By Ann McCreary
Fed up with people taking donated items left for the Rummage Room after hours, Methow Valley Senior Citizens Association board president Judy Tonseth recently posted photos taken by a surveillance camera on the organization’s new Facebook page.
The photos, which Tonseth posted on the association’s Facebook page over the weekend, “went viral” and apparently prompted two of the “late night shoppers” to come to the center this week to apologize, Tonseth said Tuesday (Feb. 3).
“Two of the people in some of the videos have come in and very sincerely apologized. One came in Monday and gave something to pay for what they took,” Tonseth said. She said the people spoke with volunteers who work at the Senior Center.
“We are very appreciative of the ones that have come in and apologized and paid for what they took,” Tonseth said.
“People rifling through and taking donations has been an ongoing problem for several years,” Tonseth said. She decided to post the photos from the video surveillance camera “out of frustration — a feeling of ‘what can we do next?’”
Accompanying the photos of people looking through the donations, Tonseth included the following message: “Do you know these after-hours shoppers? Tell them to come in when we are open and pay for what they took.”
Her photos and message were shared widely on Facebook, and prompted many comments over the weekend on a local Internet bulletin board, Tonseth said.
The Senior Citizen Association resells donated items to support activities for the seniors, such as the Super Bowl party last weekend. The Rummage Room income also supports improvements to the Methow Valley Community Center, scholarships for graduating seniors at Liberty Bell High School, and provides assistance for people and families who need help with medical costs or other personal needs.
“The money keeps circling around,” Tonseth said.
If the people are taking donated items after hours because they can’t afford to pay, Tonseth said the Senior Center can help.
“If what’s driving this is they need assistance, we’d like to help. We have so many wonderful organizations, through Room One and The Cove, and we can help to a limited degree with clothing, shoes, dishes, household goods,” Tonseth said.
“If somebody is in a situation where they need help with clothing or dishes or other things, we’re more than willing to just give it to them.”
Tonseth said she created the association’s Facebook page last week, and checked with Twisp Police Chief Paul Budrow to make sure it would be all right to post the photos from the surveillance camera.
Budrow said he encouraged the Senior Citizens Association to install a new video security system about a year ago. He said the footage is monitored and he is sent images regularly.
“At least half [the people identified in the videos] have been warned that it’s not free, it’s theft,” Budrow said. Warnings will likely turn into charges if the thefts continue, he said.
Some people paw through the items and throw them around, making a mess for the volunteers who work at the Rummage Room, Budrow said. “Some people take everything that’s been donated” and then bring back the stuff they don’t want later, he said.
The Senior Center asks that donations to the Rummage Room be delivered while the center is open, but that’s not always convenient for people, Tonseth said. So some people leave items at the entry to the center and volunteers bring them inside when they come to work.
Tonseth said deliveries can be made from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Initially the surveillance cameras were installed to try to deter people from bringing items that the Senior Center can’t accept, like large furniture. One of the photos Tonseth posted on the Facebook page shows people taking a couch.
Rosalie Hutson, a Senior Citizen Association board member and former president, explained why the group felt it needed to take action.
“The older we get the crabbier we get, and we just want people to stop dumping their junk on us and stealing from us,” Hutson said.
Tonseth said she plans to post more photos soon of recent “after-hours shoppers.” She said she was amazed at the attention her first posts generated in the community.
“It was a good lesson for people to know that when they post things on their Facebook page it can go viral,” Tonseth said.