Behind the scenes with The Salvos in Bairnsdale

The original photo of the mess

The original photo of the mess

On a routine trip to leave a donation at my local Salvos, I found myself dropping off on a Sunday afternoon instead of during working hours as I usually do. I was surprised at the scene that greeted me; clothes, furniture and household items dumped in front of the donation bins. Items left out in the rain and bags ripped open where people had clearly been sifting through, leaving items lying about. And the worst bit; the red donation bins were not full, and could have easily taken much of what has been left in front.

With responsible waste management and support for our local community organisations close to my heart, I took to social media and posted a picture of the scene on my Interior Philosophy Facebook page. Donning my Ranty Pants, I expressed my upset, imploring people to ensure they did not leave trash or items exposed to the elements, and to think about responsibly discarding their unwanted things.

I was thrilled with the online community response, with many concurring with my sentiment but also taking the opportunity to delve deeper into the issue. We discussed difficulties in making donations and issues around responsible waste management.  People shared their personal experiences, highlighted issues and shared solutions.

When Tony, the volunteer who is routinely responsible for cleaning up that same mess every Monday morning made contact, I grabbed the opportunity to follow up further and learn more about the situation; and to share that knowledge with our community.

As a Professional Organiser working with people in the local community to de-clutter and discard items, I often find myself acting as the gate-keeper; helping people to discard their unwanted items in the most responsible and helpful way. Keeping items out of landfill, and getting quality items into the hands of organisations in need whilst helping my client to relieve themselves of excess is the goal. But even I had questions about how op-shops like the Salvos operated; what they want donated, how they would like it donated and what happens to the donated items once received.

Tammy , Tony and David of The Salvos Bairnsdale

Tammy , Tony and David of The Salvos Bairnsdale

Meeting with The Salvos in Bairnsdale
Shorty after my original post on Facebook, I was thrilled to sit down with David (Lieutenant), Tammy (Store Manager) and Tony (Volunteer) from The Salvos Bairnsdale and discuss the challenges they face in receiving and managing donations.  I also got to have a look behind the scenes at how they sort, test and clean donations before they are either given to local people in need or placed onto the floor for sale.

They were quick to speak highly of their 50+ volunteer base, without whom they would not be able to operate; and I could clearly see their passion for helping community members in need, managing waste responsibly and re-using as much as possible around their premises.

I learned that the situation I had encountered that Sunday was a regular occurrence, and the quantity of items I had photographed was fairly average for an after-weekend clean up. At least once a month they are faced with a whopping clean-up to complete, sometimes even finding items strewn across the road. In fact several volunteers spend at least 2 to 3 hours every Monday morning picking through and cleaning up the mess, which sees several trailer loads of rubbish going off to the tip. They have also found themselves cleaning up an array of household rubbish including dirty nappies, dead animals and alcoholic bottles which were in amongst the other donations. Long weekends and Christmas are also notorious for excessive dumping of items behind the store.

I asked them to share their biggest difficulties in managing incoming donations, and discovered there were 2:

1.    Receiving broken and seriously damaged items

2.    People rummaging through donations left outside instead, of coming in and asking for help.

To help with the latter, The Salvos have recently upgraded their camera systems which now allows them remote viewing access; and they have also been working with Police to identify offenders. They were keen to point out however that any person in genuine need can come into the store and ask for help, and items will be gladly provided free of charge - rummaging is not necessary.

How to Donate
Many of the issues seem to stem from people’s inability to donate during business hours, thus leaving them out back outside of hours. These are people want to do the right thing, but can’t get there when the roller doors are open to hand items over and are opting to leave them outside. This in turn leads to rummaging through which causes a mess and leaves items exposed to the elements. The Salvos offer 2 solutions to this issue:

1.    Donations can be made on a Saturday morning before 12 noon.

2.    You can call and arrange a collection of your donations from your home during business hours (leaving items out undercover to be collected by arrangement). These do not need to be large donations.

In addition, ensuring items are packed in bags or boxes which will protect them from the elements will help to keep them protected and is a of huge benefit. The Salvos re-use or recycle those bags and boxes responsibly, in alignment with their aims to reduce waste.

