People using thrift stores as dumping grounds

A garbage bin with trash still in it, soiled underwear, single shoes, torn clothing, old electronics, and items covered in pet hair are among the “donations” Cayman’s charity stores are receiving.

Operators of thrift stores run by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, the Red Cross and the Humane Society are appealing to donors to consider the quality of the items being dropped off at the shops.

This trash can, already filled with garbage, was among the items ‘donated’ to the NCVO’s New To You Bargain Shop.

“A good rule of thumb to follow is, if it cannot be reused in your own home or you would not give it to a family member, then it will not be acceptable for resale,” said Mona Lisa Meade of the NCVO.

Ms. Meade said the charity’s New To You Bargain Shop on Anthony Drive, George Town, relies on donations from the community to support the charity’s various volunteer and community programs. But in recent weeks, she has become concerned that the shop is being inundated with items that no one would ever want to buy.

“Some of those items include baby seats with no cloth covers; a trash can with garbage still inside; damaged furniture, clothing and toys; mismatched shoes; toys and games with missing pieces; decades-old electronics and books; and items covered in pet hair,” she said.

At the Red Cross Thrift Shop on Huldah Avenue, manager Remy Imperial reports a similar situation, with soiled and worn underwear, clothes with cockroach eggs, books with missing pages, chipped plates and even mattresses with huge rips and urine stains being donated.

Large damaged items are also a problem, Ms. Imperial said. Volunteers, sometimes three at a time, must be called in to take this rubbish to the dump, she explained.

“We are grateful to our donors, but we are asking the public to donate with dignity. If it’s of use to you, then it is of use to someone else,” she said.

“Make sure items are in good condition – no unpleasant odor, stains or mildew, torn or rotten stuff. Dumping things that are not in good condition at the front of the store doesn’t help the thrift shop and we pay to have it taken to the dump,” she said.

To aid in the awareness of the thrift shop policy, Ms. Imperial said the Red Cross has started a “Donate with Dignity” campaign.

The campaign sets guidelines for items donated to the Thrift Shop. It raises awareness about the quality of the items accepted and creates a set of standards used by the Red Cross for deciding which items to sell in the shop, which items to place on the dollar sale, and which items to dispose of.

Ms. Imperial said the shop’s biggest seller is clothing.

“We have people that donate nice clothes, some even with the tags; then, we have people who just put anything in the bag. We ask them to just have a second look at what they are donating, to make sure it’s not something for the garbage,” she said.

People can drop off donations for the Red Cross store at any time of the day, night or weekends, Ms. Imperial said, adding, “Unfortunately, a lot of damaged things are dumped at that time [outside office hours].”

When people bring unusable items into the shop while it is open, “we tell them in a gentle way, we don’t need these, take them straight to the dumpster,” Ms. Imperial said.

“If somebody has something they do not need any more, bring it to the Red Cross Thrift Shop, there is always someone who needs these donations. That is how we help the community. Don’t bring anything that is trash; just throw it away,” she said.

At the Humane Society thrift shop in Plaza Venezia on North Sound Road, manager Jacki Ebanks said the shop still gets some unwanted donations but not as many as it used to.

The store moved from the animal shelter building to the North Sound Road site in December 2016.

While she encourages donations from the public, Ms. Ebanks said there are some things the store simply cannot use, such as items that are badly broken, stained, mildewed, torn, cracked, chipped, single shoes or worn underwear.

“If people try, they can realize that this is not something we would be able to sell,” Ms. Ebanks said. She said there have also been times when good clothing had to be discarded because it was stored for such a long time it had developed mildew.

Broken dishes, chipped cups or appliances and electronics that are not working have also been donated by members of the public, only to be discarded by the shop. “Most people don’t want to buy those things. They want to buy something that is useful and functional for the family,” Ms. Ebanks said.

The store now has volunteer technicians who check electronics before they are sold, Ms. Ebanks said. Electronic items are often sold to teachers who collect them for children to examine and take apart.

Items for the Humane Society thrift store can be dropped off at the Humane Society shelter building, where volunteers pick them up in the mornings. Drop-offs can be done at Plaza Venezia during opening hours.

“Every item that comes in is sorted through that day, and those items are put out on the shelves for the next day,” Ms. Ebanks said.

Over at the NCVO bargain store, Ms. Meade said she also has concerns about an uptick in larger items being dropped off outside opening hours.

“This can cause the property to have a poor appearance and could lead to a risk of theft,” she said.

“We certainly want to ensure the property is kept clean and safe for our parents and students, so we encourage donors to call us or email images of larger items. This way, we can figure out if we have the space available to store them; and we can set up a drop-off time while staff are on site to receive the items.”

Ms. Meade added that some well-meaning donors drop off items after hours but the donations end up getting exposed to the weather and damaged. In other cases, people drop off broken furniture and couches that are torn and stained just to get rid of them.

People are encouraged to call the NCVO’s office if they are unsure of what items can be donated or to familiarize themselves with the donation policy posted on the NCVO website, www.ncvo.org.ky, Ms. Meade said.

A problem the thrift stores also face are people helping themselves to items that are donated outside of store opening hours, before the volunteers can pick them up.

Ms. Ebanks said there had been an issue at the Humane Society drop-off box, of individuals removing items.

“It’s not very nice, but, yes, there is a problem and I know other thrift shops have that problem too … it is just a shame with that.”