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

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.

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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.

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