Thrift store after-hours donations have uncharitable consequences

By Greg Miller
STAR STAFF
gmiller@starhq.com

   For those who are donating clothing, furniture and other items to the Salvation Army Thrift Store on West Elk Avenue after 4 p.m., store manager Pat Westmoreland is issuing an urgent request: Please don't!
   Those who contribute merchandise items are asked to limit their times for bringing those items to the following days and hours: Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
   Because the items are being left after hours, some people take advantage of the situation, according to Westmoreland. She said they watch for store employees to leave, go through the items, take what they want, and leave the remaining items scattered on the ground. "It's so bad that they crawl into our dumpster, and they throw everything out of our dumpster," Westmoreland said, including the garbage that is thrown into the dumpster by those not associated with the Salvation Army store.
   "We don't care about that," she said. "We don't care if somebody throws a bag of garbage in the dumpster, but they even throw the food out. It's through and in-between the clothing, and it's just a horrible, horrible mess."
   "It probably takes us a good hour to clean up what's out there," said Renee Edwards, a worker at the store.
   "They let their children crawl in," Westmoreland said. "On Saturday, when I lock the door, immediately I hear the cars and trucks coming. They don't hide it, they just park right by the dumpster. I'll open the door, and they'll be in there, handing stuff over and somebody will be loading it."
   Westmoreland recalls a particularly memorable event that happened several months ago. She opened the door just in time to see "two little barefoot boys" in the dumpster. "They didn't have shirts on," she said. "They only had their shorts on." She called for them to get out of the dumpster and told the boys' father she was going to call the police. The man and boys were gone by the time police arrived, Westmoreland said.
   Edwards recalled another incident where Westmoreland asked a woman to get out of the dumpster. The woman, Edwards said, was very "rude" to Westmoreland, because she was being asked to get out of the dumpster. "She flat out told her she had the right to be in the dumpster," Edwards said.
   One morning, Edwards was trying to place a bag inside the dumpster. A man "was inside the dumpster, and I was lifting the bag over," Edwards said. "The man leaned over and said, 'Here, I'll get it.' He leaned over the dumpster and grabbed it and pulled it over into the dumpster and scared the life out of me. You never know who's in there."
   Saturday night brings the biggest problem, according to Westmoreland. "Saturday night is the worst, because that's the main donation day for us," she said.
   Some of those causing the problem frequently urinate on or otherwise destroy what they don't take, according to Westmoreland.
   Edwards says she recently found two condoms while cleaning the outside area. The "worst" incident occurred June 30, according to Westmoreland. "Somebody threw a bag of vomit in the garbage," she said. "They could not even open the store. We had to go get bleach and pour it in there to get the smell out. They could not figure out what the smell was."
   "We opened the other side of the dumpster and the bag of vomit was ripped open," Edwards said.
   Westmoreland advises parents not to put their children inside the dumpster because of the health hazards. "Everything is in a dumpster," she said. "People throw syringes in dumpsters."
   Every day, "food will be dumped out all over the ground," Edwards said. "It smells horrible. There's been maggots. Name it, and it's been dumped outside the dumpster."
   "There's been dead cats out there beside the dumpster," Edwards said. "There's been dead birds. I don't know why they are dead or how they got there, but they weren't there the day before when we left." Dead rats on traps are also thrown out.
   Westmoreland calls the behavior of those who continually make the messes as shameful. And rain only makes the problem worse, she said.
   Some of those people, she believes, are selling the items they take from Salvation Army property. "I think some of them are having yard sales," she said. "And others, I don't know what they do with it. Maybe they really need it."
   Westmoreland estimates that the Salvation Army loses more than $31,000 annually because of the damage to the merchandise.
   For more information, call 547-0094.