Unwanted junk costing Salvation Armry Thrift Store time and money

October 21, 2002 11:00 pm
Donations left at the Salvation Army without a staff inspection aren't always up to the Thrift Store's standards. As a result, the non-profit is spending upwards of $1,500 a month plus staff time to load and haul worthless junk to the Baker Sanitary Landfill. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Donations left at the Salvation Army without a staff inspection aren't always up to the Thrift Store's standards. As a result, the non-profit is spending upwards of $1,500 a month plus staff time to load and haul worthless junk to the Baker Sanitary Landfill. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By LISA BRITTON

Of the Baker City Herald

The Salvation Army has a problem — a $1,500 problem, and it's piled up all around the building.

Donations to the Thrift Store at 2505 Broadway Avenue are piling up faster than the Salvation Army employees and volunteers can sift through them, and much of what is being left can't be resold and must be taken to the city landfill.

"About 80 percent of the items that are donated are not usable or reusable," said Les Stevahn, the Salvation Army's manager and extension division coordinator for Baker County.

During an average month, it costs the organization $1,500 to take non-resalable donations to the landfill, said Stevahn.

That includes up to three trips a week to the landfill, and a drop box Baker Sanitary Service empties three times a month.

"Being a non-profit organization, we rely on the donations of the people," Stevahn said. "If it never reaches the sales floor, it doesn't benefit the community and doesn't benefit the Salvation Army."

There's a procedure involved in donating items to the Salvation Army. Items should to be in good, working condition and taken to the Thrift Store during operating hours. Winter hours for the Salvation Army are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Before anything is accepted, an employee inspects the load to make sure all the items are sellable.

They will take working appliances and any clothing donations. Clothes that aren't fit to sell can be sold to make industrial rags.

But it's the nightly and after-hours donations that can cause problems.

"People know we're not open so they just drop it off," Stevahn said.

There are the broken chairs, couches with missing cushions, and soiled mattresses that wind up on the pavement and piled against the building.

Garbage runs rob other programs

These useless donations are what cost money each month to take to the dump — money that is taken away from the Army's other community programs, Stevahn said.

In addition to running the Thrift Store, the Salvation Army holds church services and provides family services to Baker County residents.

The services include food for needy families, as well as household items, clothing and furniture.

They also send kids to summer camps, and sponsor a trip to a camp for retired people.

Why all the garbage?

One possibility Stevahn cites for the influx of damaged donations is that people don't realize the Salvation Army doesn't mend or repair donations.

"We don't have the facilities for that," he said. "We can take in 10 dryers, 10 washing machines, 10 refrigerators, and maybe one will work."

He said he understands that people need to get rid of items, whether it's because of a decorative change or a move. But, he emphasizes, that doesn't always mean the Salvation Army is the best place to get rid of it.

Some people do drop off quality items with the best of intentions, he said, but they never make it to the sales floor.

"It'll either get vandalized or a lot of it gets stolen," Stevahn said. "We can come in in the morning and tell that things have been gone through."

Possible solutions

He said there are two possible solutions. The first one would be to have a night watchman to ensure that no items are left after hours. However, that option isn't viable because that would put the employees over the allotted hours they are allowed, and cut down on available help during the week.

The second option is the most likely — a fence surrounding the parking lot. Stevahn said it would cost about $3,500 to install the fence, which equals the cost of a little over two months of trips to the dump.

The garbage bill isn't Stevahn's only worry either — he doesn't want anyone to stumble over a broken chair and hurt themselves while looking through the piles.

"It becomes a health hazard," he said.

If the Thrift Store didn't get anymore unwanted donations, he said, it would still take about two weeks to clean up the stacks and piles of junk.

"We just get a handle on it, and the weekend comes and we're swamped again," he said.

For a monthly trip to the dump, it takes 20 hours to load and unload the Salvation Army truck, which Stevahn said is the largest truck they can have without requiring a commercial driver license.

Considering they only have five employees — only two full-time — the task of going to the dump equals an entire week of a part-time employee's work.

Once they get to the landfill, the Salvation Army pays the same for disposal as anyone else.

Prices at the landfill are based on the weight of the load. It costs $12 to dump a load that weighs 599 pounds or less. For the larger loads, it comes out to $42 a ton, said Loren Henry, owner/operator of Baker Sanitary Service.

Henry said he is well aware of the Salvation Army's situation, and to offset the garbage bills, Baker Sanitary makes cash donations to the organization throughout the year.

"I recognize that it's a real problem they're dealing with down there. They get a lot of material from people that should go to the landfill rather than their facility," Henry said.

There are several ways to donate good, usable items to the Salvation Army. For smaller items, such as clothes, there are two drop boxes near the store that are emptied twice a day. Also, items may be taken inside the store near the Broadway side. That's the place where many donations end up, Stevahn said.

"If we didn't empty this six times a day, you wouldn't be able to walk through here," he said.

Also, they make the rounds on Tuesdays to pick up larger donations, like refrigerators and stoves, from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

Even though the useless donations are the most visible around the store, there are many donations that make it to the sales floor.

And, Stevahn said that if they could reduce the monthly garbage bill, the store could expand and offer even more items to the public.

Another area that would benefit from the saved money is providing food for area families.

"We help feed close to 100 families a month," he said, and that number could increase if there was more money available.

"There's a very high need in this community for everything the Salvation Army does," he said.

Winter hours for the Salvation Army are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on donations or volunteering, call 523-5854.