Thrift store donations can have far-reaching impact
Thrift store personnel share what's best to donate
It's spring, and with it comes spring cleaning. Remember, donations to local thrift stores are vitally important and welcome.
"Things we are always looking for are good quality clothing and shoes for children, men and women of all ages and sizes," said Andrea Martin, store manager of Common Goods in Crosslake. "Furniture is always a good seller for us. Board games, knickknacks, small appliances like toasters and coffee makers (that are clean and in good condition)."
"So donating is a great way to give back to your community. We also want people to think about their donations as a blessing to others. If it's something that you're no longer using, passing it on to somebody else who can enjoy it is a great way of recycling and helping be sustainable."
— Andrea Martin, Common Goods in Crosslake
"We sell a lot of pots and pans in good condition. They go right away," said Cheri Westphal, director of Share-N-Care in Hackensack. "And nice furniture."
Those donations can help a lot of individuals.
"We appreciate that people want to donate with us," Martin said. "When you donate at Common Goods, you're directly supporting Bridges of Hope, which serves local families. So donating is a great way to give back to your community. We also want people to think about their donations as a blessing to others. If it's something that you're no longer using, passing it on to somebody else who can enjoy it is a great way of recycling and helping be sustainable."
Hidden Jewels 4U in Pine River has often donated shoes to the Boy Scouts of America Soles4Souls shoe drive. The store also has connections at the Pine River-Backus Family Center to help connect with families who could use clothing or furniture donations.
Hidden Jewels has been able to avoid incurring a cost from any unsellable items through donations like this.
Most donations are perfectly acceptable, but it turns out that stores can't take absolutely everything.
That's no reason not to donate, because stores are more than happy to answer questions and more often than not have a list of what they can or cannot make room for. Common Goods has contact information for a charity that might accept furniture that they cannot, for example.
"We can't take sleeper sofas, but we can take small couches, chairs, kitchen tables," Martin said. "The only option for people in our area looking to donate (some furniture) is probably Salem West."
Hidden Jewels similarly has places where they will donate items that they can't sell.
"We recycle clothes we can't use," said Brenda Peterson, Hidden Jewels store manager and owner. "Sometimes we take some to the women's shelter, Salvation Army or Goodwill. "
And if you have items the stores can't take, they will almost certainly know where else to go. Sometimes that includes other charity groups. More and more stores are requiring donations during operating hours, which allows stores to cut down on unsellable items and provides someone to answer donors' questions.
"People need to donate when we have staff here," Martin said. "When they come during our hours we can look at items, but the stuff we get outside of our hours is the problem."
In some cases, only accepting donations during operating hours has been a very effective way to cut down waste.
"My garbage bill went from $700-$800 to $200," Westphal said.
Common Goods requires scheduled donation appointments during operating hours, especially during the busy spring season.
In some cases it's a matter of liability, safety or sanitary guidelines. Used mattresses, for example, cannot legally be resold and regulations on car seats change regularly. The condition of more complicated items cannot properly be determined by a cursory glance, so items like exercise equipment cannot be proven to be safe.
"We can't sell (bed) pillows," Martin said. "So those go into the trash. Decorative pillows, if they have tears or stains, we can't recycle them."
"We don't accept treadmills and exercise equipment," Westphal said. "It's not safe. We don't know what's been done with it."
"Baby seats expire," Martin said. "And we have no way of knowing if they have been in a car accident."
In other circumstances, it's a matter of a difficult market. After all, even thrift stores have limited floor space so items can't stay forever.
"Everybody is switching from landlines to cell phones," Martin said. "So we get a lot of cordless phones. There might be nothing wrong with them, but it's hard to sell them."
"We do not take TVs," Westphal said. "We can't get rid of them. That's one of our main problems. We can't put it in the dumpster so it's just there and we have to find someone or we, ourselves, have to take it to recycling, and we can only do it once a month."
Sometimes, however, it's a matter of condition. It's easy to tell if something can or should be donated. It often comes down to whether an item is stained or damaged. So if you have clothes that aren't torn and aren't stained, most stores will happily accept them.
The same goes for household goods, though some stores do not accept appliances or only accept specific appliances. In any case, the item should be clean and not damaged.
"Sometimes people will give us rusty pots and pans thinking that we have a resource for it," Martin said. "If I can't put a price tag on to sell it, then it costs time and effort. So everything has to be in clean, sellable condition."
"We've gotten furniture that's dropped off while we aren't here that's torn, ripped, dirty," Westphal said. "You can't give it away."
Martin said the easiest way to think of it is to ask before donating whether they would give the item to a loved one. If the answer is no because of the condition, it might not be suitable.
Some thrift stores do have a place that will take damaged goods. It's important to check with them first.
"If someone brings in a bag marked for recycling like T-shirts and things that are stained or worn out, that can go into recycling. But some people don't separate it out," Martin said.
There is a cost to dealing with items that cannot be sold. Sometimes the cost is the time spent sorting items.
"Our biggest cost is paying someone," Martin said.
Sometimes the cost is literally the cost of disposal. E-waste like televisions and computer components aren't supposed to be disposed of with regular trash and often must be paid for. Otherwise, stores may have to pay extra for larger volumes of trash.
"If we fill our dumpster up, I could pay for additional pickup," Martin said. "I do have a guy who I can recycle my damaged clothing with, so that doesn't cost me money yet, but he might start charging for that, so that's scary. I do have a guy that gets our electronics for us, but he can't take everything. Our main cost is our garbage and disposal fees."
"Non-sellable items have to go in the dumpster and it costs money," Westphal said.
Martin said people also pay attention to the season when buying from thrift stores. Christmas items sell best after November, and life jackets, water skis and summer clothing sell best in the summer. Items that are donated outside of those times may take up space.
Guidelines for donations can often be found either at the thrift stores or on their websites, such as at commongoodsMN.org. Share-N-Care has a list of donation guidelines at the door.
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.