Charity thrift stores losing money thanks to nasty donations - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Charity thrift stores losing money thanks to nasty donations

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Area thrift stores are losing thousands of dollars every year getting rid of the junk people donate.

The money spent on landfill fees would otherwise be going to help people in need.

Workers at the St. Vincent DePaul Society thrift shop on Dubuque's west side say they've seen it all when it comes to donations, from broken furniture and mysteriously stained mattresses to a deer carcass in a donation drop box.

There's a difference, workers say, between used goods -- and junk.

Jenny Braig is an avid thrift shopper and has high standards for what she, in turn, donates.

"You have to have certain standards," Braig said Friday while shopping at St. Vincent DePaul. "If you can't decide whether something's too worn or too used, then, yeah, you should use the gift rule of thumb: is this something that I would give to somebody as a gift?"

The stained mattress sitting in the thrift shop's donation sorting warehouse would not pass that test.

Kayla Hamilton is an AmeriCorps Vista member working for the St. Vincent DePaul Society in Dubuque.

"A lot of the mattresses that come in we can't sell a lot of them," Hamilton said, gesturing to a mattress with a large yellow stain. "As you can see right here, a lot of them have urine stains or sometimes we get them with blood that'd be something we couldn't sell and we'd have to take to the landfill."

Workers there said they receive donations on nearly a daily basis of used and broken aerosol cans, which can't be sold to the public.

"We know some things might be on the brink for interpretation, but if you think it's ragged, it's got holes in it, it's not really going to work or a main piece of it's broken and missing, it probably wouldn't do us a lot of good," Hamilton said.

All the cans, chemicals, broken furniture and stained mattresses cost money to drop off at the local landfill, and it's St. Vincent DePaul Society that's footing the bill, to the tune of several thousand dollars per year.

"All of the money that we use to get rid of items that we can't sell in the store could be money that's going back into the Dubuque community to support people living in poverty," Hamilton said, "so we're really losing out when we have to spend more money to get rid of things that can't be sold here."

Workers there said they'll often find items just dumped outside their warehouse door - and not always in usable condition.

"We get a lot of broken goods, a lot of broken couches, furniture, frames, a lot of things that aren't salvageable," Hamilton said.

Clothing that is past its peak can be baled and sold to a textile buyer, but in most cases - one man's trash is no man's treasure.

Even some usable items, such as old tube televisions, may not be accepted, depending on the store's needs.

Thrift store workers encourage anybody questioning the quality of an item they may want to donate to simply call the store first and ask. Doing that legwork before bringing the item in can save time and effort for both parties.

The St. Vincent DePaul Society is not alone in this. Stores ranging from Goodwill to locally-run charity thrift shops all say junk is getting in the way of doing good for people in need.

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