If you can donate during business hours but can’t transport large items, you’re able to borrow their 6 X 4 trailer with a $20 security deposit. In fact, this can be used to both bring items to the shop for donation, or to collect and deliver purchased items rom the store to your home.

A Peek Behind the Scenes
I was quietly thrilled to get a guided tour of the facility behind the scenes, and saw many volunteers hard at work on what happened to be their regular busy day of week. There were clearly defined areas for managing different types of donations: a cage and sorting table for clothing and other fabric items; an electrical test and tag area, a general homewares sorting area, and a holding area for items ready to go out on the floor or be taken away by truck. The work ethic of the volunteers was clear, as was the Salvos’ intent to keep workers safe and comfortable while working.

What to donate
Let’s delve into the different types of items which are donated, and look at how they are handled.

The Salvos take clothing items of all quality and condition. This in fact was news to me, as in the past I had worked with clients to separate out the good quality/good condition items only for donation, with the rest going to landfill. But I was thrilled to learn that The Salvos have a great hierarchy system in place to manage the different states of condition which keeps almost everything out of landfill.

100 clothing bags go to Melbourne each week and are sent to people in need

100 clothing bags go to Melbourne each week and are sent to people in need

1.    Best quality items are either given to their clientele or put out on the floor for sale.

2.    Clothes with some wear and tear and sent off to Melbourne for re-distribution to people in need, including overseas. Around 100 bags weighting 15 kilos each being collected and taken away each week.

3.    Clothes too damaged to be worn are turned into fabric rags and sold locally as 'Rag Bags' for  just $5 per bag.

I learned that they do not have the capacity to clean and mend any of the clothing; the state it arrives in from you in the state in which its fate is determined. This means that any clothing items which are left out in the rain or frost go straight to the tip, regardless of quality and potential value. So it really pays to wash any clothing with marks and stains first, before donating.

Personal items such as underwear, make up or other close proximity items must be unused. Clothes with business logos cannot be accepted for security reasons.

Furniture & Household Items
The volunteers work hard to get household furniture up to scratch before it is given away on or placed on the floor for sale, including cleaning and making repairs. But they cannot overcome serious damage to upholstery, so please keep this in mind.

Toys await sorting and distribution

Toys await sorting and distribution

Electrical items are accepted as they have the items tested and tagged; this checks for earth leakages but does not guarantee working order. They do accept mattresses but they must not be marked or stained or have a strong odour.

Stuffed toys (without bean fillings) in good and clean condition are accepted. Clean bedding such as pillows, doonas and blankets are also accepted.

Baby and children’s Items with Australian Safety Standards
Items such as cots, prams, car seats and helmets cannot be sold by the Salvos, but can be given to people in need, so please donate these items if in good condition.

The Cost of Irresponsible Waste Discarding
According to the East Gippsland Shire’s website, we throw away over 21,000 tonnes of waste into landfill each year. When an area has a high waste disposal rate for its population, it can lead to an increase in tip fees; and high tip fees were a complaint expressed by commenters on my social media post. The best way to keep tip fees down is to discard your waste with care, recycling everything that you can. And if you can’t, work with organisations such as the Salvos who can. Sending items to the tip should be a last resort; both helping to save the planet and keep tip fees down.

The Bairnsdale Tip Shop is another fantastic avenue to keep items out of landfill. It is always worth dropping in to see them before you drive your unwanted items through to the weigh station.

Don’t forget to visit the East Gippsland Shire’s website for a full list of recyclable items which cannot go into your curb side recycling bin, such as scrap metal, white goods, car batteries and light globes. Also look out for their annual ‘Detox Your Home’ collection of toxic items such as nail polish, which usually occurs in October every year.

What The Salvos Bairnsdale really want you to know & do:

  • Clothing cannot be cleaned before being assessed.

  • Please do not donate any broken items or petrol/gas powered items.

  • Please make your donations during business hours or call to arrange a collection from your home.

  • Donations can be made between 9am and 12 noon every Saturday.

  • Please do not leave items out in the elements in front of the bins.

  • If you can avoid it, please delay your donations on or directly after a long weekend as they will be experiencing a large influx of items.

The information outlined here by The Salvos in Bairnsdale relates directly to this store; information may vary from store to store, but is likely to be reflective. Please call your own store with any questions you may have.

What would you like to know about donating items to The Salvos? Comment below.