Fairmont thrift stores lament ‘dumping’

UNWANTED ‘DONATIONS’ — The Salvation Army Thrift Store in Fairmont must pay for disposal of these two couches plus numerous other items that cannot be salvaged after they were dumped behind the store.

FAIRMONT — The Salvation Army Thrift Store and Twelve Baskets Re-Sale of Fairmont share a common charitable goal — sell donated goods to support a variety of support programs in the community.

They also share a financial headache — paying the high cost of hauling away unusable donations illegally dumped behind the stores.

“We pay over $1,000 a month, just for garbage,” said Julie Linn, manager at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, 314 Downtown Plaza.

She adds that this amount does not include disposal of larger items, like the TVs and two couches that have been in the alley behind the store for several weeks. Each of these items, which must be hauled to Prairieland in Truman, carries a $15 to $20 disposal cost.

“One time, we paid over $200 in Truman,” she said, not including the cost of an employee who has to drive the load to Truman. “Another time, there was so much stuff stacked up that I couldn’t even get in the back door.”

Likewise, Twelve Baskets Re-Sale at 212 Downtown Plaza copes with the same expense. Bob Charnecki, executive director of Options Pregnancy Center, which operates the store, calls their garbage bill “substantial” but is hesitant to quote an actual dollar figure.

“It costs us a lot of money,” said Charnecki, noting that garbage haulers pick up their trash two and sometimes three times a week. “We spend at least one day’s sales each month just on garbage disposal.”

Both Linn and Charnecki expressed extreme gratitude to the people who donate and shop in the stores, but both are frustrated with the constant dumping. Located a block apart on Downtown Plaza, the alleys running behind the stores frequently are filled with boxes, garbage bags and furniture people have dumped off when the stores are closed.

Charnecki checks the alley behind Twelve Baskets as often as possible on evenings and weekends. He makes it a policy to remove all dumped items as soon as possible.

“Garbage seems to reproduce in the alley. If people see a TV there, they think we have the resources to get rid of them. We don’t, but they leave them anyway,” he said. “And if it gets wet, we have to throw the item out, no matter what it is.”

While many people support these two non-profit organizations with their donations, there is one major rule that must be followed: Donations are accepted only during business hours. The Salvation Army Thrift Store is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Twelve Baskets is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

“All our donations must be approved, every single donation,” Linn said.

Charnecki said that sometimes, when donations are declined, such as TVs, they still turn up in the alley overnight.

Although people might have good intentions by dropping off donations after business hours, the dumping creates a secondary problem beyond added garbage costs.

“People leave things. They seriously want to leave a donation, and while we appreciate that, but then somebody comes along and steals it before morning,” Charnecki said.

The rummaging and looting often result in torn bags or ripped boxes, and donated items strewn about.

He actually has witnessed the dumping and looting behind the store.

“We have caught a number of them, but we’ve never prosecuted anyone,” he said.

Both stores display signs prohibiting dumping and a listing of the store’s operating hours. Violating the “no dumping” rule can get expensive. According to the Martin County Court Administrator’s office, the fine for illegal dumping is $185 if the person is prosecuted.

Linn, who has managed the Salvation Army Thrift Store for three years, and her co-workers have aspired to make the store clean and inviting for shoppers. The more money the store takes in, she said, the more funds become available for the back-to-school backpack program, to buy items for the food shelf or Christmas gifts for families in need or to support any of the other charitable programs.

“I wish people would respect what the Salvation Army is all about,” she said. “We are not a dump site.”

“If we have to pay to get (excess) garbage hauled away, that means we can’t help one more client,” Charnecki said.

For more information about the stores or to schedule a time to drop off a donation, call the Salvation Army Thrift Store at (507) 235-3717 or Twelve Baskets Re-Sale at (507) 235-6195.