With 2016 drawing to a close, boxes of old clothing, used household goods and other donations are pouring into local non-profit thrift stores during the busiest donation week of the year.
“It picks up right after Christmas here,” said Santel Blair, manager for the Palmer Home Thrift Store in Columbus. “The next two weeks will be the busiest time of the year for us.”
Between making room for new Christmas gifts, clearing out for the winter and trying to get tax write-offs before the year is over, people tend to bring donations to thrift stores between Christmas and New Year’s. Locals drop off boxes full of clothing, accessories, furniture, household goods and other items – some with sales tags still on them and some so used the store employees recycle them or sell them as rags.
“I still am amazed at the donations here,” said store manager Mattie Hicks, who has worked at the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Columbus nearly five years.
She’s seen people bring in like-new items, including a washer and dryer set this year.
“Everything that we get in the store is donated,” she said. “Every once in a while, we get new items, but we don’t go out and buy things.”
When the store employees get donations, they sort through the boxes in a back room of the store. They price the newer items in better condition and send them to the floor to sell. They take the other items to their warehouse and sell them as rags or wrap them and sell them by the pound.
All the money from the Salvation Army thrift store goes to the local Salvation Army, which uses it to buy groceries, pay light bills and help the homeless or victims of house fires and other disasters within the local community, Hicks said.
For shoppers, she added, the prices aren’t too high. And even people without much money sometimes come in with vouchers from the Salvation Army to shop for goods and necessities. It’s just one more way the Salvation Army tries to help the community, she said.
“It makes you want to be generous around here,” Hicks said.
At the Palmer Home thrift stores, many of the same rules apply, said district manager Nathan Katona. Palmer Home for Children, a Mississippi-based non-profit that provides homes for at-risk children, runs the stores.
People bring boxes of clothing or household items which employees and volunteers sort through. Items in good condition go to one of the organization’s two thrift stores, depending on which store is in need of which items, and the rest is recycled.
“We take it all,” Katona said.
Palmer Home has one thrift store in Columbus and a slightly smaller one in Starkville, along with a new donation center that opened earlier this month on Highway 45 in the Belk shopping center.
Revenue from the thrift stores all goes to the Palmer Home general fund. That fund helps pay for children living on two Palmer Home campuses – one in Columbus and one in Hernando – as well as Palmer Home’s programs and private foster care program.
Like the Salvation Army Thrift Store, the Palmer Home Thrift stores also provide clothing and other necessities at low or no cost to people who need them, Katona said.
Palmer Home also partners with local churches for a gift card program. When church members shop or leave donations, they can tell employees which church they’re from. Employees then provide the churches with gift cards to give to people they identify as needy who need to shop for necessities.
“It’s kind of like a clothing closet for the churches,” Katona said.
It’s a way for Palmer Home to get its name in the community and for needy people to “shop with dignity,” Katona said. As far as he knows, no other local thrift store has a similar partnership with churches.
“That’s something very unique to the thrift stores in this area,” he said.
And like Salvation Army, this time of year is their busiest. The influx of donations begins right after Christmas and tapers off just after New Year’s, Katona said.
“We’re really, really grateful for the generosity of this community,” he said. “It’s incredible.”
Dispatch news editor Angel Coker contributed to this article.