The clothes, books and furniture left after-hours at Goodwill donation centers have always been an easy target for those with sticky fingers, but Goodwill spokesman Mark Huerta said theft is on the rise at locations across El Paso.
"Here in El Paso we are...a little bit more poverty stricken, I guess. So there is probably a little more of a need here." said Huerta as he struggled to explain the spike in theft. "We lost $70,000 (in donations) last summer alone."
According to Huerta, the Goodwill lost around $140,000 in donations in 2012. A typical donation cashes in around $30 and they use that average to calculate their overall loss.
"What we do is create jobs for people with disabilities and barriers to work," said Huerta. "When they steal from Goodwill, they're taking money from someone with a barrier who could be employed here in El Paso."
The installation of surveillance cameras and even a brief attempt at theft-deterring drop boxes didn't hold up to determined swindlers. "What happens is, it's like a little box that opens up," said Huerta describing the old drop boxes. "What we found is that the parents hold the boxes open and smaller children climb in." At that point, Huerta said, Goodwill stopped the use of theft-deterring drop boxes.
Eight months ago the Goodwill of El Paso established a "donation recovery team" in response to the hike in thefts. The team consists of about five people who are also employed at Goodwill in other capacities, but according to Huerta there is no room in the budget for around-the-clock recovery team staffing.
Despite budget constraints, Huerta plans to extend donation center hours until 9 p.m. "We're going to have more man hours and it's going to affect our budget, but it's the right thing to do."