When Charities Shoot Themselves in the Foot

Years ago I volunteered at a small United Methodist Church thrift store in Knoxville, Tennessee, and it opened my eyes to the failings of some donors. The two elderly women I worked with had seen a lot of junk dropped off at their door, but it still bothered them to see how people thought they should get a tax write off on things better off sent straight to the trash. Soiled, stained, buttonless, ripped, worn-out clothing, broken toys, ruined furniture, a lot of things were dropped off with a smile as if the donors were giving brand new items.

You see, people often equate their cast-offs as something good, even when it’s often crap. They assume toys will be fixed, missing parts found, broken chairs will be mended, stained sofas would be cleaned, but it’s too expensive for thrift shops to do that kind of thing, and too much manpower devoured. Of course a lot of manpower’s devoured while going through boxes of broken things too. The worst situation was when my Junior League group sent me to sort through a shed that belonged to a local celebrity. Luckily I discovered the gigantic shards of crystal in one box before blindly thrusting my hand in.

After experiencing a friend dropping off box after box of broken toys at my little UMC thrift shop, and that situation in the shed, I made a promise that nothing I donated would be rubbish.

Flash forward almost twenty years later.  I had a lot of beautiful new stock from a closed brick and mortar store, and the cost of trying to sell it off, storage fees, website, eBay, etc. fees became ridiculous.  I started hauling brand new toys and gifts to Cypress Area Ministries to avoid paying inventory taxes at the end of the year, and  I’ve probably donated close to $10K over the years, but all good times must come to an end.

Last week I brought over $3K of toys for CAM, and found myself in a quagmire.  I walked into the donation center and was struck with the bins of sad looking Halloween decorations, and other worn things, and was glad they’d be getting some nice things from me to stock their thrift store.  They do a tremendous amount of good in my area, and the thrift store generates income for those much needed programs.  It made me feel better about my situation that they’d benefit from my abysmal luck.

Suddenly they were asking me to drive across the street to a new location. A cell phone was thrust into my hand, and someone began to dictate how I donate.  The things I was donating were brand new toys, and they wanted them for their toy donation, and anymore I donated had to be received by next Wednesday, or donated after the new year.

What?  I explained that wouldn’t work, since I was clearing out stock and didn’t want to pay inventory taxes.  Again I was told I could donate by today, or wait.  Store fixtures were flatly turned down.  I was told to give my phone number to the nervous looking lady next to me, who had loaned me her phone to talk to the people back at the office.  I handed the phone back to her and told my husband we were done.  Volunteers from a local college helped unload my packed van, and I slid into my seat seething, determined to never donate to CAM again.  Goodwill has taken my donations and just said thanks with no lectures.

Who’d have thought that brand new toys and gifts, steel gridwall, hooks and frames were so unwelcome?

This week I got a letter from CAM, forwarded from my closed brick and mortar, asking me for donations, since I’d given in the past.  There was an envelope enclosed for my check.  It was given to Bart, my paper shredder.

I’m off to my bulging storage sheds, and the warmer embrace of Goodwill Industries, y’all.

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