We’re not there yet, but reality soon will hit: We must make room in our garages for our cars. While it’s tempting to want to dump our junk — the bike with punctured tires, dresser with a broken drawer, blender without the base, I’m here to tap into the better angels of our nature on behalf of Robin Henrichsen. A former Target merchandise manager, Henrichsen now is donations manager for ReStore, a home improvement outlet with two Twin Cities locations. The stores sell “gently used” appliances, cabinets, furniture, tools and more, with proceeds supporting Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. Henrichsen offers guidance on how to donate thoughtfully to our neighbors, and explains why we should.
Q: I have this childhood memory of my mom teaching us kids how to donate clothes. She said we should only give away the best of our no-longer desired clothing, clean and nicely folded, no holes or stains. I feel guilty, honestly, because that’s not always what I put into my bags in my desperate, and ongoing, attempt to purge.
A: We all want to feel like we are helping others or saving the planet by keeping things out of landfills when we donate — that’s why we want to put it all in the bag. But items that are more than gently used are not something others will want to own. When trying to determine if an item can be donated or not, ask: Is it free of rips, tears or stains? Would I want this if it were on a shelf? Would I want to see someone with this item in a public place? Would I feel good about that? If the answer is “no,” then know you made the right decision to dispose of it properly.
Q: How does one donate to you?
A: We provide potential donors a list of our acceptable items. (restore.tchabitat.org) At our New Brighton and Minneapolis locations, we get 20 to 50 drop-off donations per day. The donations team gets 20 to 40 calls a day for our free pickup service. They’re good leads, including landlords, schools, supply companies, contractors, remodelers, flooring and lighting stores. We also hear from people who are downsizing or cleaning out mom’s house. One gentleman donates rough sawn wood to us. He cuts it down and dries it for a years. People use it to make the most beautiful things.
Q: What are common items you reject?
A: Floral sofas. Entertainment centers and sleeper sofas. No one wants them. And no used toilets or tubs. We have the right to refuse any item. Don’t take it personally.
Q: What’s something you’d like to have more of?
A: Single or full kitchen cabinets, building materials, hardware, yard tools and seasonal items — in the right season. Oh, furniture, too.
Q: Just not that floral sofa. Got it! Can anyone shop at your stores?
A: Anyone is welcome. We sell things at a fraction of the original retail and have items priced from 25 cents (sandpaper) to a $2,000 refrigerator that we got new. Our regulars shop at both stores, maybe working on a home remodel. Others are artisans, seeking materials to reuse in creative ways.
Q: Say more about your mission.
A: Last year, the two ReStore outlets welcomed 57,000 shoppers, received 16,000 donations, and engaged 5,000 volunteers. Revenue from those sales supports Twin Cities Habit for Humanity’s work building, rehabbing and repairing homes for local families. Our goal is to help 500 families by 2020.
Q: Although you have the right to refuse, you are generous in sharing information about other organizations that might take what you cannot. Can people access that list on your website?
A: No, but we can e-mail it to them. Donors dropping off a donation at the ReStore can get a list of other places for their item if we cannot take it. Donors scheduling a pick up are e-mailed other options if we cannot take it. We do want to help if we can’t accept the item.
Q: What’s the most unusual item you’ve accepted?
A: A two-man kayak. We took the risk, and sold it within a day. We had an air hockey table that ended up at a lake home in Wisconsin. We also got a call from a guy who wondered if we’d take a hedgehog. He thought we were the Humane Society.
Q: Do people try to bargain?
A: They do, but we don’t negotiate. We’re not a garage sale. If they ask, “Why are you charging so much for this?” we tell them we’re helping families in our community get stable housing. Plus, when they donate, they get a 20 percent-off coupon to use on a purchase.
Q: What if an item doesn’t sell?
A: We keep everything for four to six months. If items don’t sell, they go to their forever home. That’s what I call the dumpster. But the ReStore estimates that we’ve kept more than 1,100 tons of building materials out of landfills.
Q: Do you ever feel like a therapist?
A: Sometimes, people are downsizing, or they have a moving van filled with grandma’s furniture and have an emotional attachment to the items. I listen to them and say, “Oh, you’re going through so much.” There are times when I reach back to donors to let them know their item went to a great home and will make memories there.
Q: What’s the best item you’ve bought at ReStore for your home?
A: Clay pots, patio furniture, light fixtures, rugs. It’s also fun to see the items that I donated find a new home.