Edgerton Community Outreach burdened with charity


At the end of garage sale season, garbage bag after garbage bag shows up at the thrift shop, food pantry and social service center at 106 S. Main St.

It’s a tidal wave of used clothing, furniture and house wares. The bags stack up taller than a man. That’s a good problem for the nonprofit group, which operates a thrift store and a social service center.

According to Edgerton Community Outreach Director Sarah Williams, sales at the center’s thrift shop total $100,000 a year. The money fuels the center’s services and its food pantry, which serves about 160 local families a month.

But the trouble is, the center gets too many donations that are unusable, un-wearable, or unfit for resale.

Once or twice a week, Williams said, someone leaves an item of furniture that’s matted with animal hair, soaked with pet urine or broken. Other times, bags of torn, stained clothing show up mixed in with people’s household garbage.

And a few times a month, people dump doorless kitchen stoves or broken washers and driers with notes that say, “Needs repair.”

Most of the time, those items are dropped off at the center’s loading dock after closing hours, when the center doesn’t allow donations because staff aren’t around to screen them.

Sometimes, Williams said, the donations get rained on or stolen.

A glance this week in the center’s teeming donation room revealed a stuffed animal that was threadbare and losing its stuffing. Its white plush fur was stained a grimy gray.

It’s a single example of the problem the center’s volunteers face: Can it be cleaned up and mended, or should it go in the trash?

Williams said most people who donate to the center understand what’s usable and what’s not. But when the center’s full with donations, as it is now, it becomes frustrating to deal with junk items.

She said people in need deserve better.

“I don’t care how little money you have, you still want to have things that are respectable and clean and that aren’t going to get your children sick,” Williams said.

Williams said the center spends an average of $2,700 a year on Dumpster fees. She said about two-thirds of those costs are linked to donated items that the center has to throw away because they’re not usable.

Williams said that hurts the center’s bottom line, which is to help people in need.

“When we’re paying somebody to get rid of somebody else’s garbage, those are dollars that don’t go back into our services and programs,” Williams said.

To cut on disposal costs, the center has a local metal scrapper take away recyclable items it doesn’t want, such as rusted frying pans and useless appliances. The center also allows people to scavenge through the Dumpster for discarded wood from furniture.

They use it as firewood, Williams said.

A few weeks ago, a resident learned the center throws away some furniture and appliances. The person complained to the center that it was squandering donations and wrote an anonymous letter to the Edgerton Reporter decrying the situation.

Williams declined to respond to the complaint, but she defended the center’s decisions. She was told that before she started running the center in 2002, some volunteers were throwing away donated items that were out of season. Williams said that’s stopped.

She said volunteers now put seasonal items in storage on the upper floor of the warehouse and bring them down as needed.

The center’s store has grown, and it now takes 50 volunteers as many as 5,000 hours a year to sort, test, clean and stock the items in the center’s thrift shop.

Williams said decisions have to be made quickly about what to keep and what to throw away, and she trusts her volunteers.

“For the amount of time that they donate to our agency, I have to respect their decision that something’s not useable,” she said.

Edgerton Community Outreach is dealing with an influx of donated items, which is typical for the center in the fall and summer months.

Sarah Williams, director of the Outreach, a thrift shop, food pantry and social service center, at 106 S. Main St. in Edgerton, is now accepting donations. But the center asks that people only donate items that are in proper working order. Clothing should be clean and have no large stains or tears. Furniture and appliances should be clean and need no major repairs.

To learn more about what kinds of items the center accepts and when you can drop them off, call (608) 884-9593 or visit edgertonoutreach.org.

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