Salvation Army reports dumpster diving problem

No matter what Salvation Army staff members do, they can’t seem to keep people from pilfering their thrift store dumpster. They have put flood lights. They have installed video cameras. They have posted “no trespassing” signs.

Nothing seems to work.

Sgt. Maj. Bob Johnson, with the Salvation Army, said he doesn’t understand why people rifle through the nonprofit’s garbage. There is nothing of value in there. Anyway, he said, the Salvation Army is a charity that prides itself on working to accommodate the poor. It uses everything it can; the things it throws away are worthless.

For reasons Johnson said he doesn’t understand, people assume because the Salvation Army gets many donations that means its dumpster is teeming with unwanted treasures. Sometimes, he said, people leave donations in front of the 13th Street store. People even steal those. It’s incredibly vexing when people deliberately go out of their way to circumvent protocol, he said.

“There is nothing worth saving because everything is smashed to begin with If they need it that bad, they can come in, and we could have made a deal,” Johnson said. “We could have sold it for next to nothing. We could have given it to them.”

According to police records, police cited four people – Carol Ealy, Stephen Wadle, Sherry Karns and John Hannam – for dumpster diving at the Salvation Army Thrift Store Saturday, charging them with trespassing.

Johnson said the Salvation Army plans to prosecute them fully. He said he doesn’t know how else to deter people from going through the business’s trash. With broken dishes, deconstructed furniture with jutting metal edges and other abrasive materials, Johnson said he is worried someone will get hurt.

“I don’t think people realize the dangers Those dumpsters are full of disease,” he said. “If they get injured, who are they going to sue?”

According to Iowa Code, a person trespasses when they remain on private property without permission after being told to leave or with the intent to interfere with the lawful use of the property.

Johnson said the Salvation Army could build a fence, but it doesn’t want to do that. Fences send the message that the store is trying to isolate itself from people. Anyway, he said he doubts it would help.

Wadle and Karns pleaded not guilty to the trespassing charge Monday, and Hannam and Ealy pleaded not guilty Tuesday. All four have pretrial conferences set for Aug. 13.

Trespassing is a simple misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine ranging from $65 to $625, according to Iowa Code.