The Dalles When a Goodwill Industries donation trailer showed up in The Dalles, it made those connected to local thrift stores nervous.
“I’m not as concerned about a customer base as I am our donation base,” said Major Tammy Ray, who runs the local Salvation Army with her husband Kevin.
She acknowledged that during summer months the store, which has little storage space for donations, gets overwhelmed and sometimes has to turn people away. But when the weather gets cold donations slow to a crawl and it is hard to keep the store well-stocked.
Ray said the income from the second hand store is what helps fund the various charitable endeavors the Salvation Army sponsors in The Dalles, such as the $112,000 worth of food boxes it gave to families in need last year.
“If we lose those donations, I’m nervous,” Ray said. “I’ve been in a community twice this size where this happened and we were powerless.”
Jackie Pennington, director of St. Vincent de Paul, was also worried about Goodwill taking donations away from their thrift store.
She said St. Vincent de Paul, as the Oregon Food Bank’s local distributor, served 8,832 people last year. Much of the food was donated, but out of the $23,400 that was purchased, half of that was paid for by revenue from the second hand store and the other half was paid for by cash donations.
Revenue from the store also supports other local programs, like Bread and Blessings, Community Meals and the Warming Place. Some of last year’s endeavors included $9,000 worth of utility assistance, 158 nights of emergency lodging, $2,648 in transportation assistance and collaborative projects between Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul.
“If we don’t have donations coming in the back door, we can’t sell it to fund other programs,” Pennington said.
She said the things being put out on the floor right now, during the slow season, are mostly left over from the summer.
The Goodwill Industries donation trailer at the corner of Cherry Heights and West Sixth Street is a sign of things to come: A Goodwill store in The Dalles.
Bob Barsocchini, general counsel and director of human resources and loss control for Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette, confirmed that Goodwill is in the process of purchasing the old Albertson’s building where the trailer is currently parked. The nonprofit plans to demolish the building and build one of Goodwill’s trademark stores in its place.
“We’re going to build a little center, with the opportunity for some other businesses to come in as well,” he said. “I can’t say who they are yet, but we have some possible tenants that might provide some synergy.”
Barsocchini said the company is currently doing due diligence on environmental impacts, but plans to start construction of the 22,000 square foot building in April if all goes well. Goodwill plans to hire between 35 and 40 employees once the store is built.
Goodwill Industries was started as a way to get people back to work, and that continues to be its focus. Barsocchini said the store in The Dalles will include a “job connections center” to help individuals with disabilities and other barriers to employment develop job skills and find work.
When asked if there was a specific thing that they wish the saw more of, Ray said Salvation Army’s biggest seller is women’s blouses, and Pennington said furniture donations have decreased significantly since the recession started. But they are happy with any donations — the higher quality, the better.
Ray said it makes her laugh when people come in and tell her they brought a purchase home, only to realize they were the ones who had donated it to the store in the first place.
Both women said if there is one thing they could tell community members about donating to their stores, it’s to not leave donations in the alley after hours. People frequently do that, and when they do Ray and Pennington said they come the next morning to find the bags scavenged through and many of the items stolen or destroyed.
“If people think the things they are giving us are wonderful — and they probably are — they need to give in the best way possible for us to receive them,” Ray said.
She said when it comes to what people donate, she’s seen it all, from toilets to the Japanese sauna she is currently trying to figure out what to do with.
Pennington said when they get really interesting old clothes that people wouldn’t wear today she usually saves them to put out in October when people are looking for Halloween costumes.
She said probably the best donation she has ever received was last year when a woman from the Pendleton area brought a horse trailer filled to the brim with brand new merchandise she was closing out of her clothing store. Pennington said the woman told her she chose St. Vincent de Paul instead of a closer thrift store because when she comes to The Dalles she feels like the staff always treats her with kindness and respect.
“We estimated there was $45,000 of new clothing … The most fun part was the next day, listening to staff go through the boxes. It was like Christmas. It can be a tedious job sorting through donations so any time I hear them laughing in production that’s great,” Pennington said.
Both stores have a system for making sure merchandise doesn’t sit on the shelf for months.
At St. Vincent de Paul, the colored tagging system helps put things on a bigger discount the longer they sit on the rack. Unless it’s a specialty item that is just waiting for the right customer, things that have been 75 percent off for two weeks go to a ministry that recycles the items or sends them to a third world country. Salvation Army uses the same ministry.
Both stores rely completely on donations instead of purchasing items to sell at a profit. Ray and Pennington said despite Goodwill’s large advertising budget and prominent location, they hope Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul will continue to receive enough donations to be able to continue to serve the community as they have in the past
“We want to say thank you to the community for supporting us, because we wouldn’t be here if not for them,” Pennington said.