Charlotte charities prepare for last-minute donation drop-offs

Goodwill Industries may not promise the same festive vibe as uptown’s CLT New Year’s Eve gala, but its 22 thrift stores will easily be among the busiest places in the region Wednesday evening.

That’s because the nonprofit has decided to keep its drive-throughs open an additional four hours on New Year’s Eve (through 9 p.m.) to aid donors participating in a December holiday tradition: rushing to get 2014 charity tax deductions.

Goodwill, which has about 50 drop-off locations in the region, makes it a policy to stay open New Year’s Eve as long as there are cars in line. The region includes two South Carolina counties: York and Lancaster.

Donors who act earlier have multiple organizations to choose from, including Salvation Army Thrift Stores, Habitat for Humanity ReStores and the Crisis Assistance Ministry Free Store and Furniture Bank.

The last week of December is traditionally the busiest of the year for charity stores, and New Year’s Eve is the busiest single day, because of the midnight deadline for tax deductions. Goodwill Industries has estimated as much as 5 percent of its annual donations – about 30,000-plus items – arrive during the year’s final week.

In 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, Americans gave about $335.17 billion to charity. Philanthropy experts say it’s the fourth straight year that giving has grown since 2009, when the brunt of the recession hit nonprofits.

Thrift-store programs like those operated by Goodwill and the Salvation Army were among those that took a hit, as households held onto items longer. However, donations have bounced back in the past year, suggesting Wednesday may be busier than previous New Year’s Eve donor blitzes, officials said.

Goodwill is by far the biggest operator of thrift stores in the region with 22, followed by the Habitat for Humanity ReStores with 11 and the Salvation Army with five.

Most often, donated items are resold to the public and the money used to fund charitable programs, such as the Goodwill’s job skills training classes or the Salvation Army’s rehab program for men with addictions.

In at least one case – the Crisis Assistance Ministry Free Store and Furniture Bank – items donated by the public go directly to low-income people. Clients shop by referral only, after the agency has verified need.

On Monday, the Crisis Assistance store saw a steady stream of donors at its drive-through at 500 Spratt St., including one person who dropped off 300 clothes hangers.

Robert Calloway, 64, of Charlotte was among those who dropped off a trunk full of household goods.

“It was my wife’s idea to give here. She likes the idea that they don’t sell it,” Calloway said.

“When we give to Crisis Assistance, it feels like I’m doing my part to help somebody who needs it and will use it. I don’t donate anything I wouldn’t wear myself or use myself.”

Marty Sanders of the Salvation Army says the nonprofit’s stores have seen a rebound in donations, after reporting as much as a 30 percent drop in 2012. In November of that year, the agency’s thrift store operation had a deficit in excess of $40,000, officials said at the time.

Salvation Army stores will remain open until 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

“People need to know that these donations mean the difference in a (rehab) program that helps men who not only hit rock bottom, but they have bounced off of it once or twice,” Sanders said.

“For many, it’s their last chance to get their lives back together.”