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Charities Experience Unfortunate Side Effects of the Pandemic

Photos by Heather Ziegler Planet Aid Inc. donation bins in Center Wheeling are broken into and donated items strewn about the ground despite a notice that donations are not being accepted at this time.

WHEELING — An unfortunate side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is evident at local charities’ donation bins throughout the Ohio Valley.

The problem has been two-fold for the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store located on Bow Street in the Fulton neighborhood of Wheeling. Just ask store manager Janice Bellanca.

“We were shut down for three months, but people were still coming on to the property and dumping stuff. Then others would actually climb in the donation bin and dig around and make a mess. We would come every day to check and it would be a huge mess,” Bellanca said.

On more than one occasion, a worker has found someone inside the donation bin.

Bellanca said with so many people confined to their homes for several months, a lot of them cleaned out closets and drawers and brought the stuff to the thrift store. Once the store reopened recently, the stuff kept coming.

“We’re blessed with so many donations … to be able to pay the rent and the employees and then all the rest goes back into the community to help others. If people are in need, we give them clothes and help with utilities and other things they need. They just have to show proof they are on assistance.”

Even with the generosity offered at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, thieves have been helping themselves to donations. Bellanca resorted to chaining off access to the parking lot at night to keep people out, but that did little to deter thieves or after-hour donors. It got so bad that Bellanca purchased security cameras that have caught numerous thieves in the act of stealing from the donation bin or from items left outside the store.

“You can go on my Facebook page and see the videos. There is one of a nice SUV backing up to the donation bin and taking everything there … clothes, furniture, everything,” Bellanca noted. “Here’s the thing. If you are in need, I will give you what you need. I won’t put up with stealing.”

In fact, Bellanca has confronted some of the nighttime thieves when they have had the audacity to show up at the store during the day. “When I show them the video, I offer them a deal. They can sign a paper stating they won’t ever come back here or I can turn the video over to the police. I’ve done this several times and they choose to sign.”

Another issue since the pandemic hit was finding workers once the store reopened. Bellanca said she placed an ad and received 14 applicants. Of those, only three showed up for interviews. She said the extra unemployment money people were receiving was a deterrent for bringing people back to work. She since has managed to find enough workers to keep the store operating.

However, due to restrictions on the number of people allowed in the store at one time, she elected to only be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“Saturdays were our biggest crowd days and we just could not handle it with limits of no more than 20 (plus workers) in the store. We couldn’t have people 20 deep standing outside in 90-degree heat. So we are not open on weekends,” Bellanca offered.

Bellanca also has instituted a new policy for drop-off donations.

She asks people to make an appointment to drop off items. Appointments are available about every 15 minutes through the day.

If someone has to bring a donation on the weekend all items should be placed inside the large, blue bin in the parking lot. Bellanca, however, discourages after-hour drop-offs to prevent theft. To make an appointment to drop off or for a pick-up of furniture, call 304-232-4230. Similar problems are obvious at the bright yellow donation bins sponsored by Planet Aid Inc. and found in the Ohio Valley. Planet Aid ceased accepting clothing and shoes months ago when the pandemic hit. However, that has not stopped people from using the bins as dumping grounds for all sorts of items. This can result in disgusting eyesores such as the bins located in the parking lot on Main Street across from the city’s water pollution control plant.

Strewn about the two bins located there are not only clothing, but also household items that are pretty much unusable. It appears that someone may have held a yard sale or cleaned out their residence and simply dumped their unwanted items at the site.

On one visit to the site, the doors to the bins appeared to have been forced open and the contents thrown about the lot. This is in spite of a clearly visible notice attached to the bins indicating that donations had ceased during the pandemic.

At the Salvation Army facilities in East Wheeling, dumping and looting of items at the rear of the facility had been an ongoing problem. When items were dumped on the sidewalk behind the building, all of it often would be ruined by rain or strewn about or broken by people picking through the items.

In an effort to discourage this behavior, the Salvation Army has placed cameras at its facility and a very clear notice that tells visitors the consequences of not following the rules. The sign states a $300 fine would be levied against anyone dumping or stealing from the site. The video cameras record license plates of anyone stopping at the location.

Anyone wishing to donate to the Salvation Army can ring the doorbell at the rear of the building.

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