Goodwill cracks down on donation theft
Dec 14, 2012 (Reading Eagle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
It might take a miracle to bring peace to the men and women of Goodwill this Christmas season.
Goodwill Keystone Area, formerly Goodwill Industries, has spent almost $400,000 on video surveillance equipment over the past year.
Goodwill has hired three retired Reading police officers to beef up its loss-prevention department. It is asking people who want to make donations of clothing, toys and furniture to drop them off when their stores are open.
Because people are stealing donations dropped off after business hours and overnight.
"These aren't people in need of a sweater either," said Jennifer Ross, a Goodwill spokeswoman.
"They're pulling up in nice cars, wearing nice clothes," Ross said. "They pull their hoods up to hide their identity. They pick through the donations, taking what they want. It's like they're shopping."
They tear open large plastic bags of donated clothes, sometimes scattering on the ground items they don't want. They carry off full bags of clothing. They're knocking over neatly piled stacks of donations and stealing toys left by well-intentioned people who have dropped them off at the facilities' front or back doors.
"People are dropping off donations thinking they are helping us and now we have to tell them that some of those donations are being stolen," Ross said.
Ross said the donations are the lifeblood of Goodwill's mission to provide jobs, training programs and other services to those with mental or physical disabilities. Donated items are cleaned up and sold in 35 Goodwill stores in the Keystone region, which comprises 22 counties.
Another disturbing aspect of the thefts is that they may have been going on for years.
"People are stealing things and then selling them at flea markets," Ross said.
About a year ago staffers at Goodwill stores, including the Berks stores in Shillington, Muhlenberg, Robesonia and Morgantown, noticed bags of clothing donations left outside overnight appeared to have been picked through.
"We set up video surveillance and saw people pulling up, sometimes even during the day, and picking through the donations and taking what they want," said Stan McCarty, a retired Reading police officer who was hired by Goodwill Keystone to head its loss-prevention effort.
"We have one guy on video trying to load a couch into his vehicle," McCarty said. "I've walked up to a group of five people picking through donations. One woman asked me, 'What are you looking for Maybe I can find it for you.' They were treating it as if it were their own personal store."
McCarty said he confronted one man caught on video almost nightly taking toys left at the back of a store.
"He told me he was collecting the toys for the Marine Corps' Toys-for-Tots program," McCarty said. "I told him I knew the Marines only take new toys and he got that deer-in-the-headlights look. He later pled guilty to theft."
The man was selling the stolen toy donations at a flea market on weekends, McCarty said.
McCarty said he has prosecuted several people in Berks County, but he and Ross declined to give the Reading Eagle the names of the perpetrators.
"That's not what they're about (at Goodwill)," McCarty said. "They're too nice to do something like that."
He said it was a major effort to get Goodwill executives to set up the video surveillance and begin prosecuting the thieves.
"When I told them how much they were losing each year on the thefts they reluctantly agreed to start cracking down," McCarty said.
He said as the thefts have become more brazen, neighbors of Goodwill facilities have started reporting the culprits to their local police.
Ross said the nonprofit agency isn't interested in piling on people who already have been arrested and prosecuted. But they do want the thefts to stop.
"We've come to the point where we're not going to tolerate this (stealing) anymore," Ross said.
Contact Dan Kelly: 610-371-5040 or email@example.com.
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