Overnight dumping creates thrift shop headaches

Refrigerators with rotting food, unusable furniture cost agencies cash that could help the needy

Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The man who runs Juneau's Salvation Army Thrift Store said he has had surprises worse than the rain-soaked couch he found outside the store Monday morning.

"Two weeks ago there were four couches dumped outside, and you could clearly see they were trash," said Henry James, who has worked at the 538 Willoughby Ave. store for about 18 years. But even that wasn't as bad as the two refrigerators full of rotting food left there after Thanksgiving, he added.

A sign outside the store tells people not to leave donations outside after hours. But Salvation Army Maj. Joe Huttenlocker said that since the beginning of October, the disposal bill for things "literally dumped" at the thrift store has totaled about $2,200.

"We have that much less to spend to help people," he said.

At the St. Vincent DePaul Thrift Store, 8617 Teal St., Diane Benning said she doesn't know how much money her agency spends on disposal, but it has the same problem.

"It's usually on Mondays," she said. "We wouldn't be in business without donations," she said.

But even when people leave clothing that could be resold, others scavenge through it, littering it through the area.

Both agencies make it clear that people aren't supposed to drop things off and leave.

"There's a big sign out there," Benning said. "People don't read signs."

Huttenlocker said the problem isn't limited to Juneau, where he has served since July, when he moved from El Paso, Texas. Many places in other states that used to have large collection containers at shopping centers have taken them out.

People were pilfering from them and sometimes sleeping in the bins, he said. In some cases, babies were left in the bins, he added.

While he doesn't know of any babies left at the Salvation Army Thrift Store doorstep, the staff had its hands full with the refrigerators.

Not only were the refrigerators stinky, but their disposal was expensive, Henry said. There is an additional charge to dispose of refrigerators because of the freon, he said. Both were "filled to the gills" with spoiled food, he added.

One had meat going bad in the freezer compartment. The other had fish, he said. Otherwise, they were full of what refrigerators normally hold, including leftovers.

Just getting rid of the refrigerators cost the Salvation Army $200 alone, Henry said.

Monday's business at the store was brisk, and it took about 212 hours to take in $200, he said. Huttenlocker said he didn't know how much the thrift store has taken in since the beginning of October.

He said he looks at disposal fees as money that can't help the community.

Meanwhile, some of the things dumped at the doorstep could have been sold had they not been left outside to be picked through or ruined by the elements, he said.

The $200 to dispose of the refrigerators could represent a day's take from a volunteer bell-ringer's kettle, he said.

Henry said the sign in front of the store is old and the problem isn't new. About 10 years ago, he arrived at work to find the parking area full of appliances - stoves, washers, dryers and refrigerators - all in bad shape.

"I come to work and see unexpected stuff just about every morning," he said, though "Mondays are the worst."

The couch he found this Monday will have to go to the dump because it was ruined by the rain.

Sometimes the annoyance is more than just a trip to the dump, Henry said. He found polar bear and black bear hides left outside the store one morning. By state regulation, "we're not allowed to sell that stuff," he said.

In May 2008, the Salvation Army is scheduled to open a new thrift store next door. It will be surrounded by a fence so people won't be able to leave things at the doorstep, Henry said.

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