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Donations Come in All Shapes and Sizes... ...and calibers

Older generations liked to hide valuables in unsuspecting areas that thieves wouldn’t think to look. Coincidentally, families cleaning out a loved one’s belongings typically don’t think to look there, either, including before they donate the items to St. Vincent de Paul.

That makes life interesting for thrift store employees, who have learned over the years to conduct thorough searches of every item while the processing the donations. People donate furniture unaware that there’s an envelope of money taped to the backside or underneath a drawer. Or take, for instance, the box of Raisin Bran that was donated. Inside was $8,500 in cash.

“We tried to track down the donor, but couldn’t find where it came from,” says Director of Operations Prentice Carter. “You find a lot in garments, too. People will put cash or jewelry in pockets and forget about them.”

While most donations are clothing and household goods that are processed and put out on the floor of one of the seven thrift stores, some require special handling. For instance:

Parting Gifts

Occasionally someone gives a gift that keeps on giving—from here to eternity. Such as a casket. Several of those have been donated over the years, gifts from funeral homes with excess inventory. They are then turned around given to the county to bury indigent people.

Wheels

Hundreds of cars are donated each year, although some are just too valuable to simply put up for auction, particularly the classics have been driven onto our lot: a Rolls Royce, a 1967 split-window Volkswagen bus, a 2004 Chrysler Crossfire, a 1970 Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible, an MG, a Triumph TR6. Cars such as these are sold through Hemmings Motor News, a trade publication for classic automobiles.

But more than just cars are donated. Currently for sale is a candy apple red BMW motorcycle with an enclosed sidecar. There have also been sailboats, snowmobiles, motorhomes, fishing boats with trailers. “We park them in front of the stores with a For Sale sign,” says Carter. “You could drive them off the lot and put them straight into the water.”

Surprises

One family donated a few boxes of items they gathered while, most likely, converting their son’s old bedroom into a guest room. Much to everyone’s surprise, the little canister that was in his closet was actually filled with small baggies and chopped up leaves that, well, let’s just say it wasn’t tobacco. The police were called and, after they stopped laughing at the fact that someone donated it to St. Vincent de Paul, they came and took it away.

Every so often, much to the horror of those who process the donations, there’s a gun in the middle of a donations pile. Sometimes they come as part of a larger donation made by someone cleaning out a house and not aware it’s there. Sometimes they’re ditched in one of the 52 donation boxes scattered around the county. In all cases, the guns are turned over to the police, who don’t find those donations quite as humorous.

House and Home

Occasionally that vase that Mom had sitting on the shelf that none of the kids wanted turns out to be a piece of historic Rookwood Pottery. Or that cast iron skillet Grandma used to make eggs in is a vintage Griswold skillet that can be worth more than $1,000. Those are donated frequently. Perhaps the largest single donation ever made to St. Vincent de Paul was a condo, along with all of its contents. Once it was cleaned out and cleaned up, it was sold.

Whenever valuable surprises are found, the staff tries to determine who donated the items and ask them if they want it back. If not, they do some research and try to determine the value. The goal, says Carter, is to price the items as close to the online asking price as possible—but just a little bit lower so they will sell quickly. The funds raised through such sales go to support the organization’s mission.

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