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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Mike Wines, director of operations for the Salvation Army, stands amid a room full of unusable televisions and monitors that have become a costly problem for the agency to be saddled with.

Charities don’t need actual junk

Agencies temper generosity pleas with straight talk

– The temptation is great. The new mattress came the other day, and who really knows what to do with the old one?

So you load it up, maybe tie it to the roof of your SUV and drive to the nearest Salvation Army drop box. Ignoring all the signs that tell you plainly not to leave anything outside the big white box, you go ahead and leave it, along with the box springs.

It will be fine, you tell yourself. They can use it.

Problem, though, is that they can’t. Used mattresses and box springs are risky items to collect – what with bed bugs and all kinds of potential for icky-ness.

With spring cleaning comes boxes of donations and trunks full of items into area thrift stores. And those who run the stores have a fine line to walk, between encouraging generosity and collecting other people’s junk.

Sometimes people think they can take anything to places like the Salvation Army.

“You just can’t,” Capt. Brendon Robertson said.

‘Lot of hurdles’

Regulations prevent the acceptance of used child-safety seats, baby beds and medical equipment. And the mattresses: Don’t give them your mattresses.

“I’m not sure why they put them at the bins,” Robertson said.

At the Dove’s Nest, a thrift store operated by the Mennonite Central Committee, stuff they can’t use goes to the Salvation Army for disposal or sale.

Oleta Bowman, manager at the Dove’s Nest, said the store will not accept large furniture or appliances.

“Those are the things we’d probably have to pay to haul away,” she said. “We just don’t have the room for it.”

Clothing and vintage items, though, are in high demand.

“We’ll take end tables and a few smaller things like that, but we try not to accept the pieces we can’t use,” Bowman said.

It costs the Salvation Army about $4,000 to $5,000 a month to dispose of the waste that fills the Dumpsters at the social service agency. They are emptied two to three times a week and fill quickly with broken furniture and other unsalable items, Robertson said.

Even though the drop boxes are clearly marked with signs asking donors to please not leave items outside the boxes, it seems the advice is rarely heeded.

And all the stuff piled up around the boxes can become unsightly, making property owners and businesses not want the donation boxes on their parking lots.

“There’s definitely a lot of hurdles we have to go through to get good donations,” Robertson said.

Another item the thrift stores would really rather not see donated is the TV set, but they see them all the time.

Any television that they can’t sell – and that’s a lot of them – or ones that are broken, must be disposed of in a particular way because of the chemicals and electronics in the sets.

And that, too, costs money for the agency, Robertson said.

At Goodwill Industries of Northeast Indiana, clothing or other items that cannot be sold are often recycled. All textiles donated, whether resold or recycled, are accepted, said Ruth Koontz, director of marketing and community relations.

The fabrics are sold by the pound to rag recyclers, so even if a shirt is torn or stained, the stores will still collect it, she said.

Keep giving

The donations collected by all these agencies – whether it is a box of old children’s games or last year’s sweaters – fund the programs offered by the nonprofits.

For the Salvation Army, that is the drug-and-alcohol treatment program that currently helps nearly 80 men, Robertson said.

With the harsh winter, donations have been down sharply, Robertson said.

He asks anyone cleaning out their closets and doing their spring cleaning to keep the agency in mind, particularly for old clothes, as well as “odds and ends.”

“People haven’t been giving their donations,” he said.

At Goodwill Stores, the money raised helps employ those who may have trouble finding or keeping jobs, Koontz said.

“A lot of things people may think are unusable,” she said, adding that items such as furniture must be in good repair. “But we can still make use of them.”