Clean closets, clear conscience

For charities, a year-end flood of everything from socks to saxes

December 30, 2005|By LORRAINE MIRABELLA AND JUNE ARNEY | LORRAINE MIRABELLA AND JUNE ARNEY,SUN REPORTERS

The donors came bearing Rollerblades and Three Stooges action figures, car seats and fish tanks, carpets and microwave ovens. They hauled giant trash bags stuffed with sweaters and footballs and socks. All week they've been arriving in a nonstop parade to charity drop-off sites and leaving with cleaner closets, lighter consciences and tax receipts in hand.

In what has become an after-Christmas rite of December, the rush to give all manner of stuff is on. Some want to give to those in need; others want to clear clutter and make room for all those new holiday gifts. But Baltimore-area charities say the biggest incentive is beating the year-end deadline for claiming deductible contributions.

"This is the busiest week of the year," said Greg Harris, operations manager of Baltimore Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center, as he supervised dozens of workers unloading appliances, sofas and end tables from trucks backed up to a warehouse loading dock. "Basically, people want their tax write-off."

Jeffrey Stengel, the operations director for Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake, said donations pick up in September and gradually build.

"The last week of the year we traditionally have a huge increase in donations which can be directly tied to the tax write-off," Stengel said. "We have to supplement our sites with additional trailers - sometimes 20 extra trailers - to accommodate the extra giving at this time."

While people are giving away clothes and household goods by the boxful this year, fewer are donating cars, traditionally a sizable source of income for charities.

Both Goodwill of Greater Washington, which handles car donations for the Baltimore region, and the Salvation Army said new tax rules have put a huge dent in vehicle contributions, which have fallen 40 percent to 70 percent. The new rules allow taxpayers to claim only the amount the charitable group gets for vehicle, not the Blue Book value.

"Taxpayers can only deduct the amount the charity gets," said Peggy Riley, a spokeswoman for the Internal Revenue Service. "Many were deducting the fair market value, but the charity wasn't getting that."

Brendan Hurley, a spokesman for Goodwill of Greater Washington, estimated lost revenue of about $200,000. Of $6 million in sales last year, about $500,000 was generated from car sales, he said. About 670 cars were donated and sold, the average car for about $750.

"We've seen a loss not only in overall donations but a loss of the higher-end donations," Hurley said. "People now have more to lose if they donate a higher-end car but its sales price ends up being far lower than its market value."

Though the new IRS rules apply only to vehicles, officials at charities anticipate slightly lower donations this year, in part because people are feeling stretched thin after the outpouring for victims of the tsunamis and Hurricane Katrina.

It hardly looked like a slowdown of any sort, though, at charity drop-off sites from Owings Mills to Glen Burnie this week.

At the Adult Rehabilitation Center on West Patapsco Avenue, where the Salvation Army runs a residential program for men with addictions, program participants unloaded trucks nonstop and hauled goods into a cavernous warehouse. They sorted items into fenced-off areas for clothes, shoes, furniture, electronics, toys and books.

Almost everything is shipped to Salvation Army stores, including furniture that warehouse workers refinish, said Maj. Dan Turner, the center's administrator. If an appliance or electronic item doesn't work, it's sold as scrap metal. Clothes and shoes that don't sell within 30 days are bundled and sold to Third World markets. Any ripped or stained mattresses or upholstered furniture are discarded.

In the bric-a-brac area, Perry Tyler pulled record albums, picture frames and stuffed animals from a bin. As a sorter, it was his job to decide which items to keep and which to discard. A man at a table behind him priced the items Tyler set out as keepers.

"We just use our judgment and try to save as much as possible," Tyler said. "It's what I would buy or what I think someone would buy."

At the Salvation Army store on Jumpers Hole Road in Glen Burnie, donors pulled up in pickup trucks, cars and minivans filled with bags, boxes and furniture that workers loaded into waiting trucks.

Joy Evans had cleaned out her basement in Glen Burnie in preparation for a remodeling project and was making her second trip, her pickup loaded with her grown daughter's old Barbie dolls and toys and the crib her children had slept in.

"I was saving the crib for my grandchildren, but if we need one we'll just get one second-hand. I need the space," she said. "After a while, your junk can overrule everything."

Evans said she planned to write off the estimated $300 worth of stuff.

Terrie Uebel and her 13-year-old daughter, Mandie, brought toys and a bag of clothing.

"The kids are going through their old toys," said the mother of five, an analyst at Fort Meade.

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