The recent months have required seemingly endless adjustments to everyday life, from wearing masks in public spaces to sometimes having to hunt to find such previously mundane purchases as hand sanitizer and household bleach. For local thrift store managers, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought both a boon in donations and some challenges in dealing with those donations.
Raymond Andrews, manager of Maranatha Thrift Store, said he had to seek outside advice on how to best handle donations with regard to the virus.
“It’s been a different challenge,” said Andrews.
His early research told him that the best way to assure the virus was killed on clothing donations, for example, was to wash them in hot water and machine dry them. With this not being a practical option for the volume of clothing donations he receives, Andrews sought the advice of the Baldwin County Health Department. From health officials, he learned that letting the clothing sit for several days after donation allows enough time for traces of the virus to die.
“We have an outdoor facility that we hold them in for one week,” said Andrews.
By the time donations are dropped off at Maranatha, quarantined, and processed for the sales floor, approximately two weeks pass, thus allowing more than enough time for any traces of the virus to be long gone.
Similar procedures are in place at both the Salvation Army thrift store and the new Goodwill retail store in Milledgeville. Christine Butler, senior director of Donated Goods for Goodwill in the middle Georgia area, said that donations to Goodwill are sanitized both at the point of donation and at the workstation where they are processed before they ever arrive on the sales floor. A similar process is maintained at the Salvation Army.
“We let the donations sit when they’re brought in. They sit for a day and we spray them,” said Cynthia Ward-Edwards, director for the Salvation Army of Milledgeville and Sandersville.
At the Salvation Army, Ward-Edwards said employees wear appropriate PPE while sanitizing and processing donations. Employees are also required to wear masks while working in the store. The same goes for employees of Goodwill and Maranatha Thrift Store.
“Everybody has latex gloves, everybody has to wear masks, not only for our safety, but for the customers’ safety,” said Andrews.
All three stores have mask policies in place for their customers as well. Ward-Edwards said that customers have been very good about coming in wearing their masks, but she thinks the recent passing of mask mandates at both the county and city levels have helped with this too.
“I do want to thank the city and county for passing that,” said Ward-Edwards.
An interesting side effect of the pandemic for the local thrift stores has been getting a large volume of donations. Many people stuck at home during the earlier months of the pandemic used the time to clean out their houses. That has led to plentiful inventory for the local thrift stores.
“Our donations have been outstanding,” said Andrews.
“We’ve had the most donations that I think that I have seen in the last 20 years during a period of time that we’re usually pretty scarce with donations,” said Butler.
Butler has also seen an overall increase in the quality of items being brought in for donation.
“The quality is a lot different; it’s a lot better than our end-of-the-year. We think that people were just making decisions on stuff that they just haven’t used,” said Butler. “Definitely a different quality, so we were really excited about that.”
The increase in donations is a good thing for the stores because, as Ward-Edwards pointed out, there is also an overall increase in need due to the pandemic. With people losing jobs or having their hours drastically cut back, the Salvation Army has seen more and more residents needing affordable shopping options and assistance with their monthly expenses.
“You have folks that are not employed or are employed but the hours may have been cut,” said Ward-Edwards. “They’re needing just a little supplement to help them with the gas bill, their light bill and on occasions, their rent.”
All three stores are accepting donations.
Goodwill accepts drive up and drop off donations at both the retail store at 1831 N. Columbia St. and at the donation center at 2596 N. Columbia St. near Walmart. Salvation Army also accepts drive-up and drop-off donations on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but asks that residents call ahead to schedule a time for larger drop-offs such as furniture.
Maranatha also has an on-site drop-off for donations. For larger donations, Maranatha offers a pick-up service.
“I don’t think there’s any other thrift store in the area that does that,” said Andrews.
“It’s very successful. We get a lot of calls, even as far as Sparta.”
For all three stores, their greatest need in donations is furniture. With the college students returning to town and furnishing off-campus apartments and dorm rooms, this need is particularly high.
“We always need nice furniture, or slightly used furniture,” said Ward-Edwards.
Retail store: 1831 N. Columbia St., 478-776-6255, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Donation center: 2596 N. Columbia St., 478-457-0090, Monday-Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Maranatha Thrift Store
327 Allen Memorial Dr., 478-453-0250, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
461 E. Hancock St., 478-452-6940, Tuesday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Donations accepted during store hours Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.)