Some Oakland thrift stores still feel the pandemic


The morning after Thanksgiving, many Oakland residents will wake up from their feasting stupor, open their laptops or get into their cars, and scroll or search until they find a deal on an air fryer or hiking socks – supply chain issues are sacred.

For staff at local thrift stores, Black Friday is another day when Oaklanders are going to acquire the kind of items that will later show up in their stacks of donations, shoved into trash bags and oversized suitcases by eager people. to get rid of it.

When second-hand stores reopened after the initial shutdown of COVID-19, there were numerous reports of an overload of donations. Some people stuck at home found themselves with more free time or a new need to free up space for distance learning or home offices. Stores received a lot more stuff than they had space or use, especially with some people still reluctant to go out and shop in person.

“Once we reopened it was nonstop,” said AlaaEldin Elshaikh, donation clerk at Goodwill on MacArthur Boulevard in the Laurel neighborhood. It was so crowded that the store moved the donation operation to the parking lot and put an additional employee to work. “The people were so in their house that they finally realized, ‘I have to do something with this stuff. “”

As the holiday gifting season approaches, we’ve checked with staff at a few local thrift stores to find out if they are still inundated with donations and what advice they would give to donors and buyers.

Goodwill on MacArthur Boulevard moved its donation depot outside once the amount became too much to handle, employee AlaaEldin Elshaikh (pictured) said. Credit: Natalie Orenstein

Kimberly Wise, director of the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop near Piedmont Avenue, said piles of donated goods are not strictly a pandemic phenomenon. On her phone, she has dozens of photos of bags of clothes spilling out of the store’s back room from 2018 and 2019. At this time, the popular Netflix show Cleaning with Marie Kondo has also caused a flood of donations to stores nationwide.

“I literally had drowning nightmares,” said Wise, who started volunteering at a Discovery store in Southern California many years ago.

When the Oakland store reopened in June 2020, it was clear the old system wouldn’t shut it down. Now, instead of a free offer, donors must make an appointment and the store only accepts items three days a week. But it’s still a lot. Wise is the only full-time staff member at Discovery Shop, and other than two very part-time employees, everyone else is volunteer. Many of the volunteers are older and retired people at higher risk of suffering from COVID-19, so some have chosen to stop working, Wise said.

Other East Bay thrift stores closed permanently during or just before the pandemic, such as the popular Thrift Town location in El Sobrante and San Leandro, likely concentrating donations among a smaller number of stores.

But Wise and Elshaikh both encouraged people to continue donating their items despite the crisis. Thrift stores offer quality products to people who cannot afford to buy them new, and most stores are nonprofits that fundraise for social services or research.

“Obviously, without donations we wouldn’t survive,” Wise said. “It’s a strong symbiotic relationship” between the donor, the buyer and the organization.

Shortly after The Oaklandside visited the Discovery Shop, a customer found and modeled a shiny white dress for everyone that she plans to wear to her wedding. Her price was undoubtedly a fraction of the cost of a typical new wedding dress, and the money she paid will support the American Cancer Society.

LaToya D. runs Out of the Closet near Lake Merritt, where donations continue to flow, but not at the high rate seen at the start of the pandemic. Credit: Natalie Orenstein

Wise said there are thoughtful ways to donate that don’t strain understaffed stores. “Give it a little effort at home or with a phone call,” she said.

A woman recently called the store to say she was on her way with a truckload of items. Wise informed her that she would need a date. “She was like, ‘If I can’t bring it now, I’m going straight to the landfill,” Wise recalls.

This week, she opened a donation bag to find a toilet repair kit. But the donor had pasted a handwritten note that said, “This is not a complete set. Some parts have been deleted. It was unsaleable. There was also the time when the store received a suitcase full of sex toys. They were all in good condition and neatly packaged, but their inventory was not appropriate for the small family store.

What happens to donated items that cannot be placed on shelves? At Goodwill, Elshaikh said the material could be forwarded to the chain’s local headquarters if that particular location couldn’t use it.

At the Discovery Shop, it’s a bit more complicated. An organization called Bay Rag, which recycles non-wearable clothing into cleaning rags, picks up lots of items every week. Volunteers put away unusable electronics and take them to the El Cerrito recycling center, and specific items like wigs or bras are donated to places that sell these things.

Wise said there was a lack of centralized information for people looking for a place to donate particular things that typical stores wouldn’t take, so she’s working on creating a website listing all of them. East Bay locations and what they accept.

In some thrift stores during the pandemic, like the Discovery Shop, smaller staff are faced with more donations to process. Credit: Amir Aziz

Other donated items that thrift stores cannot use are donated to organizations that serve homeless people. However, some of these organizations are not interested in it either. The East Oakland Collective, for example, distributes large amounts of food and supplies to members of the homeless community and has a wish list for winter items. Some things, like tents or tarps, may be second-hand, but the organization does not have enough staff to wash and sort piles of used clothing, said general manager Candice Elder.

Some items are just too old and broken to be reused and should be thrown away. Oakland residents looking to get rid of “bulky” garbage have more flexibility starting this month, as the City of Oakland has just started allowing free drop-off at the San Leandro landfill. Curbside pickup has also become easier, with tenants now being allowed to schedule their own services instead of asking their landlords to do so.

However, not all Oakland thrift stores have continued to see an increase in donations a year and a half after the pandemic. Latoya D., who runs the Out of the Closet store on E. 18th Street, said the pace was “ridiculous” right after closing – a financial boon for the store, but tough on the short workforce. staff – but it has largely calmed down. down since then.

Earlier this week, Oakland resident Taliyah Campbell dropped off a bag of merchandise at Out of the Closet. She started giving objects with her mother about ten years ago when she was a teenager. (“In high school, saving was a thingShe recalls.)

The COVID-19 crisis has only increased his donations. “A lot of people lost their jobs, so I looked around to see if I had anything to give” to stores serving low budget shoppers, Campbell said.

Wise encouraged all buyers on Black Friday and beyond to consider saving money, even if they can afford to buy new.

“There is already quite a bit of everything out there,” she says. “You get the whole lineup here, from Forever 21 to the thick, well-built 1970s. Sometimes it just requires a little paint or a few buttons. Go funky.


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