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Some ‘help’ hurts, charities say

Unusable or ruined donations cost organizations much-needed money

The GreenHouse Community Center in Deer Park is getting dumped on – literally.

Like other charities that run thrift stores, the center receives too many items not worth re-selling. Donations are often left in the parking lot when the center is closed, exposing the items to rain or theft.

“It’s really sad,” said Susan Peterson, chief executive officer.

For example, a cute art deco desk dropped off over a recent weekend had been nearly destroyed by rain when workers arrived Monday morning. Its laminated wood surfaces had peeled away, making the desk little more than another piece of junk.

“It was sopping wet when I got here,” Peterson said.

The GreenHouse survives on the public’s generosity, but “you are kind of working against us when you come and dump things that either we can’t use or get ruined out in the weather,” Peterson said.

The GreenHouse isn’t alone.

Goodwill Industries in Spokane faces the same problem. Clark Brekke, president and chief executive officer, said his agency spends $500,000 a year for garbage disposal, which mostly includes items dumped outside the agency’s intake points when no one is there to accept them.

“People invariably drop things off after hours,” Brekke said, and too often they have little or no value.

Thus, the agencies encourage donations of “gently used” items.

The GreenHouse center has tattered couches, broken appliances, threadbare clothing and damaged bedding, all destined for recycling or the county’s garbage system.

“For every one appliance that works, we get five that don’t,” Peterson said.

A mattress or box springs that get wet are worth nothing and end up hurting the agency by adding to its garbage bill of about $500 a month.

Peterson and her staff also are battling vandalism and theft. The center needs 675 feet of chain-link fencing and two 12-foot gates, at a cost of $2,500. In addition, they have been adding outdoor shelters and using old vehicles for storage.

The GreenHouse has a recycling operation to minimize its garbage bills and help its income.

The receipts finance the only food bank in the area as well as career path opportunities, GED high school equivalency classes, counseling, energy assistance and a clothing bank, among other programs.

Demand at the food bank doubled to 400 requests for emergency food supplies in August.

Peterson said she is hesitant to complain about the garbage problem, but getting rid of junk or ruined items costs money and takes time.

“The GreenHouse has a lot of positive things going on,” Peterson said, including the recent donation of three vintage vehicles. One of them is a 1947 firetruck believed to have once been used by the Reardan fire district. Staff at the GreenHouse got the engine – with its spotlights and original wooden ladders – running.

The trucks were donated by Mike Noddings, of Snappy Plumbing & Heating in north Spokane, a company known for its vintage trucks.

Peterson said she hopes to sell the firetruck in exchange for enough money or in-kind donations to build the fence.

“I’m more than happy to help the cause,” Noddings said. “I know they are a good thing for the community.”

Mike Prager can be reached at (509) 459-5454 or

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