While donations to local charities and thrift stores typically tend to pick up around the holiday season, they also have to contend with a surge in the number of people illegally dumping garbage and other junk that can’t be resold.
Cathie Peacock, director of Interfaith Community Social Services, said the problem is getting so bad at her organization’s donation center at 18500 Striker Court in East Sonora that they had to call Burns Refuse Service on Monday to provide two additional trash containers for getting rid of the large piles of junk left outside over past weekend.
“It’s getting worse and worse and worse,” Peacock said.
Peacock shared photos of the scene they found Monday morning that showed piles of dirty clothes, broken furniture and other miscellaneous debris literally blocking the entryway to center.
The center only accepts in-kind donations during normal operating hours from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, but Peacock said they typically find stuff that people leave outside over the weekends.
Managers of four other thrift stores in Tuolumne County interviewed on Friday said they have experienced the same problem despite all of them posting signs outside that remind people they aren’t a dump site.
“We’ve had that problem over the years, especially with us being sort of off the beaten path,” said Gary Wagoner, co-found of Sonora Vets Helping Vets and manager of the organization’s thrift store in East Sonora.
Wagoner said they had to pay $1,000 at the beginning of summer to get rid of all the junk that had accumulated from people dropping off items outside of normal business hours that they can’t accept.
They had to pay $70 just to get rid of a tattered and broken loveseat and couch that was left behind by someone, which Wagoner said cuts into the money they use for helping local veterans and support causes in the community.
Part of the reason Wagoner believes people unload their stuff on the thrift stores is because of the dumping fees charged by Cal Sierra Disposal Inc., a subsidiary of Waste Management that operates a refuse transfer station in East Sonora.
The problem is the same for the Red Church Thrift Store just a few hundred feet away from Vets Helping Vets, according to store manager Amy Goucher.
Goucher said the store purchased additional surveillance cameras three months ago in hopes of bringing some of the violators to justice and deterring others from illegally dumping while the store isn’t open.
Some of the items they’ve seen left at their store that they can’t resell include dirty blankets, bags of mail, kitchen trash and broken furniture.
“You’re not dumping, you’re donating,” Goucher said. “I think that concept gets lost on a lot of people. What makes you think anyone wants your broken rocking chair?”
Goucher said she advises people to call the store ahead of time to see if they need or can accept the donations they want to bring.
Eric Dean, supervisor of the ReStore in East Sonora that resells items to benefit Habitat For Humanity’s home-building initiative in Columbia, said they experience people dropping off items they don’t accept and can’t sell, such as clothes, blankets, broken furniture and mattresses.
Dean said it costs about $18.50 per mattress and $25 per couch to take to the dump. He added that sometimes it can be easier and cheaper to break the furniture down themselves and take it in pieces, which they do in a designated area on the side of their building.
Nancy Scott, founder and executive director of Nancy’s Hope that operates a thrift store in Columbia, said she believes the vast majority of the time people are dropping off items with good intentions but don’t understand what’s allowed to be resold legally.
“We love them donating, but they have to understand the process we have to go through,” Scott said.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has a guide for resellers about what items are against the law to resell or must be destroyed if certain requirements aren’t met, including mattresses, cribs, bicycle helmets, life jackets, car seats, toys with magnets, baby walkers, and hair dryers, among others.
Illegal dumping is a crime in California punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to six months in jail, though Scott said she understands the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office is often too busy dealing with bigger crimes.
Scott has formed a group with managers of other thrift stores in the area that meets every two months to discuss the issue. She’s hoping that further public outreach will help to at least curb some of the problem.
“People don’t understand what we go through to keep everyone safe in the community because we have to resell this stuff, and a lot of it we can’t,” Scott said. “Nonprofits like us can’t afford being dumped stuff that we can’t sell.”