I’d rather listen to Styrofoam being pulled out of a cardboard box than deal with the helpless feeling of losing something. My nana was more important to me than anyone else in the world. She died last year, and other than my memories, I have a few items of hers that are meaningful to me. You can probably imagine my panic when I realized I had accidentally donated a glass beaded Native purse of hers to the La Plata County Humane Society Thrift Store during a recent move. Getting it back consumed my thoughts.
I showed up to the donation center, and the pit in my stomach sank even further when I saw the mountain of donations behind the building. It’s unreal. Bags, boxes, furniture, and clothes, all piled on top of each other to create an indistinguishable mound, much like the individual tattooed details of full sleeves.
I was lucky. The purse was sitting on the top of the pile, and to my surprise, it took no longer than a couple of minutes to find. It got me thinking, though, about all the other accidental treasures people give away, or give away on purpose, to make room for newer and shinier things. I talked with two assistant managers at the Humane Society, Connor Wills and Grant Griggs, about their day-to-day life being surrounded by stuff.
When I showed up for the interview at the thrift store, the lead manager had a cheap picture frame in a stack in his office. He said something along the lines of, “I wasn’t sure if you wanted this?” It was my college diploma from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (clearly where the brightest minds go to be educated). I had no idea I had donated it, too. To be honest, I was more hurt over an eagle bolo tie that had become a staple of my wardrobe and the source of many compliments. After getting the purse back, I realized I donated that, too, and god knows what else. Luckily, I don’t have any children to accidentally donate. But I digress.
Wills and Griggs have been working at the donation center collectively for over five years. They said people deliver truckloads all day long, and most of it, about 60 percent, is good stuff.
They get so many donations, they actually donate the lesser-quality items to other thrift stores, which is like hand-me-downs squared.
There are other ways products get taken off their hands as well. Wills works in electronics, and he said a man named Oscar (no one knows his last name, but they say he’s a real nice guy) will show up with fruit and snacks for the Humane Society employees and take busted equipment. He’ll drive it back to New Mexico, where he’ll repair it and then sell it.
Both Wills and Griggs think the popularity of the store is due to the transparency of where the money goes. The shelter is located directly next door, and people like to help out the animals. Durango’s kind, giving hearts have resulted in an irrepressible amount of stuff.
Wills and Griggs estimate there are about 40 people who work on both sides, with help from volunteers as well. It doesn’t seem like nearly enough to me, but they do not complain. The donations are a good thing, and they maintain what they can. Once things are dropped off, there is an initial pre-sort that later gets sent to separate departments – books, clothes, linens, toys, electronics, etc. – to be sorted even further. Wills and Griggs said that they are constantly feeding new product to the store, and shoppers know this. Some regulars will show up two or three times a day.
I am not the only dumbass donor. People often donate things by accident, and the search for lost items isn’t easy.
“It really is like finding a needle in a haystack,” Wills said.
If the space cadet calls in a day or two, they usually have a good chance of finding their precious item. Any later, chances of finding that diamond ring or Neil Diamond box set drop dramatically, just like finding a murderer after a homicide.
Some of the employees and volunteers may get first dibs on some pretty killer items. Griggs said he has a stylish wardrobe he built from working there. One day, he unraveled a blanket to find an 1860s pocket rifle, which he bought for a steal. Once, someone found $1,000 in a fishing vest.
“I became a hoarder real fast,” Griggs said.
Because Wills works in electronics, he said he hasn’t found many interesting things, but he has bought some high-end camping gear.
After the interview, I was taking pictures of the ambiguous piles, and Griggs pointed out a spot that he would be able to organize and clear out that day, just for it to be filled up again by the time he clocks out. Someone called Wills and Griggs over, a group of guys needed help moving something.
“This is just overwhelming,” I said.
The man replied, “Now you know how we feel.”