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Overnight Donations Less Than Charitable

The Region

Across Southern California, thrift shops are paying high disposal fees for items left at their doorsteps that they are unable to sell. The additional costs cut into their ability to provide social services.

September 30, 2003|Nancy Kinsey Needham | Special to The Times

They call them midnight donors.

They're the people who dump their worn couch, out-of-date computer or 15-year-old refrigerator outside thrift stores -- acts that cost charities thousands of dollars.

"We spend about $5,000 a month in Ventura County on trash-disposal fees for items dumped outside our facilities at night," said John Benedetti of the Salvation Army.

And the Salvation Army isn't alone. Goodwill pays $7,000 to $10,000 a month for abandoned items to be carted away from its 10 stores in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

In each case, the money spent might have gone to feeding or clothing the poor, or training a worker for a new job.

Throughout Southern California, Goodwill paid $475,000 in 2002 to haul away unwanted donations, said Kim Ferraro, vice president of development and community relations.

That figure does not include the cost of warehousing items such as used computer monitors that cannot be easily disposed of because of their toxic parts, Ferraro said.

Midnight donors take money away from Goodwill's job-training and placement programs, she said.

Kathy Leahy, chief executive of Goodwill Industries of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, agreed. "Middle-of-the-night donors are a huge concern and expense for us."

In addition to its trash bill, the organization pays a full-time crew to go to each facility twice a day and clean up unwanted donations, she said. Plus, an operative works throughout the night to discourage midnight donors.

Still, daybreak brings stacks of toxic waste, tires, broken appliances and other discards piled outside their doors.

If anything of value is left, there are those who also come at night and take it, Leahy said.

Small charities also are affected.

It costs Mad Attic thrift store in Thousand Oaks about $25 a month to take a truckload of undesirable items to the landfill, said thrift store President Muriel Wahl.

Mostly it is mattresses. Sometimes broken furniture. Occasionally, a refrigerator.

"We like to wait until we get a pile of stuff before volunteers take it to the landfill for us," Wahl said. It's cheaper to dispose of that way.

But the acts are still illegal -- and morally unacceptable, officials said.

"This offends our social conscience," said Eric Nishimoto, spokesman for the Ventura County Sheriff's Department. "People could be cited -- if we caught them."

But, as far as Nishimoto can tell, there have been no arrests in connection with illegal dumping at thrift stores in Ventura County in 2002 or so far in 2003.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Derek Malan said his office has yet to see a case involving someone illegally dumping outside a thrift store, but that does not mean there would not be consequences if someone were caught in the act.

Dumping on public or private property can result in up to six months in jail and a fine of $500 to $4,000, Malan said. The fine can be doubled if tires are dumped.

Dumping hazardous material such as oil-based paint, solvents or car batteries could raise the penalty even more, said Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Greg Brose of the consumer environmental protection division.

Those who want to get rid of questionable items should check with individual thrift stores. Some take items that others won't.

Goodwill, for example, takes antiques, working autos, books, clothing, household items and wooden furniture, but it doesn't want auto parts, appliances, sofas, broken items or toxic waste.

The Salvation Army accepts sofas in good condition, but it doesn't want drapes.

Smaller thrift stores cannot take big items. Some will take electronics.

If no one wants an item, residents should call their trash service to find out its policy, said Tom Chiarodit of E.J. Harrison & Sons disposal service.

"We are a customer-based service and provide bulky-item pickups to discourage illegal dumping," Chiarodit said.

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