sale leftovers.
“We value them and their donations,” she says of people who donate. “They should know we only close our bins when we absolutely have to… Yard-sale leftovers are not helpful to any thrift store.”
Campagnolo says closing the CMHA thrift shop bins is sometimes met with frustration and occasionally anger.
“Sometimes people will just dump it in the parking lot. We have to pick it up – and then we don’t have room for it,” she says, pointing out their storeroom is a 12-by-four foot area. “Closing the bins seems like we’ve disrespected them.”
When the yard sale leftovers start coming in, the volume can be overwhelming. And, unfortunately, the quality is poor and they end up at the landfill.
The other problem is when storage space overflows into the work space, it becomes unsafe for volunteers.
“So it’s kind of a double whammy,” Campagnolo says, adding it can also be stressful for the volunteers.
“Working with clients with mental health issues, (overcrowding as well as angry customers) can quickly cause client stress.”
Campagnolo has looked at solutions. A sister store in Vernon doesn’t accept yard-sale leftovers, which has been pretty successful. She would like to see the thrift stores work together for a solution.
“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.”
Dawn Dunlop, executive director of the CMHA regionally, agrees.
“We love people who donate,” she says, but would like to encourage people to donate only good-quality items.
“Our dumping fees are massive. I can only assume others are as well.”
The Hudson Thrift Shoppe spends about $5,000 a year in tipping fees at the dump, a big chunk out of the funds raised for CMHA programs and initiatives across the region.
At Churches thrift shop, Menzies says the ‘after garage sale’ donations generally can’t be sold.
“It increases our costs – the charges at the dump have gone up drastically.”
She says about $3,000 per month is spent disposing of garbage, money that could be going to charities which support people who are poor.
The thrift shop sends some donations to Can Am, who recycles items and sends them around the world, particularly to India and Pakistan. Churches also bales items, sorted and in good condition, in 60-pound bales for container shipments to places such as Ukraine, South Africa and Ecuador via Global Emergency Mission Society.
Menzies stresses that the thrift store needs clean, good products.
Some people dump their belongings outside the gate if it’s closed, and one person, whose mattress and box spring were refused because they were too dirty, went down the street and threw them over the fence.
“They just don’t respect the fact we can’t be here 24 hours a day, seven days a week to serve them,” Menzies says.
At Kindale, Candy Masters says the percentage of poor quality donations they receive is pretty small. She notes Kindale doesn’t take large items like Churches; they specialize in clothing.
“What I find honestly is those people are not thinking what they’re dropping off is garbage…”
She says she understands why people might feel angry if they can’t donate, and adds Kindale has the luxury of three stores – Vernon and Armstrong in addition to Salmon Arm – so can move donations around.
She agrees that depending on donations for programs but needing to limit them is a double-edged sword.
“I think we pay similar tipping fees between Vernon, Salmon Arm and Armstrong. Yes, it is really high.”
Along with lower tipping fees, she sees more volunteers helping sort donations as a solution.