Donations down

Salvation Army suffering from bad economy, tightened belts

Capt. Darren Stratton in the Salvation Army’s warehouse near the airport.

Capt. Darren Stratton in the Salvation Army’s warehouse near the airport.

Photo By Kyle Emery

How to Donate:
Salvation Army, Chico: 342-2199, Seventh Street & Broadway (Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun. noon-5 p.m.); or George Walker Rehabilitation Facility, 13404 Browns Valley Drive. (Mon.-Fri. 7:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.)
“The Shop” of the American Cancer Society, 725 Mangrove Ave., 343-6178. (Donation hours: Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m.)

Declining donations to the Salvation Army in Chico this year are threatening its employees as well as the programs that help the poor and those with substance-abuse problems.

Donations so far this year have been down approximately 70 percent compared to the yearly average due in large part to the stubborn recession said Capt. Darren Stratton of the Salvation Army, Chico Corps. Huge sections of the Christian-based charity’s 40,000-square-foot donation warehouse out by the Chico Airport sit empty.

“In January we lost $40,000 compared to our expenses,” said Stratton. “If that continues through March, we would lose $120,000, which would adversely affect all our programs.”

The Salvation Army uses proceeds from its five Butte County thrift stores in Chico, Oroville, Paradise and Gridley to provide social services such as a 50-bed rehab facility for adults with drug and alcohol addictions.

“The rehab center is our signature program and is free to all participants,” Stratton said.

Additional programs are provided by the Salvation Army’s center on East 16th Street and include monetary and other assistance to those who cannot afford such basic life necessities as rent, food, utilities and prescription medications.

“We also help those who have been struck by disasters such as house fires, as long as we have money available,” Stratton said. He lamented that the first quarter of 2012 is shaping up to be as bad as 2010, which was the worst year of the country’s four-year recession. That year revenues decreased so much that it forced the closure of the Chico Salvation Army store at Broadway and 11th Street. Stratton, however, chooses to look at the glass as half full, noting that the closure allowed for the opening of a new store in Gridley.

This year the problems have again begun to creep in. Though their social-services programs have not yet been reduced, the impacts are being felt in several ways such as less work for employees.

“Last Thursday we had to send our warehouse workers home early because there wasn’t enough for them to do,” said Stratton.

Several warehouse employees have already been transferred to other departments where work is more plentiful. Stratton did say that if the downturn continues for long it could result in layoffs, reduced bed capacity at the rehab center and less help for their other social-service programs.

The months of January through March are typically slow ones for thrift-store donations. This is a result of the colder weather and shorter days when people are nestled in their homes and less motivated to load up their cars and drop off merchandise. But Stratton says this year has been particularly bad.

“Three of the last four winters have been extraordinarily tough for us,” said Stratton.

Yet Stratton remains confident that the spring will see its annual influx of donations as the weather gets warmer and the days become longer.

While donations of clothes have remained stable, the shortage of all other goods has forced Salvation Army stores to expand their clothing display areas to avoid having customers see large, empty areas. Compounding the problem of reduced sales is the possibility that many regular Salvation Army shoppers may be discouraged by the reduced variety and seek out other thrift stores.

Stratton said donations of all types are welcome including books, toys, working household items and small appliances such as toasters, blenders and vacuum cleaners. Items not in working order are discouraged.

A pick-up service is also available for those who wish to donate large quantities or who have over-sized items such as couches and beds. But Stratton stresses that the items must be worth the time and expense of picking them up.

A smaller thrift store in town is experiencing a similar downturn. “The Shop” of the American Cancer Society on Mangrove Avenue has seen a 75 percent reduction in donations since January.

“We’re in exactly the same boat as the Salvation Army,” said The Shop’s manager, Rachel Stokes.

She suggested that rather than donating their unwanted goods, people are now selling them via online services such as eBay and Craigslist or through yard sales.

Many of the tables and shelves in The Shop’s donations room are empty, Stokes said. As part of a California chain, The Shop also provides social services such as volunteers who help chemotherapy and prostate cancer patients.

On the positive side, news reports about the Salvation Army’s shortage have resulted in a slight increase in donations, Stratton said.

“I just came from our Seventh Street donation center and was encouraged by what I saw,” he said. “I hope and pray that people continue to help us get out of this tight spot.”