Givers make a mad dash to donate before 2013 and tax deductions pass by


Employee Jennifer Jordan accepts drive-in donations at the Goodwill dropoff center in Arlington on Tuesday. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
December 31, 2013

A parade of shining SUVs, luxury sedans, hybrid subcompacts and tricked-out pickup trucks began pulling off busy Glebe Road and into the parking lot of the Goodwill store before 9 a.m. Tuesday.

From the back seats and trunks came clothing — bags and bags of it, mostly women’s apparel. A full-length fur coat, too. Televisions, microwaves and computer printers, all supposedly in working condition, were dropped off, along with several office desks, all probably nicer than yours. Someone even brought in a foosball table with the price tag still attached, which revealed it had been bought at Goodwill, then donated back.

The line lengthened and shortened, but never let up, all day long.

“To be honest, I have a little girl who’s turning 2, and we needed more room. She got a lot of toys from Santa this year,” said Aimee Anthony of Alexandria as she deposited bags of clothing and toys at the donation center, near Route 50 in Arlington County.

The things they carried showed how this affluent community sheds its extra possessions in exchange for the good feelings of helping others — and a receipt that allows them to claim a federal tax deduction for charitable giving.

The last day of the year is a time for many charities to call out the reserves, show up early and get ready for a full-court press.

The Goodwill in Arlington, the sixth-busiest center in the charity’s national network, collects about 5 percent of its yearly donations each Dec. 31. By nightfall, the center’s 75 employees expected to have thanked 1,500 people for their donations, which average 40 pounds.

The Salvation Army, which seeks cash in its red kettles at Christmastime, also sees large donations in the last week of the year, spokesman Ken Forsythe said. He said the last-minute donations, whether cash or goods, are “crucially important” to the group’s year-round mission to help young mothers, hungry families and the homeless.

“This is something the Salvation Army does every day of the year. We are well prepared to receive donations at any time,” Forsythe said.

Planet Aid, an Elkridge, Md.-based charity, assigns extra pickups from its 500 drop-off bins in Maryland, Virginia and the District, ferrying the donations to its processing center for sorting and shipping overseas. The week after Christmas brings about 50 percent more donations than other weeks, spokesman Jonathan Franks said.

On Tuesday, Goodwill volunteers and staff members at the Arlington site kept the line moving, issuing friendly greetings to drivers and hustling to unload the plastic trash bags, battered cardboard boxes and unpackaged electronics trailing cords. The goods immediately went into the “soft” or “hard” goods containers, waiting to be wheeled inside to a basement processing center.

Outside, Margaret Gurley, an Arlington resident since 1951, carefully maneuvered through traffic cones toward the crew waiting to unload the two bags and one box from the trunk of her classic Oldsmobile 98.

“I’ve come here for many years. It’s very convenient,” she said.

The convenience is a matter of location, at the intersection of two major roads. It’s also the result of more than 20 years of practice at that site alone. The goal is “door to floor in 24” hours, said Ken Bates, who oversees the region’s stores.

District resident Michael Borden said he splits his donations between Goodwill (“because it’s so efficient”) and the Salvation Army (“I like that they don’t sell the goods — they give them away”). The tax deduction helps, he said.

“If you do it just for that reason, the deduction is kind of small,” agreed Nora Garrite of Arlington. “We donate four or five times a year to make sure someone else can use what we had.”

As containers holding fresh donations were rolled inside, a second sorting began: clothing and shoes were divided by gender and age. Books were separated from DVDs. Is it clean? Sellable? What’s the fair market value? Posted charts helped guide the staff, whose quick, no-motion-wasted movements boosted their chances of meeting the “door to floor in 24” goal.

Dana Martin, who drove up in a Mercedes chock-full of clothing and beautiful birch CD boxes, said his family are longtime Goodwill supporters. But “we’re also perennial procrastinators, so we always end up here on the 31st of December.”

He was not the only one.

“Every year, I try to get here in October or November,” said Don Fitzpatrick, seated behind the steering wheel of his SUV. “But here it is, New Year’s Eve.”

Patricia Sullivan seeks out news about Alexandria and Arlington County for the Washington Post.
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