From his small corner office in the Salvation Army thrift store warehouse, Samuel Leach takes calls from people requesting donation pickups.
Since The World-Herald published its investigation of Goodwill Omaha three weeks ago, his phone has been ringing more often — maybe 30 percent more, he estimated.
About half of the callers mention the problems at Goodwill, including high executive pay, and many say they no longer plan to donate there. One older woman told of giving to Goodwill for more than two decades, adding through tears that she now would be giving to the Salvation Army instead.
Other nonprofit-run thrift stores around the city have heard the same sentiment — and it’s reflected in the increase in donations they’ve been seeing.
That redirecting of donations has hurt the Goodwill stores in Omaha. Material goods donations so far this month have dropped 26 percent compared with last November, said Erin Swanson Russell, Goodwill Omaha vice president of marketing and development.
Retail sales are down 13 percent. Without as many donations, the organization is looking to purchase and ship items from Goodwill stores in Kansas City and Minneapolis, a move it hasn’t had to resort to in more than a decade, Swanson Russell said.
“The impact on Goodwill’s retail operation has been substantial since the release of the Omaha World-Herald articles,” Swanson Russell wrote in an email to The World-Herald.
The decline in donations and purchases “directly affects how we can support and serve our community,” she wrote, going on to say that Goodwill Omaha’s focus now is on the employees in its stores, the “backbone of our organization.” The charity has announced a number of changes, including the exits of top executives, a top-to-bottom evaluation of its pay structure and a commitment to put more thrift store profits into its mission of serving the disabled and others with barriers to employment.
Swanson Russell also issued this statement:
“To our shoppers and donors who have supported us through this difficult time we say thank you. To those who have hesitated to bring new items to the stores, we hope through the steps we are taking to improve we can rebuild a stronger relationship with you. We are focused on moving forward with a commitment to our mission, our employees and our community.”
That message comes too late for many of the donors who already have taken their donations elsewhere in recent weeks.
St. Vincent de Paul, which runs three thrift stores in Omaha and one in Papillion, has seen about a 30 percent increase in donations since the initial article on Oct. 23. The bin in front of the Benson store used to take all day to fill. Now it needs to be emptied every couple of hours — at least three times a day, said store manager Ann Thomas.
Rick Brown, the warehouse manager for St. Vincent de Paul, said the uptick in phone calls for donation pickups has put a burden on workers.
“I could use a whole other truck and a whole other crew to deal with this,” he said. Normally donation pickups are scheduled three days out at most, he said. Lately that has stretched to 10 days.
“It’s crazy, but I don’t know how long it will last — who knows when people will forget about the article and start taking their stuff (to Goodwill) again.”
Capt. Chris Clarke at the Salvation Army also is worried about what the recent influx means for his employees’ workload. The guys in the men's rehabilitation program who pick up donations and deliver them to the organization’s two thrift stores have been swamped. Some days, he said, they don’t go home until after 8 p.m. — logging 10- or 12-hour workdays.
Clarke is looking to hire more drivers, but the slow season for donations is coming soon and he doesn’t know if the shift of donations away from Goodwill will continue through the winter. The Salvation Army donation boxes around town have been full or overflowing, but he wonders how long it will be before that trickles off.
A quick look around the Salvation Army warehouse, with its towering piles of clothes and furniture, might be deceiving, Clarke said. The recent boost in donations has brought in a lot of furniture. But the stores — which benefit the organization’s adult drug and alcohol rehabilitation program — still need more, especially clothing, he said.
“We don’t want people to think just because we are seeing an increase that we don’t still want more. Keep it coming,” he said. “This is good for us but we need and will need more.”
That’s the message St. Vincent de Paul wants to spread, too. Brown said St. Vincent de Paul isn’t one of the “top dogs” in town — not the primary place people might think to donate. He’s careful to avoid saying anything negative about Goodwill, but noted that the controversy has been positive for other local nonprofits seeking donations.
“Many people are saying that they want an alternative,” Brown said. “Well, here we are. We are that alternative. Maybe this can help other organizations like us. Though it’s all unfortunate, we are grateful.”
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Places to donate
In response to reader requests, here are charitable organizations other than Goodwill Omaha that accept donations:
St. Vincent de Paul
Thrift store proceeds go to programs to help needy individuals and families in the Omaha area. Donations can be made at any store location, or pickups can be arranged by calling 402-341-1688.
» 2101 Leavenworth St.
» 5920 Maple St.
» 5037 S. 24th St.
» 807 Tara Plaza (South 84th Street), Papillion
Proceeds go toward adult rehabilitation services for men with drug or alcohol addiction. Donations can be made at both stores. To request pickup or find a drop-off location, call 800-728-7825.
» 2525 Dodge St.
» 7266 N. 30th St.
Proceeds from the thrift store at 5128 S. 24th St. go to the Stephen Center, which provides addiction recovery services, emergency housing and transitional and permanent supportive housing services. Stephen Center clients can also get jobs at the store and are able to receive clothing vouchers to shop there. Does not accept computers, TVs, pianos, building materials. 402-614-1017
Humble Lily thrift store, 2580 S. 90th St.
Proceeds support Bethlehem House, a residential care setting that serves women who are pregnant and in crisis. Accepts gently used women’s clothing, purses, shoes and jewelry. 402-933-3366
Heart Ministry Center, 2222 Binney St.
Operates a clothing pantry that people in need can visit every 30 days. Accepts clothing, shoes, bedding, bicycles, fans and space heaters. Call 402-451-2321 to arrange a donation drop-off.
Y.E.S. Youth Street Outreach Center
Accepts donations of clothing and hygiene items for the outreach program, 2679 Farnam St. Proceeds from sales at the volunteer-operated Tip Top Thrift Shop, 5910 Maple St., also go to Y.E.S. programs. Y.E.S.: 402-345-5187. Tip Top Thrift Shop: 402-551-1302
Women’s Center for Advancement Career Clothing Closet, 222 S. 29th St.
Provides work-appropriate clothing for women. Accepts women’s clothing (skirts, pants, sweaters, jackets), bras, shoes, jewelry and makeup. Donations can be dropped off at the front desk. 402-345-6555
Women United Ministries, 1202 E. Browne St.
Accepts donations of women’s clothing for women in need. Call 402-591-0354 to arrange a donation.
Together, 812 S. 24th St.
The homeless prevention organization will distribute donations to people in need. Accepts coats, furniture, kitchenware and household items. Does not accept clothing donations (other than coats) or major appliances, electronics, exercise equipment or hideaway couches/beds. To arrange a drop-off or a pickup, call 402-345-8047.
Open Door Mission, 2107 E. Locust St.
Donations go to the homeless or to outreach centers. Accepts donations of clothing, furniture, appliances, toys, books. Does not accept mattresses. 402-422-1111
Habitat for Humanity ReStore
Locations at 10910 Emmet St. and 1003 S. 24th St. Accepts building materials, appliances and home furnishings. 402-884-6976
Assistance League Thrift Store, 3569 Leavenworth St.
Funds go to several programs, including Operation School Bell, providing vouchers to J.C. Penney for children in need of school clothes. The Assistance League’s Thrift Shop also gives vouchers for its store to residents of Santa Monica, a home for women recovering from drug and/or alcohol dependency. Store does not accept furniture. 402-342-3113
MICAH House, 1415 Avenue J, Council Bluffs
Takes all donations except appliances and large furniture. Work-appropriate clothes can be donated to the career closet. Donations that MICAH House cannot use will be distributed to other shelters and community giveaways. Donation pickups can be arranged. 712-323-4416
Project Hope, 6201 N. 60th St.