Photo courtesy of Ann Martinson This is the scene that greeted Methow Valley Senior Center volunteers on Monday morning. While most people leave worthwhile donations, a few leave trash, sometimes containing soiled or bloody clothing, rodent nests and other hazardous items.

Photo courtesy of Ann Martinson

This is the scene that greeted Methow Valley Senior Center volunteers on Monday morning. While most people leave worthwhile donations, a few leave trash, sometimes containing soiled or bloody clothing, rodent nests and other hazardous items.

Problems include unwanted donations, random rummaging

By Marcy Stamper

The Methow Valley Senior Center regularly receives generous donations of winter coats and boots, a variety of clothing, small appliances and decorative items, but 5 to 10 percent of the “donations” are bags crammed with threadbare garments and even soiled underwear and used tampons, according to several of the volunteers.

“We’ve had mice running out of the bags,” said Judy Tonseth, a volunteer and president of the senior center board.

The 25 to 30 volunteers diligently separate saleable items, but occasionally even their upbeat attitude is tested, and this week started with one of those incidents.

Early Monday morning (Sept. 19), the volunteers were distressed to find someone had stolen clothes from bags of donations and rummaged through the dumpster, leaving the contents strewn on the ground, said Ann Martinson, a volunteer and the board vice president.

A man who appeared to be passing through Twisp had rooted around in the donations and trash. “They were here all night. They stole everything from the front porch and went through all the books for the book sale,” said Martinson.

“Anything out there is our property — till we say it isn’t,” said volunteer Rosalie Hutson.

Volunteers who arrived early Monday chased away the man and a companion and called the police. The man became threatening after the volunteers and a police officer took photos and explained that the items he had taken belonged to the senior center, said Martinson.

Dumpster diving

The man told a reporter later that morning that his gypsy name is Tinker Daharra. He said he had been traveling since age 3 and had had a difficult past but had now left that behind. Daharra said he had no destination but hoped to stay in the Methow Valley over the next few weeks to raise enough money to buy an RV or truck that would accommodate a bed.

Daharra planned to sell rocks that he paints and chisels with animal designs. As a tinkerer, he makes his own tools and creates items out of glass, he said. “I believe in the ancient ways and live every day with a new beginning, striving to be like my ancestors,” he said.

Daharra said he lives off the land and “procures things through salvage laws,” explaining, “we dumpster-dive for supplies and food.”

Volunteers at the senior center gave Daharra a wheelchair to replace a broken baby carriage he had been using to transport a voluminous amount of stuff, including several backpacks and other luggage, plastic bins, aluminum lawn chairs, skis and pieces of hose.

“For God’s sakes — today, we have things for $1 a bag,” said Martinson. “If people really need a coat or shoes or dishes, we’ll just give it to them — no questions asked.”

In an interview after the incident, Twisp Police Chief Paul Budrow said Daharra’s interpretation of the law was not accurate and that he had trespassed on senior center property. He said he had asked the man to remove the pile of garbage he had amassed on the sidewalk in front of the senior center because it was creating a distraction at the intersection.

Daharra said one backpack, filled largely with tools, had weighed 334 pounds, but that he had streamlined the contents down to 236 pounds. Another bag held “faith” items from various religious traditions, he said.

Late Monday afternoon, Daharra, aided by a local resident, was seen attempting to steer the overloaded wheelchair through town, but items kept falling off.

Hazardous trash

The senior center often finds dangerous items in the trash, including “needles, used condoms and gross bloody clothes,” said Budrow.

The board prefers to handle matters on their own and almost never presses charges, said Budrow. Going through a dumpster or leaving garbage could result in charges of malicious mischief, but he can’t file charges if there is no victim willing to prosecute, he said.

Budrow follows up by telling the board when he can identify someone on their 24-hour security camera.

“We don’t want to press charges. We just like them to come back and get their garbage, and be informed they can’t do that,” said Hutson. “We just deal with it — we double- or triple-bag it.”

However, volunteers  regularly enlist the police to identify people caught on the 24-hour security camera. They also find names on papers mixed in with a bag of trash or donations. Recently the senior center has been receiving boxes of papers containing personal information such as medical or arrest records and Social Security numbers, said Hutson.

The volunteers call the individuals to ask them to come back to pick up their trash or to make a donation toward the center’s trash bills, said Tonseth. The trash-collection bill can be as high as $600 per month for two weekly pick-ups, said Martinson.

When the violators are transients, filing charges would just add to the court system because the individuals will never follow up, said Budrow. The majority of the time, the problems are caused by the same dozen local people, he said.

Problems with people riffling through the dumpster — and leaving trash on the ground — began about a year ago, after the parking area was repaved and the center didn’t replace the locked fence around the dumpster. The board intends to find someone to build a new fence, they said.

In addition to the mess, the volunteers are concerned that people could get hurt because the dumpster often contains broken glass or knives.

Donations to community

Despite the problems, “a lot of times, there are absolutely beautiful things all day long,” said Hutson.

“The majority do a fabulous job. It’s just the people who don’t — and aren’t subtle about it. It’s not just like one bag they sneak in; it’s a truckload,” said Tonseth.

Signs outside the center ask people not to leave items when the center is not open, but the volunteers realize that their regular hours are not convenient for everyone who wants to donate. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Thursday and Friday, as well as Saturday during the Farmers Market.

Because volunteers are reluctant to post their phone numbers on the door, Hutson urged people to call a volunteer they know to make arrangements if they want to drop off a donation at another time.

The sign about the security camera warns that the center will post pictures on Facebook. They typically reserve that approach for egregious violations to avoid embarrassing other family members, said Tonseth.

Even with a standard price of just $3 for a grocery bag full of clothes, the senior center makes significant donations to nonprofits around the valley. This past year, the center gave out thousands of dollars in donations, including four scholarships and contributions to the Wagner Memorial Pool and the Methow Valley Rodeo, said Tonseth.

“People are very, very generous. We will do whatever we can to help people in the community — seniors, especially,” said Tonseth. “It’s a labor of love.”