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Edgerton Community Outreach burdened with charity

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
October 8, 2011
— At the Edgerton Community Outreach, it happens every fall.

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.


Itís a tidal wave of used clothing, furniture and house wares. The bags stack up taller than a man. Thatís 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 centerís thrift shop total $100,000 a year. The money fuels the centerís 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 thatís matted with animal hair, soaked with pet urine or broken. Other times, bags of torn, stained clothing show up mixed in with peopleís household garbage.


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


Most of the time, those items are dropped off at the centerís loading dock after closing hours, when the center doesnít allow donations because staff arenít around to screen them.


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


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


Itís a single example of the problem the centerís 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 whatís usable and whatís not. But when the centerís full with donations, as it is now, it becomes frustrating to deal with junk items.


She said people in need deserve better.


ďI donít care how little money you have, you still want to have things that are respectable and clean and that arenít going to get your children sick,Ē 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 theyíre not usable.


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


ďWhen weíre paying somebody to get rid of somebody elseís garbage, those are dollars that donít go back into our services and programs,Ē Williams said.


To cut on disposal costs, the center has a local metal scrapper take away recyclable items it doesnít 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 centerís 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 thatís stopped.


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


The centerís 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 centerís thrift shop.


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


ďFor the amount of time that they donate to our agency, I have to respect their decision that somethingís not useable,Ē she said.


Donation etiquette

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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