Old vehicle tires, bags of trash and a torn-up leather couch were among the piles of items left at Duluth’s Goodwill headquarters last Sunday night.
It’s a mess that requires several staff members and around two hours to clean up — on top of costing the store on average over $3,000 monthly to dump the trash. To combat this consistent problem and others, the nonprofit located on Rice Point is now hiring a security team to help monitor the store.
“They'll just use our location … (as) a dumping ground, which is unfortunate because that really impacts what we do from a mission standpoint,” said Scott Vezina, communications and training manager for Goodwill. “We have to then split the bill for disposal of whatever people are dropping off that we can resell.”
The local nonprofit is now hiring a security team to monitor the store after hours, when the dumping occurs. Security monitors will also have a presence when the store is open, as shoplifting has been a problem, Vezina said.
“We don't want our staff confronting or demanding merchandise back,” he said. The security personnel will instead confront shoplifters and ask for merchandise back or call authorities.
Dumping occurs at every Duluth-area location, Vezina said, but the Rice Point location is hit the hardest as items and trash are left nearly every weekend at the store. This location is also experiencing problems with its storage trailers.
Large trailers located behind the store hold goods making their way into the donation system, he said. People cut the locks off the trailers, giving them access to donations inside.
The nonprofit has three locations in the area, including one in Duluth’s Kenwood Shopping Center and the other along Miller Trunk Highway in Hermantown. At its store in Kenwood, a piece of large metal from a truck topper was recently left, Vezina said. Items like this are examples of what the store has to pay to dispose.
The store typically sees more items left during the summer months, which costs the store around $1,000 more monthly to clean up. While cleaning, they sort through all the items, tossing the trash and keeping the other salvageable items after a quality check.
“It could have been that it was a donation that was given to us in good quality, that as a result of, you know, people looting through and digging and rummaging through, then it gets broken or ripped or torn or whatever and then it's no longer sellable,” Vezina said.
Items that aren’t sellable are donated all the time, he said. Instead of throwing them away, they’re able to recycle them or someone else on the secondary market repurposes them.
This problem isn’t confined to the Duluth area, however, as all 12 locations across northern Minnesota and Wisconsin experience problems with dumping and looting, Vezina said.
He added that people who are stealing donations may not be able to afford items in the store. "We don't know what their situation is. And it's important ... to spread the message that there are free stores in town as well," he said.