Although the energy crunch has most people upset these days, it is producing unexpected benefits for at least some charitable organizations.
Goodwill Industries, which employs handicapped people to recycle other people's castoffs into saleable merchandise, has been receiving such unconventional donations as nine-passenger station wagons and tanks of heating oil over the past year.
And the Salvation Army, which helps support its activities through the sale of donated merchandise in thrift shops, also has received a number of four-wheeled donations, mostly of the gas-hungry variety.
Both organizations sell the cars, mostly full-sized models, at considerable savings to the buyer but without any guarantees or pre-sale mechanical attention.
More than 900 cars and more than 9,000 gallons of fuel oil have been donated to Goodwill since the beginning of the year. Cars are coming in at the average of two or three a week, but when last summer's gas lines were longest, the rate was closer to 25 a week, said David C. Becker, president of the Davis Memorial Goodwill Industries.
Last winter the number of car donations jumped to 35 a week.
Ma. Richard McConniel, spokesman for the Salvation Army's District headquarters, said an average of three to four cars a week find their way to his organization.
He said many come from people who "have been getting rid of their gas hogs" to buy smaller cars or from those who want to get rid of a second or third car. t
McConniel said he thinks the increased availabliity of Metro service has encouraged some people to give up their cars; and others -- even those with small cars -- have made donations because they expect to get "more from the tax writeoff than from the trade-in."
Goodwill's heating oil donations began with Sharon Brammel of Chevy Chase, who got the idea from news stories about cars being donated to charitable organizations. Her family had just switched to gas heat, so she offered an almost-full tank of fuel oil to Goodwill.
Brammel unwittingly started a trend when TV stations covered her donation early in November and calls from other would-be oil donors began pouring in.
Molly H. Haines, spokeswoman for David Memorial Goodwill, says the fuel oil donations have "been a godsend to us."
With fuel oil going at last look for more than 80 cents a gallon and one Goodwill plant alone using an average of 100 gallons a day in good weather and up to 170 gallons a day in winter, the gifts have represented a $9,000 saving for Goodwill since last November.
The donors also benefit, however. Besides unloading a fire hazard and saving the cost of having their fuel tank hauled away, they gain a tax deduction.
Single donations of oil to Goodwill have ranged from 150 to 700 gallons, with most hovering around the 250 mark. The average fuel tanks hold 275 gallons, and most conversions are made when the tank is almost full.
Fuel oil donations jumped about a month ago when Richard C Vierbuchen, president of Washington Gas Light Co., and a Goodwill board member, had a Washington Gas public relations person send out a letter to all prospective oil-to-gas customers explaining how the donations could be made.
More than 2,000 gallons have poured in since then, and the Virginia plant tank is full, precluding acceptance of any further oil donations until fall.
These donations will enable Goodwill to brave the entire coming winter without having to buy fuel.
The car gifts have reached the same phenomenal proportions as the fuel oil gifts.
Becker said the overwhelming majority of cars donated to Goodwill have been large models with "a lot of big Buick types" predominating.
The newest and most expensive car was a 1976 Lincoln which sold for $4,800 in August -- a sizable jump over the average selling price of about $400 for more typical Goodwill cars.
The most unusual donation was a 1959 Edsel, a collector's item which sold for only $225. "The car sat on our lot for a little over two years. We couldn't move it, and that had a bearing on the price," Haines explained.
More typical donations have included a '70 Buick a '72 Lincoln Continental, a '73 Oldsmobile formerly owned by a congressman, a '71 Toyota, a '73 Hornet, a '70 Vega which sold for $100, a '70 Cadillac which sold for $300 and a '68 Chevy.
The cars are sold "strictly as is," Becker said. That is, no work is done on them from the time of donation to the time of sale. The only prerequisite for accepting a car is that the donor must be able to drive it in.
The salvation Army also insists that donors be able to drive their cars in, but adds that the vehicles must have passed state inspection. In August, the organization had to institute a policy refusing any cars on which payments still are due.
In pricing its cars, Goodwill uses the American Automobile Association's Blue Book, the standard index to the fair market value of a car.
It also takes into consideration the condition of the engine and body and the mileage on the odometer so that the final price falls somewhere between the Blue Book value and trade-in value.
The Salvation Army uses the Black Book, the same source used by banks to assess the value of a car.
Single donations of oil to the Salvation Army have ranged from 150 to 700 gallons, with most hovering around the 250 mark.
But a little abundance, even for a charitable organization, can be an irksome thing.
Cars had been coming in so thick and fast recently that some area used-car dealers have been grumbling, especially when they noted that Goodwill's turnover was exceeding their own.
The D.C. Bureau of Motor Vehicles had its own objections.
After noticing the vast number of car titles being registered with the Goodwill name on them, it demanded that the charitable organization obtain a District dealer's license.