Explained: Why our stores can’t accept all donations

Several weeks ago, a federal inspector stopped by a Salvation Army Store in the Twin Cities (view locations in Minnesota and North Dakota).

He wasn’t there to chit-chat over coffee. He was checking to make sure the store wasn’t selling donated items that were hazardous, had been recalled, or violated other government rules concerning the reselling of used goods.

Thankfully, the inspector left impressed.

Interior of Salvation Army Store“He said we passed with flying colors and that we have a model thrift store,” said Major Jerry O’Neil, who helps oversee all nine Twin Cities store locations. “Had the inspector visited any of our other stores, I am more than confident he would have discovered the same thing.”

Alas, we’re not telling this story to brag. We’re telling it to help our store donors in Minnesota and North Dakota understand an important fact: There are valid reasons why we cannot accept everything you so graciously donate.

“Sometimes, donors get angry when we won’t accept certain items – what they don’t realize is we have strict rules to follow,” O’Neil said. “Breaking these rules can result in costly fines or lawsuits. Most importantly, these rules protect our shoppers. Safety is our number one priority.”

Here are some of the most common items we must turn away:

  • Toys and baby items. Baby clothes are accepted, but they cannot include drawstrings or raised lettering.
  • Televisions older than five years.
  • Built-in appliances (ovens, dishwashers, etc.) and small appliances older than 10 years.
  • Mattresses and box springs.
  • Furniture with rips, broken pieces, stains, odors or pet hair.

Admittedly, some of these rules can be a tough pill to swallow, such as when donors want to give an expensive couch that could otherwise be sold for a good profit.

Donors gives items at store“Unfortunately, if that couch is covered in pet hair, we cannot accept it,” O’Neil said. “It’s hard saying no, but rules are rules.”

Hard indeed, considering how much good the money could accomplish: All store proceeds in North Dakota and Greater Minnesota fund local Salvation Army programs that provide food, clothing, shelter, and other critical services to people and families in need. In the Twin Cities, store proceeds fund The Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis, which provides free, long-term addiction-recovery services for men (read success story).

Another reason donations are turned away: If a store accepts an item but is not allowed to sell it, the store must pay to dispose of it.

“This costs our stores money that could otherwise be used to help people,” O’Neil said. “These scenarios are especially troublesome when, for example, someone comes to a store after-hours and leaves an old large-screen TV on our doorstep.”

Donate today

Thankfully, the list of items that Salvation Army Stores do accept is much longer than the list of ones they don’t.

Volunteer accepts donations at storeOur 31 stores across the Twin Cities, Greater Minnesota and North Dakota are happy and waiting to accept your donations of new or gently-used clothing, furniture and household goods. Find your nearest location for drop-off hours.

What’s more, getting rid of your old stuff will lessen your debt to Uncle Sam. All donations are tax-deductible, with write-offs ranging from $2 for a shirt, to $1,000 for a complete bedroom set, and everything in between. View our complete tax valuation guide and list of acceptable donations.

The Salvation Army even accepts donated cars. To learn more, call 612-332-5855.

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