Nonprofits face increased burden from junk donations during holiday season

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- It may be the season of giving, but when it comes to junk, local nonprofits have a clear message.

“If you've got a junk pile, Merry Christmas, keep it,” says Maj. Jim Rickard, of The Salvation Army of Greater Winston-Salem.

In the latter months of the year, as people scramble to get in their donations for tax deductions, the number of items coming into the Salvation Army increase “exponentially,” Rickard says.

While many people are giving out of the goodness of their hearts, some do so for a more selfish reason.

"Broken TVs, refrigerators, mattresses,” described Salvation Army Thrift Store employee Veronica Wolfe, speaking on the items people drop off at the store.

Wolfe says people often drop off their unwanted or unusable items in the back of the store, sometimes when they’re not open for business. The next day, employees arrive to find a pile of junk they now must dispose of. The problem is, they can’t get rid of the junk without a cost.

"We have to expend the resources, and the time, and the manpower to get that stuff out to the dump, because the dump does not give it to us for free,” Rickard said.

Salvation Army representatives say they spend about $800 a month in garbage costs, which are primarily donations that need to be junked. In January 2019, their costs were a mere $533. However, by October, they had already risen to $1,157. While they are yet to compile their costs for November, they are expected to increase month-to-month for the end of the year.

"It's a very heavy burden,” Wolfe said.

To make matters worse, the Christmas season is when The Salvation Army takes in about 60 percent of their income.

"This is make it or break it time for us at Christmas time,” Rickard said.

Instead of starting their day picking up usable items from drop-off spots, their truck drivers are usually the ones tasked with taking the junk donations to the dump, before they can resume their profitable operations.

"It has to get loaded on a truck, transported away, then the drivers have to come back, gather their list, go back out and get the things that we are gonna sell here at the store,” Wolfe said.

That said, Salvation Army officials maintain they depend on serviceable donations to meet their bottom line.

"We're busy trying to get gifts out for kids this time of year, trying to make everybody happy, put a smile on their face,” Wolfe said.

But instead of placing the load on the nonprofit’s employees, they ask that you take your junk to the dump on your own or leave the items by the curb during bulk item pickup.

"Call first to see if we take it or not,” Wolfe said. “If we tell [you] that we don't, please don't wait until after we close and drop them off anyway."

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