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December 16, 2012
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'Tis the season to give - with benefits

EAGLE COUNTY - The people who run the valley's nonprofit thrift shops have a simple message this month: The season of giving doesn't end on Christmas Day.

Vail Valley Cares recently sent out a press release reminder that Christmas gifts often replace items people already have. Older items in good condition - from sporting goods to sofas - are welcome at the Vail Valley Cares Thrifty Shops in Eagle and Edwards.

Those items can be put to use a couple of ways. Sales from the Thrifty Shops provide about $250,000 per year in grants to other local nonprofit groups. Donated items also provide families with a low-cost option for clothes and other goods.

Donations are also tax-deductible. But people who want those deductions to show up on their 2012 must donate by Dec. 31.

Everyone who donates is given a receipt. Donors can then fill in the value of the items - donations are subject to Internal Revenue Service regulations and guidelines, of course. Consult either your accountant or the IRS for those rules.

Tom McKay runs the "Restore" shop for Habitat for Humanity of Eagle and Lake counties. That store also accepts donations, of course, but generally deals in bigger - and bigger-ticket - items than the Thrifty Shops. McKay is a frequent donor - it's a lot less work than holding garage sales, he said - so he has a good idea of how the system works.

McKay said he takes photos of everything he donates, then notes how much value he put on the receipt. That way there's a record if he's every audited.

"Everybody has cameras on their phones now, so that's a great idea," said Greg Osteen, Vail Valley Cares director.

Osteen has run Vail Valley Cares since about 1998, just before the organization started awarding grants. During the years, those grants total more than $2.1 million. Vail Valley Cares wrote checks on 28 grant requests this year.

Those grants kept coming even during the economic slump that began in 2008.

"We had to tighten our belts to keep giving that $250,000 a year, but it was a time when the organizations really needed it," Osteen said. "We knew they were hurting."

The money raised from sales at the Restore shop helps Habitat's mission of building housing for those who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford homes of their own. Families buy their homes with interest-free loans and work countless hours, along with other volunteers, on both their own homes and those still to be built.

Habitat has built a large base of volunteers, who do everything from help build homes to run the cash registers at the Restore shop. Because of that big base, McKay can send a truck and people to pick up just about anything.

"If we need to, we can get a crane to take a big item out of a home," McKay said. "If we needed to clear out a hotel, we could do it."

While hotels and condo associations often donate to Habitat, McKay said about 80 percent of what's at the Restore shop comes from individuals. And most of those items fall firmly into the category of "good stuff," including antiques and high-end appliances and furniture.

McKay prices those items at roughly 30 to 50 percent of their retail price, depending on condition. If an item doesn't sell, the price keeps dropping until it moves. It's all in the name of keeping donations, and cash, flowing.

The Thrifty Shops tend to get the good stuff, too. The stores have a long-time guideline of "If you wouldn't wear or use it, please don't donate it." People mostly stick to that guideline, Osteen said. But donated items that don't meet the local stores' standards still find new life elsewhere.

Vail Valley Cares sends truckloads of donations to the ARC thrift stores on the Front Range. The items sent from the high country end up being some of the top-selling items at the ARC stores, Osteen said.

Donating keeps other thrift stores stocked and cash coming into those nonprofits, but it also keeps stuff out of local landfills. During the years, more than 500 tons of things have been moved along to other owners instead of to the landfill.

Restore, which generally deals in more bulky items, has kept 400 tons of stuff out of the landfills.

These days, the stores also provide another important service to the valley: jobs. The Thrifty Shops provide full-time work to about two dozen people. Restore has five full-timers and relies for much of its work on part-timers, seasonal employees and volunteers.

While both thrift shops are in the same business, sort of, the two organizations often work together. The result, Osteen said, ends up as a variation on the theme established by Vail decades ago: "Like no thrift shops on earth."


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The VailDaily Updated Dec 16, 2012 11:19PM Published Dec 16, 2012 11:17PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.