Wondering what to donate this week? Leave the urn at home

Local thrift stores run by nonprofits seek sellable items — but your frog taxidermy does make a good story

adutton@idahostatesman.comDecember 26, 2013 

  • The wacky and the weird

    Here are a few of the unsellable items local thrift stores say they’ve received:

    • A broken toilet

    • Baby bottles with spoiled milk

    • A trailer full of yard waste

    • Hypodermic needles

    • Animal remains that appeared to be voodoo memorabilia

    • Burned-up couches

    • An entire heifer taxidermy mount

    • Used toilet brushes

    • Sex toys

    • An amateur taxidermy project consisting of turtles and frogs playing musical instruments

It’s the end of the year, the nonprofit world’s version of Black Friday.

This week and early next week, hundreds of cars will drive to local thrift stores each day with last-minute donations, looking to help people and gain one extra tax break.

Those donors will leave clothes, games, furniture and other valuables, the sales of which help pay for charitable programs across the Treasure Valley.

But those donations range from rare items worth a mint — life-sized nutcrackers, a trunk of antique costumes and a garbage bag filled with Coach purses are some recent highlights — to stuff that’s literally trash. Nonprofit thrift stores have a common rule of thumb for donors: Would you buy it for yourself?

Donors don’t always follow that rule.

“Everybody must get a new coffee pot for Christmas,” said Jolene Sterling, store manager for the Women’s and Children’s Alliance in Downtown Boise.

Sterling said the WCA probably got 15 coffee pots last week that were stained by years of overcooked joe.

“A couple times a month, we get drugs. People forget to clear their stash out (from donated items),” said Jeff Myers, vice president of business enterprise for Idaho Youth Ranch. “We’ve had a couple times this year when we’ve gotten (urns containing) the remains of Grandma and Grandpa. ... I’m thinking somebody else probably doesn’t want to buy Grandpa.”

Goodwill’s list of bad donations includes “fish tanks with fish still in them that weren’t in great shape,” said Jason Asher, who oversees donations for the stores in the Treasure Valley.

“Don’t donate anything that’s alive or supposed to be alive,” he said.

However, Asher said that professionally done taxidermy is OK; he bought a mounted duck from a local Goodwill store and gave it to his mother-in-law for her cabin.

What happens to the unsellable donations? The nonprofits can recycle some of them, such as worn-out tennis shoes, for some cash.Local Goodwill stores recycled 13,000 pounds of shoes last year, Asher said.

But the 100-pound cathode-ray-tube television set? The broken pieces of plastic on the bottom of a kid’s toy box? The half-full bottle of cleaning spray? The dozen dirty mattresses someone left at the Chinden Boulevard Idaho Youth Ranch store last year?

“We get to pay the garbage bill for that,” Myers said.

The disposal fees aren’t crippling, the nonprofits report. They did cost Idaho Youth Ranch about a quarter of a million dollars last year, but Myers said it’s considered a cost of doing business.

“We don’t want to discourage folks from donating,” Myers said. “Even a single pair of shoes, we’ll find a way to use it to raise money for the programs.”

There can be a fine line between junk and collectible. A decades-old razor or outdated AM/FM radio can fetch a high price.

And the nonprofits thrive on some holiday donations. The painted, life-sized nutcrackers someone gave to a local Goodwill store were among this year’s highlights, Asher said.

Just before Thanksgiving this year, one woman walked into the WCA store and dropped off a garbage bag. Workers were too busy at the time to look inside until after the woman — who said she didn’t want a tax-deduction receipt and didn’t leave a name — had left.

When they opened the bag, Sterling said, they found a boon for the nonprofit, which provides support for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. The donor had given them seven designer purses in perfect condition.

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448Twitter: @IDS_Audrey

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