Unusable items costing charities
by MEREDITH McCAY
Jan 23, 2010 | 3223 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
These pieces of broken furniture will be hauled off to a landfill at the charity’s expense. America’s Thrift Stores President Tim Alvis said the Birmingham-based company spends about $700,000 a year on disposing of trash in Alabama alone.
These pieces of broken furniture will be hauled off to a landfill at the charity’s expense. America’s Thrift Stores President Tim Alvis said the Birmingham-based company spends about $700,000 a year on disposing of trash in Alabama alone.
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Store clerks at the Sylacauga Salvation Army Teresa Tyler, left, and JoeAnn Lowe arrange clothes on a rack inside the store. The store is one of two run by director Debbie Rodgers in Talladega County.
Store clerks at the Sylacauga Salvation Army Teresa Tyler, left, and JoeAnn Lowe arrange clothes on a rack inside the store. The store is one of two run by director Debbie Rodgers in Talladega County.
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While their litter problem has improved, area charities are still spending a significant amount of money on hauling items off to the landfill.

Whether it’s because they have used fences or found a way to work with the police, several organizations with locations in Talladega County have managed to cut down on the expenses of trash disposal.

Care House in Sylacauga has no more problems with litter, according to director Earl Lewis.

He said the litter problem was bad several years ago, with people dropping junk off after hours and clothing being scattered all over the yard. But Care House has now chained off its driveway and gained police support so that it seldom has anything left after hours.

“Cooperation with the public and police has helped us a lot,” Lewis said. “I know Hannah Home has a terrible problem with it. But we have lit our place up at night now, and I think the combination of that with the police and chain has helped stop the problem.”

Lewis remembers having to clean up the yard at Care House on a daily basis and is thankful that is not the case anymore.

Now the organization can focus on giving out food and some clothing, and occasionally being able to help people with their power bills or prescription drugs.

For Talladega County’s Salvation Army director, Debbie Rodgers, one of her locations has a worse litter problem than the other.

Rodgers said her Sylacauga store rarely has a problem with its drop-off area, partly because she is able to fence the area. But the Talladega location doesn’t have that luxury because it is on a busy road, and she deals with litter on a more regular basis at that location.

“It can be overwhelming because I spend about $1,500 on garbage bills,” Rodgers said. “That could be buying prescription drugs for someone. People bring their household garbage and it creates a vicious cycle. We have tried to work with the police, and we do our best.”

Rodgers said even at the Sylacauga store, however, people will leave things outside the fence and get upset when she doesn’t know anything about what they donated.

She said people will drop things off after hours and return a day or two later wanting a receipt for their donation. But often she and her staff won’t find anything because someone else will have taken the donations during the night.

About 25 percent of the things donated to the Salvation Army are unusable, according to Rodgers. She said some clothes can be used in rag bundles, but some things have to be thrown away because appliances can’t be repaired or clothes are filthy.

“We have to pay to have it picked up and carried away if it’s trash,” Rodgers said. “We occasionally sell things that could be fixed if they have minor damage, but if they don’t work we don’t usually have the money to fix things.”

On the other end of the spectrum, in her 15 years working with the Salvation Army, Rodgers has seen cars and trucks donated that allowed people who had been without a vehicle for months to drive to work. She has also seen a diamond ring or two come into the store, and while those are special items she still sells them at a great discount.

With children, they can often find discontinued or popular toys at the Salvation Army if they time their visit just right. The store will take anything it thinks will help a family in need to survive and be happier.

“When you donate to Hannah Home, that money is not staying in the community,” Rodgers said. “When you have donations, keep us in mind because we are right here in town [Sylacauga] and anything sold here comes back to the community. I just want to thank everyone for a wonderful kettle season, and our wonderful volunteers.”

Hannah Homes and King’s Ranch largely contribute to America’s Thrift Stores, and the president of the thrift store company Tim Alvis said signs saying not to place items outside the donation boxes are the best form of prevention they have.

He said workers try to frequent sites at least two or three times a week, but if a donation site starts to look bad it should be called in. Alvis promised the site should be clean within 24 hours of being reported.

Besides being unattractive, having items outside the donation boxes encourages people to steal and makes other donors think the box is full, making matters worse.

“According to Alabama law, anything within 10 feet of that box becomes our property,” Alvis said. “So sometimes we can charge people with theft.”

The property owners allowing Hannah Homes boxes to be set up are doing so out of the goodness of their heart, Alvis said, and because they are sympathetic to the ministry.

If the donation site becomes a dump site, they may lose that location.

As far as having to trash items, Alvis said the company spends $700,000 on landfill costs in Alabama a year. This is because furniture that cannot be repaired is donated or items that cannot be used are put in boxes.

“Furniture makes up about 85 percent of our trash,” Alvis said. “You don’t want to offend the donor by not accepting their items, so you have to take their donations. If you want to donate something that doesn’t fit in the box, call us and we can bring a truck or bring it by the store. We will recycle as much as we can before taking unusable items to the landfill.”