Share This Page

Western Pennsylvania thrift shops accept many items — but not guns, skulls

| Sunday, July 13, 2014, 9:50 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Quinn Ketterman, a team leader at the Goodwill store in the South Side, searches through donations on Friday, July 11, 2014.

Sex toys, drug paraphernalia, loaded guns and animal skeletal remains are items Western Pennsylvania thrift stores have found among donations, store officials say.

“Well, we're not allowed to sell them, so we throw them away because this is a Christian organization. And people that donate to us should realize that, and they don't,” Donna Pinazza, production supervisor at a Salvation Army store in North Huntingdon, said of the sex- and drug-related donations they receive.

They give guns to police.

Most items donated to thrift stores are sold in the stores or to recyclers — even tattered clothing goes to recyclers, to stuff furniture and mattresses — but thrift store workers often are surprised by donations that are unusual, unsellable and unwelcome, store employees and nonprofit leaders say.

Police are trying to find who donated three human skulls to a Goodwill Industries store in Bellevue, Wash., in June.

Two are adult skulls that appear to have been used in a medical clinic or for instruction. The third, which is very old, appears to be that of a Native American child.

Human remains have found their way into Pittsburgh-area thrift stores.

At Society of St. Vincent de Paul Council of Pittsburgh's store in Coraopolis, someone donated an urn containing cremated remains of a woman in March 2013, said Byran Miller, operations director for the nonprofit Catholic organization.

“I would guess that the family was going through that stuff and didn't realize what they were donating,” he said.

Using information on a note in the urn, the store contacted the funeral home that prepared the urn to return the remains to the deceased's family, he said.

Sales from St. Vincent de Paul's six stores in the Pittsburgh area support the organization's food pantry, provide help with utility bills for people in need, and other social services.

“If people give garbage or stuff that can't be used, then the nonprofits are stuck with the cost of disposing of that,” said Keith Kondrich, executive director.

The Salvation Army in North Huntington has contended with soiled donations, such as dirty blankets, which it throws away because it doesn't have facilities to clean the items, Pinazza said.

“You can't help someone by donating dirty stuff. I wouldn't want a dirty blanket to wrap my kids in,” said Pinazza, who said the store has received donations of dentures and artificial limbs.

Dealing with unusable donations is part of the nature of the resale business, said Adele R. Meyer, executive director of NARTS: The Association of Resale Professionals, a St. Clair Shores, Mich.-based trade group representing about 1,100 thrift and other resale stores.

“And I don't think anyone's going to find an answer for it because it's human nature. People just want to get rid of things,” she said.

More than 90 percent of items donated to Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania are resold in its thrift stores or to recyclers. During the past six years, the organization ramped up recycling efforts, said David Tobiczyk, spokesman for the Lawrenceville-based nonprofit.

It operates 31 stores in Western Pennsylvania and northcentral West Virginia to help fund programs and provide job training and related social services to clients.

“Our message has always been to give to Goodwill what you would give to a friend,” Tobiczyk said.

Tory N. Parrish is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.