Charity thrift stores in the region are counting on a year-end spike in donations to overcome a shortfall believed to be linked to an outpouring of support for Hurricane Sandy victims.
While being careful not to criticize donors for sending money and goods to storm recovery efforts, local charity officials say the impact is being felt with a drop in cash donations and empty shelves at thrift stores.
Hardest hit is the Salvation Armys thrift store division, which recently laid off about a dozen employees due to the drop in donations and one-time expenses associated with the opening of a new store in Pineville. Overall, its thrift store program saw a $40,000 deficit in November, officials said.
Donations to the Salvation Army are down about 30 percent, Maj. Gerald Street estimates. Goodwill says donations are down but didnt have a specific estimate.
Both the Salvation Army and Goodwill say theyre hoping the donation shortage will be overcome by the spike in donations that always precedes New Years Day.
This week is traditionally the busiest of the year for charity thrift stores with New Years Eve as the busiest single day, because of the New Years Eve deadline for tax deductions. Goodwill Industries has estimated that as much as 5 percent of its donations, or about 30,000 plus items, come during the years final week.
Both Goodwill and the Salvation Army say theyll keep taking donations as long as people are lined up on New Years Eve.
Were running out of clothes to stock the stores by about Thursday of each week, said Street, noting he wasnt sure exactly what was causing the drop. Were just not getting enough donations on weekends to process and get on the shelves.
United Way officials were the first to suggest back in November that gifts for Hurricane Sandy relief were having an impact on local charities. It also cited the Democratic National Convention, which caused some companies to delay their United Way campaigns. At the time, the agencys annual fund drive was running about $1 million behind.
Holly Cooper of Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont said she believes Hurricane Sandy has hurt its 22 stores, particularly with clothing and shoes. The agency has not had layoffs, she added.
Officials with United Way and Goodwill say it is not their intent to criticize local support for storm victims. In fact, Cooper noted she is from New York State and had 30 friends who lost homes due to the storm.
But, she added, giving locally helps people in your community.
In the case of Goodwill, 90 cents of every dollar raised at thrift store sales goes for career development and a jobs program. The latter trains people for industries known to be hiring, including banking and hospitality. So far this year, the program has helped 14,000 people, she said.
The Salvation Army uses money raised at its stores to fund a residential rehab program for men that currently has 112 tenants. It helps an average of 400 people a year.
The programs funding is based entirely on thrift store sales and a continued decline would jeopardize the center, Street said. Its not dire now, but two or three months like this would be, he said.
Among the citys other thrift stores:
• Crisis Assistance Ministrys Free Store at 500-A Spratt St. takes donations of household goods, which it then gives to struggling families at no charge. It also runs a furniture bank that is one of the few nonprofits along with the Salvation Army that takes unsoiled mattresses to be cleaned and redistributed.
• The Assistance League of Charlotte Thrift Shop at 3600 South Tryon St. uses proceeds from donated items to fund a scholarship, free school uniform and snack programs for low-income students, and Mecklenburg County Teen Court.
• Habitat for Humanity ReStore, with locations at 1133 North Wendover Rd. and 3326 Wilkinson Blvd., takes donated construction materials, appliances and home-decor items to fund its mission to build and repair homes for low income families.