Charities pay when trash left at drop-off sites

Cost of removing junk pinches tight budgets

September 11, 2001|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

FORT WORTH, Texas - For Goodwill workers, the stained mattresses and broken refrigerators were insult enough.

Then one day, in suburban Fort Worth, someone dropped off a 55-gallon barrel of toxic chemicals. A hazardous materials crew had to haul away the poison.

"That's why they dump it after hours," said David Cox, director of community relations for Goodwill. "It's the charity that has to clean it up."

Dumping grounds

Goodwill's trouble is among the worst examples of a trend that is tormenting charities nationwide. People increasingly use collection centers to dump bulky, bothersome trash.

The culprits wait until dark, sneak to a deserted collection center and leave what even the most desperate person would shun.

"Couches without legs, beds that are broken in half," said Rebekah Oursler, community service coordinator for a local women's shelter. "We can't furnish a woman who has left in the middle of the night with a broken couch."

Oursler said she guesses that some vandals are well-meaning, assuming that the shelter can mend their junk with a few nails or a coat of paint. Other people are passing off trash, she said. Rarely does the refuse offer hints about who might have dropped it off, making perpetrators impossible to track down.

Expensive disposal

The problem puts a sizable dent in charities with small budgets. Last month, Goodwill spent slightly more than $6,000 to get rid of the refuse, which is a typical monthly cost, Cox said.

Christian Community Storehouse in suburban Fort Worth tells its callers to leave items in an after-hours storage bin. In the morning, workers often find the bin full of dirty clothes and soiled mattresses. The charity then must schedule an additional trash pickup.

"It costs us hundreds of dollars to get rid of," volunteer Nancy Ryan said.

Goodwill has about 24 donation centers in the Fort Worth area, and it uses trailers rather than drop boxes. The charity plans to phase out trailers, though, and move into shopping centers. Nobody dumps trash at a shopping center, Cox said.

Useful items lost

There are often usable items among the junk, which creates another problem. People tend to steal legitimate items that are left overnight.

At a Salvation Army thrift store near Dallas, there is no drop box for donors, manager William Love said.

"Most times, they call," he said. The group will pick up bulky items, but some items, such as mattresses, are not accepted.

Charity volunteers insist that they cannot serve every need and that someone else will have to tote broken washing machines to the dump.

But no one wants to discourage giving, and Cox suggests abiding by a simple rule.

"If you're going to have a problem disposing of it," he said, "so are we."

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