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People’s City Mission help center receives more trash

June 23, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Shopping times at the People’s City Mission Help Center are hectic. People hustle to get food, clothes and household items during the twice-weekly events.

One woman holds four tote bags full of clothes, movies, food and more. Decorative grasses poke out of a rolling bag she pulls behind her as she looks for art supplies for her granddaughter.

In the Help Center, shelves of merchandise hold new and like-new items: black high heels, Veggie Tale movies, a new pink toddler’s swimsuit and life jacket set. Workers and volunteers constantly update sections of books, home decorations, electronics and clothes.

It may look like a nicer thrift store, but every item is free to those in need, said Pastor Tom Barber, People’s City Mission CEO.

“What people don’t realize is that stuff is just as important as food — you need diapers and all this other stuff,” he said. “We’ve created a Bed Bath and Beyond with all free stuff in there.”

Those who qualify for the Help Center can receive food, 25 clothing items and 50 household items per shopping session.

The Help Center transformed from a thrift store in 2007 and helps about 22,000 people yearly, Barber said.

It’s made possible by the 4 to 5 million pounds of donations the organization receives every year.

The high volume means the Help Center’s shelves stay full of useful items, and the items that aren’t taken are sold to distributors and reach people in Central and South America, Canada and Africa.

‘You never know what you’re going to find’

The back of the Help Center is just as busy as the front. Christian music plays from a radio as people sort donations from Toss Boxes, which are located in nine spots throughout Lincoln.

Volunteer coordinator Casie Thompson said volunteers are constantly sorting donations.

“We have people spend their whole shift here,” she said. “We use volunteers like crazy; without volunteers we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”

However, the presence of trash and unusable donations puts extra strain on the organization, she said.

“You never know what you’re going to find: adult novelties, used pads, dirty diapers,” Thompson said. “When people bring all the trash it makes it hard to sort everything.”

The Lincoln Journal Star reports that Barber said about 10 percent of donations coming in are waste, which costs the organization $7,000 per month to dispose.

While the Toss Boxes have been around for five years, they’re accumulating more trash lately, and Barber isn’t sure why.

“What they’re doing is throwing furniture down, trash, just dropping bags of clothes outside even when the box isn’t full,” he said. “It’s looking junky.”

The “junk” includes broken furniture, worn-out tires, old television sets and one underwater flare gun, according to driver Dan Keller.

It’s caused two locations to remove the boxes from their parking lots, a Sam’s Club and Super Saver, and other location managers have voiced concerns.

“We have others saying, ‘We’re nervous,’ and that’s because they’re junking it all out,” he said. “It’s making it hard for people to want to help us.”

Barber said the removal of Toss Boxes wouldn’t stop donations since people can bring donations to the Help Center, but it would drastically reduce the volume.

His goal is to reduce waste to a more manageable 5 percent, and he’s trying to raise awareness about the boxes to keep them in Lincoln. But it’s tricky to manage a system based on anonymous donations.

“You can’t force it, you can’t force people to be nice,” he said. “You can’t monitor it, there’s no way, even if you can reduce it.”

Barber hopes to see the program continue and spread across the country. There are currently 13 Toss Box partners in churches outside of Lincoln, and a partner in Waverly made $5,000 in its first year.

He wants the idea to continue growing.

“I think other nonprofits want to help others the way we do,” he said. “We can show them how to make more money doing that. I want to get these going all over the country and start a mini-revolution.”

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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