Enlighten Me: Pandemic purges lead to donation surges
Throughout the pandemic, many people have cleaned out their homes, purging their closests, basements and garages of items that they don’t want, use, or need anymore.
And that has created a surge in donations.
In this week’s Enlighten Me, Delaware Public Media contributor Eileen Dallabrida takes a closer look at this phenomenon and its impact.
As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, purging is contagious as folks clean out their closets, attics, basements and garages.
That’s created a spike in donations to nonprofits as people seek new homes for items they no longer need. Benefactors have been so generous that some organizations are experiencing an overabundance. Overflow donations to Goodwill of Delaware and Delaware County currently fill more than 50 tractor-trailers.
“We are seeing an unprecedented increase in contributions, starting in May after the stay-at-home order was lifted,” says Colleen Morrone, Goodwill president and CEO.
Typically, Goodwill’s highest-volume days are Dec. 28-31, as consumers scramble to make donations by year-end in order to qualify for a tax deduction.
"It's like Groundhog Day. Huge donations, day after day." - Colleen Morrone, Goodwill president and CEO
But during the pandemic, the donations keep coming in at a steady clip. Benefactors who now work from home are giving away designer shoes, suits and handbags. There’s been an influx of new clothes, still bearing the hangtags, some donated by people who have gained weight while sheltering at home and can’t fit into them.
“It’s like Groundhog Day. Huge donations, day after day,” Morrone says.
Last month, Goodwill reduced the hours benefactors can make donations in an attempt to hit the pause button. So far, it’s done little to reduce the flow. More than 300 donations were recorded in a week at Goodwill’s Fox Run location, more than twice the pre-pandemic volume. One family donated a moving truck filled with almost-new furniture and home goods, creating a bonanza for buyers.
“Within three days, it all had sold off the floor,” Morrone said.
There’s also been a spike in jewelry and pricey collectibles that are auctioned at Goodwill’s ecommerce site, ShopGoodwill.com. Among the unusual offerings is a collection of gold Victorian-era lockets, each containing a photograph of a deceased loved one with a lock of hair.
The uptick in donations has enabled Goodwill to expand its mission and add more positions to the staff. With no slowdown in sight, the organization is still hiring. To increase efficiency, Goodwill has updated its processing systems at stores, ensuring safety while getting goods on the floor in a timely manner.
Morrone said Goodwill also will start a campaign to educate consumers on what kinds of items are needed most and what is not acceptable. For example, clothing should be clean and gently used, with no stains or tears. No televisions, please.
At ReStore in Prices Corner, a retail outlet for Habitat for Humanity of New Castle County, there’s been a 70% increase in drop-off donations, says Bob Caguin, the store’s director.
“Pots, pans, glassware, silverware, small appliances, sofas, end tables, desks, dining room tables, kitchen cabinets, power tools, windows and doors. You name it, people are giving it,” he says.
Appliances and building supplies often sell as soon as they go on the floor. With factory production slowed by social-distancing protocols, contractors and homeowners are looking for alternative sources.
“Stoves and refrigerators fly out the door, as do windows and doors and kitchen cabinets,” Caugin says. “Those items are about eight weeks out at home improvement stores.”
To make room for the items in most demand, ReStore is pulling back on large, hard-to-sell items, like entertainment centers. Instead of three trucks on the road to pick up goods at donors’ homes, there’s only one. Due to COVID restrictions, staffers don’t go into homes; items need to be on the curb or in the garage.
With a wellspring of generosity, there are times when there’s a backup in the processing room, where donations are disinfected. Caugin says the staff is working hard to keep up and make the goods available to people who need them.
“We would rather have too much rather than not enough,” he says.
Kathrine Page donated furniture to ReStore and has given art to Habitat fundraisers. For her, finding the right fit is an important component in ensuring donations get to where they do the most good.
“I scaled down our massive book collection to Newark Library,” she says.
Pamela Zimmerman of Wilmington started weeding out closets before she and her husband Carl downsized to their new home on Wilmington’s Riverfront.
"I keep hoping this pandemic will eventually find us on the other side as a kinder community, more attuned to the needs of others and more grateful for the loves, friends and family we enjoy." - Pamela Zimmerman of Wilmington
During the pandemic, she realized she could make do with even less. She donated designer clothes she no longer wears to Great Stuff Savvy Retail, the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition’s store in North Wilmington. She took her some of her husband’s clothes and boxes of household items to the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Wilmington, a nonprofit she now supports regularly.
“I keep hoping this pandemic will eventually find us on the other side as a kinder community, more attuned to the needs of others and more grateful for the loves, friends and family we enjoy,” she says.
Cindy Richards of Hockessin weeded out towels and linens for Silver Pine Garden Club’s donation to Tri-State Bird Rescue in Newark.
She gave garments and accessories to the Delaware Clothing Bank, an affiliate of Wilmington-based Friendship House, which offers shelter and social services for homeless people. She feels good that wardrobe pieces she no longer needs will provide people who need help with clean clothes in good condition. Plus, “they train workers to gain job- and decision-making skills and re-enter the employment sector.”
At God’s Way, a faith-based organization that operates thrift four shops in Kent and Sussex County, donations of household goods are up 50% since stores reopened in June; donations of clothing are up 25%. Calls for whole-house cleanouts also have spiked 25%.
“We get everything from furniture to clothes to bric-a-brac, even Christmas items,” says founder Roger Wood.
God’s Way doesn’t accept encyclopedias and VHS tapes—“who uses them anymore?” Wood asks—as well as used toys and clear glass items. But store managers try to find a new home for just about everything else.
Wood is hoping the donated goods in stores and warehouses will translate to funds for Feed the Children and other initiatives the organization supports. God’s Way also is in the early stages of exploring the construction of a recovery center in Sussex County for people who are homeless and/or struggling with addiction.
“When more people give, we can increase our giving and that’s a blessing. That is what we are here for,” he says.