Jeff Jardine

Nonprofits and their thrift stores need goods, not bads, to fund their charity efforts

Black Friday, check. Cyber Monday, check.

Each year, those two days alone practically guarantee you’ll be getting some new stuff from someone, as well as giving it, if you celebrate Christmas. But there’s only so much room to store the outdated stuff from last year and beyond. And, as the end of the year nears, you realize you could use more income tax deductions come April 15.

Hence, the annual pilgrimages to donate to the various charity thrift stores, the Modesto Gospel Mission and other nonprofit organizations. They rely on the generosity of others to feed, shelter and otherwise aid those in need. While many people give money through A Book of Dreams, the United Way or directly to their favorite causes – and today being Giving Tuesday across the nation – the thrift stores rely on a steady source of donated goods to generate a steady source of income for their organizations.

Clothing, televisions that work, books, household appliances and knicknacks, jewelry, furniture – you name it, they’ll take it. They can never get enough decent men’s clothing, they will tell you. And for your efforts, you can claim reasonable tax deductions. In fact, most of the do-it-yourself tax programs – TurboTax, HR Block and others – include drop-downs to help you determine the “thrift store value” to calculate the deductions.

The flip side, where the charities are concerned: While most of the goods that come their way are in decent condition and can be sold, some folks use the charities as a dumping ground. Consequently, instead of selling the items and banking the cash, the nonprofits are stuck paying to have the trash hauled to the landfill. Single shoes. Underwear with holes in it. Toys and gadgets beyond repair.

John Renner, who oversees Community Hospice’s seven Hope Chest thrift stores between Turlock and Stockton, said as much as 25 percent of the donated goods can’t be sold and must be scuttled at the organization’s cost.

“People will want to donate furniture, but if (the fabric) is ripped, torn or stained, continue down to Gilton,” Renner said. “We can’t take it.”

“If you just tell them, ‘I won’t be able to sell this,’ they understand,” said Phil Taylor, who manages the Hope Chest store on lower McHenry Avenue in Modesto.

All of the goods donated to the Salvation Army first go to Stockton, where they are sorted, cleaned, get some minor repairs and are prepared for sale before being distributed to the organization’s numerous thrift stores throughout the region.

“About 80 percent of what we get we can sell,” said Robert Montez, the organization’s shipping supervisor. The rest, he said, is auctioned off in bins. But if the buyers can’t use it, they want the organization to dispose of it.

“You might get $600 for a bin at auction,” Montez said. “But if it costs us $800 to dump it, we’re in the hole.”

The Salvation Army and Hope Chest stores are certified e-waste recyclers, meaning they accept all electronics. But none of them, including the American Cancer Society’s thrift shop near Marshalls in north Modesto, accept mattresses.

“We legally can’t sell them,” store manager Sheila Weldum said. “They have to be refurbished.”

Which her store isn’t geared to do.

None are geared to take pesticides, herbicides, paints, tires and other items that qualify as hazardous materials, yet people still try to donate them. And while others, including the Hope Chest stores, still accept furniture constructed of particle board – desks, cabinets, shelving, etc. – the Salvation Army does not. The older stuff is difficult to repair, Montez said.

“About 95 percent of it goes to the dump,” he said.

For that reason, some nonprofits accept only new items. They just don’t have the people or resources to sort through the questionable stuff.

The Modesto Gospel Mission accepts nonperishable foods and clothing, along with other items. Kevin Carroll, the mission’s executive director, said he once worked at a mission in Pennsylvania where people dumped quite a lot of unusable goods.

“You had to pick through it,” he said. “Some was bad, some was good.” The Modesto mission doesn’t run a thrift store. It will accept certain furniture items if it has an immediate use for them.

“If someone gives us a lamp, we might be able to use it in the mission,” he said. “On the whole, what people donate is pretty good.”

And if it isn’t, do the nonprofits a favor: Don’t dump it on them. You might get the deduction, but they find it pretty taxing.