Kiwanis Club: What it can’t sell it recycles

Thrift stores operated by Kiwanis Club get two tons of donations every day.

2:08 PM, Jan. 18, 2012  |
A mountain of donated items. Sam Huber, president of the Kiwanis Club, said the thrift stores receive two tons of items on average per day.

A mountain of donated items. Sam Huber, president of the Kiwanis Club, said the thrift stores receive two tons of items on average per day. / Nancy Oben/special to news-press.com
Volunteers Fran Leer and Jackie Kahlke sort donated clothing at the Kiwanis Club Thrift Store.

Volunteers Fran Leer and Jackie Kahlke sort donated clothing at the Kiwanis Club Thrift Store. / Nancy Oben/special to news-press.com

For more information or to volunteer call the main thrift store, 708 SE 47th Terrace, at 542-2849 or visit mycapecoralkiwanis.org/thrift-stores.

The bags pile up day by day into a mountain that almost touches the ceiling. The bags, full of books, electronics, toys and clothes, get sorted with most going out onto the sales floor of the Kiwanis Club thrift stores. But that’s only the beginning.

“We get a huge amount of items,” said Sam Huber, president of the Kiwanis Club of Cape Coral. “The sheer amount of clothes we get is phenomenally more than could be sold.”

This is when a little creativity comes into play for the organization. The Kiwanis Club is using some unique recycling tactics to get the most money for charity through their thrift stores. These techniques have saved the organization $75,000 over the past year, according to Huber.

One of the main recycling strategies comes into play when the volunteers sort out clothing. Huber estimates that the stores receive on average two tons of items each day, with most of that being clothing.

Volunteers such as Jackie Kahlke and Fran Leer spend countless hours sorting through the unending mounds of blouses, pants, jackets and skirts. These women have been volunteering for 12 and 25 years, respectively.

“It goes to a great cause. We work as quickly as we can,” Leer said.

Kahlke added: “We’re just happy people donate. We don’t care how high (the pile) is.”

Most of the clothing goes out onto the sales floor. Those that do not make the cut get tossed into red bins waiting to be salvaged. The club takes these bins and two-thirds of the remaining surplus gets sold to salvagers at a per pound weight. Huber said this earns the club $20,000 to $25,000 a year.

The other one-third of the items are shipped off in box trucks to local charities such as the Guadalupe Center of Immokalee. The club also donates to the center all of the thrift stores’ excess shoes.

“The last thing we ever want to do is be wasteful,” Huber said. “It’s not just about the money. It’s about the creative giving.”

The club also donates excess linens and mattresses that can’t be sold to the Animal Refuge Center in North Fort Myers.

“Because of the nature of our giving, we’re a children’s charity,” Huber said. “We don’t have cash in the budget to spare them some money but we can give them blankets and mattresses.”

Recently, the club has started salvaging donated, non-working electronics for scrap metal. The idea was presented two years ago. The club started off small but now makes $10,000 to $12,000 a year on the scrap metal in bi-monthly hauls to the scrap yard.

“Guys were waiting outside of the store (Dumpster) for our items and pouncing,” Huber said. “There’s value in that.”

What can’t be salvaged for monetary gain in turn goes into the community as donated items.

Children’s books and small stuffed animals get piled into boxes and barrels. These items are handed out to children during events where the Kiwanis are in attendance, such as the Red, White and Boom event each Independence Day. These books are also donated to local schools. The club estimates it has donated 20,000 books this year to local children.

Ann Vaughn is in charge of the book program. She said volunteers spend four hours daily sorting through the donated books looking for items that would be appropriate for children. She said she thinks the thrift store gives as many items away as the items it sells.

“It all goes back to Cape Coral residents. It helps the community,” Vaughn said. “This is a strictly local charity and means a lot to people.”

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