Where do your Goodwill donations end up?

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Over the last year, nearly 20,000 people in Connecticut relied on Goodwill for clothing, toys, and many other items.

All of those items are from more than 800,000 generous donors. Now, there are some questions whether some of those donations are being dumped in the trash.

News 8 Investigators have been working this story after a former subcontractor provided some pictures from the Bridgeport facility. They went out there to check things out for you as a donator.

Rick Mall tells News 8 Investigators he feels this is a serious concern that needs to be addressed. So, since mid-April, we’ve been in contact with Goodwill of Western and Northern Connecticut’s Public Relations Firm requesting a sit down interview to show them the photos from our insider and some video we shot. But, all we’ve gotten are a number of email responses.

Rick Mall says, “I did live off this as a kid, donations, food baskets, all of the above.”

As an adult, Mall says it only made sense to work for organizations that help those in need. For over two years, he was here at Goodwill of Western and Northern Connecticut in Bridgeport. But, he says he knew his days were numbered when he started asking questions about the donations coming in.

He says, “The giraffe that’s probably a $40 stuffed animal. Why did any of that go in the garbage?”

Mall says he couldn’t stand to see things like a bin of stuffed animals being labeled as trash, when kids all over Connecticut would be thrilled to have one. He showed pictures of what appears to be a brand new pillow tossed in what looks like a dumpster.

Mall says, “It’s not me being disgruntled. I’m just standing up for what’s right.”

People doing a lot of donating say this is concerning. A woman who didn’t want to give her name says the photos are upsetting and, “ I’m shocked that’s happening.”

Sonny Cardinali says he’s dropped off items here in Milford at least five times last month.

“Some of the stuff I think is actually worth some money,” Cardinali says. “We’ve got some Barbie stuff still in the box. You’re donating it for people to use, so hopefully that’s what’s happening.”

Mall says that’s what the public is being led to believe as they see highway billboards like one on I-91 northbound saying, “Your donated tutu dances again?’

He wonders where a tutu shown on the ground is going to end up.

“When the community is giving you and looking to you to be the one giving back and you’re not, that’s a shame,” Mall says.

For weeks, we’ve been in contact with Goodwill’s public relations firm asking for an on-camera interview, but they continually declined.

Since an email response really didn’t answer any of our questions, we made more attempts with the PR firm to try and get a Goodwilll executive to go on camera. That didn’t work, but another location, the Easter Seals Goodwill Industries of Greater New Haven, welcomed us in with open arms. They operate 13 retail stores and one outlet store.

Assets of Goodwill of Western and Northern Connecticut, Inc, as listed on the charity's 2012 IRS form 990,
Assets of Goodwill of Western and Northern Connecticut, Inc, as listed on the charity’s 2012 IRS form 990,

President Richard Borer showed us exactly what happens when donations come in. Borer says, “If it meets the criteria, like it has all the buttons, it’s not soiled or ripped, then it will go into the store for sale and it will stay in the store for four or five weeks. “

If it doesn’t sell it goes to outlet stores where it’s sold in bulk. If that doesn’t work, the items are sold for salvage.

We asked Borer what he thought of the pictures.

He says, “It’s very rare that you would throw out stuffed animals cause we have a buyer for those. “

Borer says the bottom line is simple. “We try to do the best that we can to be good stewards of the donations, to squeeze everything out we possibly can.”

Still, we wanted to hear from Vicky Volpano, President at the Bridgeport location.

So, we made another attempt, telling her we just really needed her side of the story — people are upset about this — and we have pictures of donations being trashed. Volpano says, “I understand you talked to Rich Borer yesterday.”

We explained to her the pictures taken and video shot by News 8 cameras of what appears to be donations being ditched is at her location.

Volpano says, “I thank you for your interest, but I have concerns about where those come from and their authenticity.”

Mall says, “How did anything wind up in the dumpster with a new tag on it? It doesn’t compute .”

Immediately following our attempt to talk to Volpano on May 14, we did get an email and a phone call from Goodwill’s PR firm saying they have nothing to hide.

Then on May 22, they said as far as the stuffed animals, it is impossible to say for certain their condition or whether they were going into the trash or being stored in blue bins to be transported. In regards to the other photos, they say they have a baler that packs up items for a secondary market.

Salaries of Goodwill officers, as listed on the charity's 2012 IRS Form 990.
Salaries of Goodwill officers, as listed on the charity’s 2012 IRS Form 990.
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