Let it be known, far and wide and from this day forward, that Jody Gibbons has enough Christmas ribbon. That no one in Paul Bryant’s neighborhood is interested in a ’50s-era hand juicer. And that, well, Nicole Geimer’s tiara days are over.
These and other truths have emerged over the past several weeks, in what may forever be known as “The Great Purge,” when Washington state’s stay-home orders sent people into every nook and cranny of their dwellings, discovering anew what they own, assessing what they really need, and packing up what they can do without.
That explains why there was a long line of cars waiting May 3, when Goodwill reopened four donation centers in the Seattle area, providing people a chance to give, clean out their homes and do something that felt close to normal.
“It’s been like nothing we’ve ever experienced, much like this pandemic,” said Goodwill spokesperson Tammy McKenzie. “It’s been an overwhelming response. I can see how this may feel a little cathartic.”
Said CEO Daryl Campbell: “There is pent-up demand for folks to drop off their stuff. I did not know the degree.”
The openings were influenced, in part, by the fact that people were leaving their stuff at the closed donation sites.
“We call that dumping,” Campbell said, “and that’s something that’s not safe or sanitary. One of the things we ask the public to do is to help us out, but keep a safe distance.”
Over two days last week, the four locations — South Seattle, Woodinville, Lynnwood and Ravenna — saw 3,800 donation visits, when a busy weekend usually sees about 3,200 donations. (The stores are closed to shopping for now.) Two more sites were set to open for drop-offs Sunday, with another scheduled to open Tuesday.
The large number of donations comes despite slower lines, caused by social distancing that requires people to unload without the help of Goodwill employees. The employees are still there, in masks and gloves, moving and replacing donation bins. The donations are sprayed, in keeping with Centers for Disease Control guidelines, then quarantined for a few days.
Despite it being self-serve, the bins are being filled as fast as workers can move them.
“You have no idea,” said Brent Frerich, Goodwill’s senior director of business development and e-commerce, standing last week in the lot of the nonprofit’s South Lane Street location in Seattle — the largest in the country, by the way.
“It’s not so much that what we see is different,” Frerich said. “It’s the sheer volume. The demand was just …”
He paused, shook his head: “On Sunday (May 3), the first day, you could not see the end of the line down Dearborn. Wait times were an hour, an hour and 40 minutes. But no one cared.
“People were so kind, and gracious, and thankful that we’re here.”
He walked past a line of full bins. Laptops, monitors, clothing still with tags. A Keurig coffee maker. Silk flowers. A shovel. A fake Christmas tree. An unopened tortilla warmer. A set of golf clubs.
“Generally, it’s all coming in too fast for me to look,” said Frerich, the former vice president of marketing for Macy’s. Later, his staff will figure out whether items will go into the Goodwill store, its e-commerce operation or be sold for metal recycling.
Bryant, who owned the juicer, has spent the last several weeks with “time on my hands, cleaning things out,” he said. “Which makes sense.”
But the amount of stuff he had packed into his house was, well, a little crazy. Books, electronics, “kitchen gadgets that we don’t need and haven’t seen in a while,” he said. “We cleared out cupboards and said, ‘What the heck is this?’
“Years on end, I had this stuff, without having a clue,” he said. “That sounds like America.”
A neighbor gave him an electric foot massager and that juicer from the ’50s. He put them out on his front lawn and drew lots of lookers but no takers.
“It was exciting,” he said, “but ultimately, useless.”
Scott and Jody Gibbons came over from the Issaquah Highlands with their dog, Cooper. This was their second carload, and they had plans to come back with one more.
“Four bedrooms worth of stuff,” Scott said. “But it makes the day go by quicker.”
The couple found plenty to donate. Coolers, blankets, the cane and walker and special toilet seat from when Jody had a knee replacement. And Christmas ribbons, ornaments and gift bags. (“Oh my God,” Scott muttered at the very mention.)
“Never, ever let me buy bows for Christmas gifts again,” Jody said.
But they also found a martini shaker they had never used — until the coronavirus required that they stay put.
“It looked like it was a white elephant gift, sitting in our garage,” Jody said of the shaker. “We never make martinis at home, but now we do.”
They also found a project about real estate that their son made in high school. He’s 34 now and has been in that business for 16 years.
A few cars back, Nicole Geimer was just happy to be out of the house. She’s pregnant with her third child and had packed up a ton of new baby clothes she didn’t think she’d need (“I have so many hand-me-downs”), some toys — and some tiaras she had worn in a dance competition.
“I was surprised I still had them,” she said. “And it’s actually strange to be out of the house. Strange to be driving, too.”
But so nice, she said, to be doing something that felt close to normal.
Campbell, the CEO, couldn’t agree more. “We’ve been around for 100 years,” he said. “So it feels a little more normal for us, too, to see so many of our friends.”
So bring your extra Christmas ribbon, your old-timey juicers and your childhood tiaras. Bring what you don’t use, don’t need, and drive away light of load — and of heart.
“We will put them in the stores and people will love finding them,” said Campbell, “and they will give them a new life.”