Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Price of Goodwill

On a quest to redecorate, my husband and I headed to the young and poor shopper’s Mecca: Goodwill.  Browsing the secondhand furniture and bedding we became aggravated over the price of the items.  Six dollars for a used 12 by 12 inch throw pillow and $164 for a corner stand dropped off in the parking lot?  Are you kidding me?!  So we grit our teeth and fork out our hard earned cash for someone else’s old junk.  These days we’re all trying to save a dollar, and my husband and I can’t help but reminisce a time when Goodwill was, well, affordable.

When I was just a young Californian lass my family took frequent outings to Goodwill.  Most enthused was my mother and grandmother.  Hour after hour went by and I was convinced that we wouldn’t leave until Mom looked over every single item in the store.  I was frustrated; my five year old patience level was similar to what it is now (nonexistent) and I just didn’t understand why everything wasn’t sorted out on pretty racks with one hanging in front so you could see what the rest looked like.  And everything smelled funny.  When I got older I depressingly realized why we shopped at the smelly store; the clothes were cheap and we didn’t have a ton of money.

Ask my grandmother about my “Goodwill phases” and she’ll gladly tell you the saga of my pubescent years and my abhorrence for showing my face in one.  Sure, there were times when Harriet the Spy bell bottoms could only be found second hand and I read through Babysitter’s Club novels faster than they were being written, but for no other reason would I be caught dead 13 and shopping at Salvation Army.  It was a seventh grade status thing and Airwalks didn’t hit Goodwill shelves until about 2001, and Grandma just couldn’t ever ever ever understand!

Fast forward to twenty ten and here I am watching John the ponytailed forty-something scan my soon to be new-to-me crap and double checking his work because yellow tags are half-off today.  Things have changed since junior high, that change being I’m on my own now (by choice, I swear).  But with these prices we may as well buy new!  My husband and I agree, a shirt used to cost one dollar at Goodwill when we were growing up, maybe two if it were long-sleeved.  A month ago we scavenged for hideous Christmas-wear and I beamed when I discovered an old dance costume gem that completed my elf garb.  But my glow quickly faded when I saw that this sequined and fishnet top was a whopping $5.99.  I bought it, of course, but I fumed thinking to myself, who decided to charge an arm and a leg for things that they never paid for in the first place?!

Who? is a gentleman by the name of Michael Miller, the President of the Columbia Willamette region of Goodwill locations, who in 2005 the Oregon attorney general’s office determined made too much money compared to other “non-profit” up and ups.  How much is too much? you ask: almost a million a year.  From our free, donated junk.  Goodwill still claims to be employing millions of Americans who would be without work if it weren’t for them, and they very well may be.  But it’s a tough pill to swallow when one of the many Goodwill regional presidents is making a salary tripled my own with a couple zeros tacked onto the end of that.  I think of how much less fortunate families and individuals struggle with paying these prices, and I stick my foot in my mouth (well maybe just a big toe).  What if you really weren’t able to afford thrift store prices? 

So I ask Mr. Miller to remember what Goodwill used to be about, and invite you to visit my garage sale I will be having this spring, sometime around say April?